When Frederick James Fessenden (1862-1943) opened The Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts, in September 1903, almost no boarding schools for elementary school boys existed in the United States. Harlan J. Amen, Principal of Phillips Exeter Academy from 1895-1913, found many incoming students woefully unprepared and saw the pressing need for a school such as Fessenden.
In helping write the first Fessenden catalogue, Mr. Amen crafted the enduring lines that inform education at Fessenden over a century later: “It will be the aim of this school, therefore, to train a boy along right lines from the beginning, to teach him how to study and form correct habits of work, and to inculcate the principles which are to regulate his daily conduct and guide his future life.”
Frederick Fessenden adopted the school motto: Labor Omnia Vincit – “Work conquers all.” While insisting on the highest standards of effort, conduct and sportsmanship, he never forced boys into a mold, seeking rather to exploit their unique strengths. Besides solid academics, he developed strong programs in athletics, theatre, music and visual arts, and encouraged clubs and hobbies. Resulting from this legacy, boys of widely varied talents and interests continue to succeed at Fessenden today.
While Frederick Fessenden held fast to high moral values, he was progressive educationally. In the 1920s, well ahead of many others, he broadened curriculum, spearheaded standardizing secondary school admission procedures, hired Anastasia McAvoy, a pioneer in remedial reading, and sought psychological help for troubled boys.
From the beginning the school enrolled students from distant parts. George Brown from Honolulu was the first member of several generations in his family at Fessenden. Flags in Fessenden’s Schoolroom reflect the current national heritage of its students.
During the Depression, Fessenden substantially increased day boy enrollment, although remaining primarily a boarding school. Today, day students outnumber boarders by about four to one.
Hart Fessenden succeeded his father as headmaster in 1935, serving until 1967. Like his father, he helped the school accommodate each boy and gave shrewd counsel about appropriate secondary schools. His wife, Katherine Fessenden, was instrumental in expanding arts offerings.
Robert Coffin succeeded Hart Fessenden, guiding the school conservatively through the changes of the 1960s and 1970s. Philip Burnham served for several years after Mr. Coffin’s retirement.
In the early 1980s, Randall Plummer became headmaster and in seeking to soften the school atmosphere, introduced the school’s keywords of Honesty, Compassion and Respect, values integral to Fessenden life today.
By the 1990s, enrollment had grown to 475 in K through Grade 9. Headmaster Frank Perrine launched an ambitious building program that in the last decade has included the Bernon Classroom Building, Pallotta Athletic Center, Wheeler Library, Palandjian Tennis Center, and Perrine Science Center. In 2012, under the leadership of Headmaster David Stettler, Fessenden opened its doors in the fall with the first class of Pre-Kindergarten and an enrollment of 481 boys.
In an atmosphere of caring, Fessenden boys today benefit from first-rate facilities for the school’s excellent academic and extracurricular programs. Under the succeeding headmastership of Andrew Berry, Peter Drake, and the current headmaster, David Stettler, Fessenden is poised for continued success in its second century.
Chris Morss '54
Enjoy these collections of photographs from the archives of teachers with twenty-five years of service to the school, class graduations back to 1904, sports teams, and more.
Celebrating Our Teachers
Enjoy these photographs of our dedicated faculty and staff through the years, including Joe Basinet, Barbara Brown, Patsy Caruso, Steve Cincotta, Peggy Colvin, Howard Cook, Robert Gibson, Bill Maynard, Anastasia McAvoy, Edward Moore, Ced Paine, and many more. 40% of our current faculty and staff have given twenty or more years of service to the school!
Graduation Class Photos
From recent classes to the first graduating Class of 1904, here are commencement photos of our Fessenden graduates.
Along Right Lines: The Fessenden School 1903-2003
This book is the story of The Fessenden School, its first 100 years, its founding family and the foundation—the ideals, principles, traditions and adult role models—upon which the school was built and upon which more than 10,000 boys have built their lives. This is the story of the founder, Frederick James Fessenden, and all those who have made Fessenden part of their life’s work. This is the story of community, friendship, the zest for teaching and the joy of learning, the Running Boy, Labor Omnia Vincit, Honesty, Compassion and Respect, Hart House, the Schoolroom, Memorial Hall, the Fessy Bear, The Albemarle, the Red and Gray, good manners, sportsmanship, service, imagination and a celebration of community, childhood, boys growing up and all those who work, teach and inspire. This is the voice of The Fessenden School.
Enjoy these selections from Along Right Lines. If you would like to purchase the book, here is the order form.
The Fessenden School Train Club
"For almost 40 years, model trains were an important hobby for the boys at The Fessenden School," begins Chris Plumley '47 in this wonderful collection of photos and stories. Check out The Fessenden School Train Club!
The Merit Badge
Remember the Merit Badge? A forerunner of today's Fessy Bear award, it was the brain-child of Mr. Moore "to foster good citizenship and morale within the School." Here is the 1947 Albemarle story of the Merit Badge and its first recipients.