BISHOP HENRY W. HOBSON once said that there was really only one important thing that the Board of Trustees of a School like Andover had to do and that was to choose the Principal or Headmaster. If the Board chose wisely, he added, they would have relatively few troubles; if, however, they made a poor choice, their troubles would be unending. The Phillips Academy Board, charged with finding a successor to Cecil Bancroft, understood the point. By proceeding slowly and cautiously, they succeeded in finding a man who was to become another of Andover's great Principals. After Dr. Bancroft's death, they had appointed Professor William Graves as Acting Principal, and appointed a committee to consider a permanent successor. The committee worked diligently, for at their next meeting, in February 1902, the Board considered the committee recommendations and voted unanimously to elect Professor James Hardy Ropes of the Harvard Divinity School the next Principal.(1) Since Professor Ropes had himself been a member of the Andover Board for some years, he was well known to the Trustees and a man whom they could choose with enthusiasm. Still in his thirties, Ropes had had a brilliant career ever since he had entered the Academy in 1881 as a student from the Town of Andover, where he had lived all his life. At the School he was class valedictorian, president of both Philo and the Society of Inquiry, editor of the Phillipian, and a prize-winning speaker. Of his oratorical ability one judge wrote, "A simple, manly, direct style."(2) He was also one of the founders of the P.A.E. Society. At Harvard, he had an equally distinguished career, being a member of numerous student organizations as well as editor of the Advocate, and graduating summa cum laude. After graduation he spent a year doing geological work in the West and then returned to enter the Andover Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1893. His work at the Seminary was so superior that he was awarded a fellowship to study in Germany and for the next two years he was enrolled at the Universities of Kiel, Halle, and Berlin. His European work completed, he returned to the Harvard Divinity School, where he became first Instructor and then Assistant Professor in New Testament Criticism. One admirer said of his election, "The athletic and popular sides of the school may well be trusted to care for themselves, if the scholarship is directed by such a scholar as Prof. Ropes. "(3)
It was one thing to elect James Hardy Ropes; another for him to accept. and it soon became clear that he would take the position only if the Trustees met his demanding requirements. In a letter to the Board he spelled out these conditions. After paying tribute to the achievements of Dr. Bancroft and to the reputation of Phillips Academy generally, he hit hard at the housing and boarding conditions in the School, which he thought behind those of every other school in the country:
Only 70 boys out of a total this year of about 340 boarding pupils have proper rooms provided by the Institution. The sanitary and other evils of the old Commons are well known to the Board, and are intolerable. The demoralizing arrangements of the Commons dining hall, the only provision for the boys' meals which the Academy can at present make, have lately been vividly set before the Board by the Treasurer. In consequence the daily life of the greater part of the boys is largely out of the control of the administration of the School, with the result of serious moral evils and constant danger of greater ones. I believe it is absolutely essential to any successful administration of the Academy and to the retaining of public confidence in the School that the boys' life should be brought again into the hands of the authorities of the School by the institution of sufficient dormitories and of a suitable dining hall, in which at any rate the larger part of the School, and not, as at present, only the poorest boys shall board, and where the influence shall be civilizing and not the reverse.(4)
Professor Ropes admitted that these changes would cost money, but said that he could not undertake to raise it. He concluded that if the Theological Seminary left Andover and the School acquired its property, he would accept the position if an additional $50,000 were raised. If the Seminary remained in Andover, a much larger sum would have to be raised before he could accept the position. The Ropes conditions were harsh but realistic; perhaps he wanted to see if the Board really meant business. In any event it was not long before he received word from the President of the Board that the Trustees could not accept his conditions; whereupon he declined election as Principal.(5) Professor Ropes would remain on the Board for another thirty years and perform many useful services for Phillips Academy, but he would never be its Principal.
