When a young Latin teacher named Frederick Fessenden and his wife, Emma Hart Fessenden, made plans to start a small, pre-preparatory “feeder” school for Phillips Exeter Academy in 1903, they had no way of knowing that their idea would impact the lives of thousands of young men during the century that followed. With encouragement from Dr. Harlan P. Amen, the headmaster of Exeter, they purchased a large, columned home on a hill in West Newton, Massachusetts, and, on September 23rd, opened their doors to 11 boys -- eight boarders and three day students -- becoming one of the only schools of its kind in the United States.
The Fessendens not only provided their young charges with academic instruction and athletic training, they also taught boys the basics of personal hygiene, good manners, and life skills. Their approach was innovative -- an early version of “whole child education” that proved extremely successful, and, in short order, the school added dormitories, classrooms, and playing fields to accommodate the growing numbers of students. Frederick led the school to prominence in the independent school world for 33 years, turning the reins over to his son, Hart, in 1935. The school continued to thrive under Hart Fessenden, attracting students from around the world while developing an international reputation as a top junior boarding school.
For the first 64 years of its existence, The Fessenden School was guided by these two dedicated leaders. Independent secondary schools throughout New England and the United States came to see Fessenden graduates as highly desirable candidates, well prepared for the rigorous challenges of the finest schools in the country.
The second 60 years of the school’s history have seen the continued growth of Fessenden’s reputation as a leader in the private school world. Under the stewardship of the dedicated and dynamic headmasters who followed, the school has successfully blended valued traditions with innovative programs and creative initiatives that continue to set Fessenden apart from its competitors. Graduates include statesmen, business leaders, and philanthropists such as Howard Hughes, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Governor William Scranton, and Secretary of State John Kerry. Notable alumni such as actors Christopher Lloyd and James Franciscus, writers Christopher Tilghman and George Colt, television and film writer Alec Sulkin, musician Matt Nathanson, and NBA player Alex Oriakhi have all walked the halls of Fessenden, book bags in hand, on their way to illustrious careers in their fields.
Over time, the original school in which Frederick and Emma conducted daily lessons, ate with the students, read stories before bedtime, and raised boys “along right lines” (as Frederick was known to say), has expanded to include classroom buildings, three gymnasiums, a hockey rink, administrative offices, dormitories, art studios, and a performing arts center spread across a rolling campus of 41 acres.
During its more than 100-year history, Fessenden’s success has been tethered to the conviction that boys who feel cared for will thrive and succeed. The legacy of our founders’ venture -- to educate boys in every aspect of their lives — resonates in the work of our dedicated teachers and staff, who continue to create strong personal connections with their students.