Once again the Trustees began the search. Since Professor Graves was old and unwell, it was incumbent upon them to find an Acting Principal while they continued their search. A month after Professor Ropes turned them down, they selected a promising new teacher who had been Director of Athletics and Assistant to Dr. Bancroft---Alfred E. Stearns. There is reason to believe that some of the Trustees, particularly Treasurer James Sawyer, Stearns's dear friend, wanted Stearns elected then and there. Other members of the Board, however, wanted to wait a year and see how things went. When the year was up, their doubts were completely removed, and in March 1903 Alfred Stearns was unanimously elected the ninth Principal of Phillips Academy.(6)
Al Stearns was a natural in many ways to be Principal of the School. First of all, he had many forebears who had been associated with the Academy or with education. Two of his great-grandfathers---Josiah Stearns and Jonathan French---had been on the first Andover Board of Trustees. A great-great uncle, Jonathan French Stearns, had gone to Phillips and had been one of the founders of Philo. His grandfather, William A. Stearns, graduated from the Academy in 1823 and went on to become President of Amherst College. It was only Al's father who had no Andover connections. William French Stearns chose to go into business and became a merchant in India for fifteen years before Al was born. The family lived at Malabar Hill, just outside Bombay, and had a busy and interesting social life. Lord Napier was a frequent visitor, David Livingston stayed there before embarking on his expeditions to Africa---which Al's father helped finance---and Richard Henry Dana had spent a period of convalescence there following a serious illness. Although William French Stearns was very successful with his mercantile enterprises, the strain of living in India began to take its toll, and just before Al was born in 1871, they all returned to this country and settled in New Jersey, where they planned to live off the fortune that Al's father had made. Then came disaster. A Hindu employee of the father's firm was discovered to have embezzled almost all of the business's assets. This news broke Al's father, who never recovered from the shock and died shortly thereafter, leaving Mrs. Stearns and seven children almost penniless. She soon decided that the most sensible procedure was to go to Amherst, where her father-in-law was still President, and open a girls' school. This she did, and when President Stearns died in 1876, she was allowed to use the President's house for her school by Stearns's successor, Julius Seelye, who already had a handsome residence of his own. Thus it was that Al grew up in a girls' school, called "The Convent" by Amherst undergraduates.(7)
In a delightful book entitled An Amherst Boyhood, which he wrote after his retirement from Andover, Al Stearns recounted in a mellow mood his youthful experiences in that college town. The 1870's and 1880's were the heyday of fraternities, so Al and his friends formed one of their own, called Chi Delta, complete with ritual, grip, and regular meetings. While still very young, he began playing baseball on pick-up teams and thus started an interest that was to last his entire lifetime. Some of his closest friends were the sons of William B. Graves, who had left Andover in the early 1870's and was presently teaching at the Massachusetts Agricultural College at the other end of the town from Amherst College. Graves returned to Phillips Academy in 1881. Al had a scientific bent as well and established what he called the "Stearns Zoological Cabinet," which contained a miscellaneous collection of birds' nests and eggs, butterflies and beetles, shells and minerals. It received a tremendous boost as a result of a fire that had burned down the building where the College mineral collection was kept. Al sifted through the ashes, rescued many of the specimens, and was rewarded by being given a number of interesting rocks for his cabinet. One might think that living in the attic of a building that housed a girls' school would have cramped his style, but apparently it did no such thing. Sometimes, however, it could be embarrassing. On one occasion Al was asked to drive the girls to nearby Mt. Toby for a picnic. As he drove through the center of town, he saw a group of his cronies, who roared with laughter at the sight of Al with all those girls and yelled "Oh you Sissy" at him. Not infrequently he served as a go-between for girls at the Convent and Amherst undergraduates, his most famous courier service being performed for a beauty named Anna Barkley and Robert Lansing, later Secretary of State under Wilson. Long after, Al met some of Anna Barkley's relatives and found them still enraged because she had turned Lansing down. Al remembers the future playwright Clyde Fitch as a real fop---supercilious, always dressed to the nines, anything but masculine. Al and his friends used to waylay Fitch and roll huge snowballs down a deep slope at him.(8)
It is a sad commentary on the state of medical knowledge of the day that Al's mother, with her usual kindness, was allowed to take into her school a girl who was dying of TB, in hope of making her last days more pleasant. The result was tragedy. Four of Al's siblings died of the disease, and for a while it was thought that he had contracted the malady also. He was sent to Florida to recuperate and spent two winters there. When he returned to Amherst, he was at loose ends. At this point it was decided that he should go to Phillips Academy, where his uncle, Cecil Bancroft, was Principal. Since the Stearnses had no money for room and board, an arrangement was worked out whereby Al would live with the Bancrofts, while his cousin, Fanny Bancroft, would go to the Convent in Amherst. So it was that Al Stearns first came in contact with the School to which he was to devote most of his life.(9)
During his four years at Andover Al Stearns roomed at the home of his uncle the Principal, a good part of the time in company with James C. Sawyer, who became a dear friend and who later, as Treasurer of the Academy, became his strong right hand. Al had a distinguished record at Phillips Academy: he was captain of the baseball team, a good football player, the School tennis champion, editor of the newspaper, and president of Philo. Though he was a good scholar, his interests lay primarily in nonacademic matters, particularly sports. Fortunately a series of letters written to his sister Mabel over the four-year period of his stay at Andover have been preserved, and they reveal a great deal about the schoolboy. He could enjoy a joke with the best. One of Al's teachers caught a boy chewing Black Jack tobacco and warned the rest about chewing. He then called on a boy in the back of the room who was also chewing tobacco but who managed to spit his quid out on the floor when the teacher was not looking. "I nearly rolled off my seat laughing," Al reported.(10) Undergraduate relations with the Faculty outside of class were pretty much a matter of cops and robbers. Al described a particularly telling encounter by the cops: "Last night the Profs. made a raid, that is they went around to all the different fellows' rooms to see how many were out of their rooms and they found about 150 out. A number of these will probably get bounced and all will probably get no small number of demerits."(11) He wrote that Edward Coy, under whom he had Greek, "looks as though he was going to bite your head off if you make a mistake," but that Algebra under Pap Eaton was a "regular gut." He wrote apprehensively of a coming Cane Rush, where his class was to take on the Middlers, who had three times as many members and were a lot heavier. He expected some broken bones, but apparently survived the ordeal successfully.(12) For all his uncle's lecturing on the evils of smoking, Al and Jimmy Sawyer occasionally smoked in their room in the Principal's house, but, perhaps as a compromise with his uncle, Al smoked mainly Cubebs. The two boys were amazed to discover later that Cecil Bancroft had known what they were up to all along.(13)
In his senior year Al Stearns had an experience that illustrated how divisive an influence the Societies could have on the School. He was a leading candidate for Class President, but the non-Society boys, most of whom roomed in the Commons, decided to unite and elect one of their number. At the election meeting one of the non-Society men got up and said he had nothing against Al Stearns but that he thought he had enough honors already. Al's friends were furious at this tactic, but when the vote was taken, Al lost 26 to 22. Al and his friends determined to retaliate by boycotting the Commencement festivities and refused to serve on any of the Committees. In the late spring Al wrote his sister, "I don't care about having you here for graduation for unless I am very mistaken, it will be pretty 'cheesey.' All the Society men in the class resigned from the Class Day Committee, so as to show them we didn't want to 'run the class' as they had the gall to say we did. I was appointed Chairman of Executive Committee which is next best to President, but I declined with thanks and told them that as long as I had been accused of being a hog, I wished to show them that such was not the case. They were all broken up over the whole business and tried to make us change our minds, but we pulled their legs badly." Eventually the Class of 1890 managed a respectable Commencement, but the struggle between the Society and non-Society men left scars none the less.(14)
In sports Al Stearns made his most important contribution as an Andover undergraduate. During his first year he was only a spectator, but he records cheering the football team despite a 26-0 loss to Exeter. 'We yelled for about an hour steady for all we were worth and I was so hoarse when I got back that I could hardly speak," he wrote his sister.(15) In the spring of that year he was a member of a pick-up baseball team called the "Faculty Nine" and recorded with pride their defeat of Cheever House, 5-2. TIhey were going to take on a team from the Theological Seminary the following week, Al wrote.(16) The following year he pitched for the varsity and beat Exeter 6-4, despite "the most continued yelling, hooting, rattle-shaking, and every conceivable annoyance" from the Exeters. Al wrote his sister a glowing account of the victory celebration afterward---the team on a barge escorted by a band and the whole School with horns, proceeding to the Fem. Sem, then to the teachers' houses, for speeches, then to the campus for the bonfire. The team was carried on the shoulders of their supporters, then Professor Gile was carried around on student shoulders, and finally there were speeches from the team. "We broke up at midnight after a game of leap-frog and went to bed," he wrote. As for an Andover-Exeter game, "It is for blood and nothing else."(17) The following year---Al's third---came one of his most famous exploits. His pitching arm had been badly strained, and it was agony for him to throw, but since there was no one else on the Andover team who could pitch, he agreed to do his best against the Exeters. Jimmy Sawyer describes his arm hanging "limp as a dishrag" and how he had to lie down and rest the arm on his chest while Andover was at bat. Despite this handicap, Al kept the score down, and the game was finally called on account of rain with Exeter leading 3-2.(18) Following the game there was a riot at the Exeter railway station, which resulted in a suspension of Andover-Exeter contests for two years, so that Al never had another chance at the School's chief rival. But there were other teams to play. During his senior year he reported: "Last Friday we played the Yale Freshmen and beat them easily 13-7. We had a fine day for the game and had a tremendous crowd including the whole Fem. Sem. and a lot of Bradford girls. Then all the Societies had Tally-ho's trimmed with Andover colors and as there were lots of other teams besides, the ground presented quite an animated scene."(19) Though Al would never pitch at college, he was destined to become one of the great infielders of his generation.
Throughout his career at Andover Al Stearns developed a keen interest in girls and availed himself of every opportunity to be with them. In his first year he attended a meeting of the Sewing Society and played games with the girls until nearly nine o'clock.(20) That same year he went to a lecture at the Fem. Sem. He sat in the back near all the girls and came to the conclusion that they were not as good looking as those at his Mother's school in Amherst---"though of course there are some that are prettier," he added gallantly. A second visit changed his opinion somewhat: "There are some daisies down there and don't you forget it."(21) On another occasion the Fem. Sems. came to a boxing match at Phillips. Whenever a boy got hit, there would be a sympathetic "O-H" from all the girls that "sounded very funny and in some cases broke up the boxers for the time."(22) During his senior year Al complained, "The only trouble is that as I have to play ball every afternoon after school, I get almost no chance to see the dear Fem. Sems. This of course is terrible, but owing to the pressure of other duties I don't get much chance to lose flesh over it ."(23) Just watching the girls was fun, too, as many an Andover student has discovered. "This afternoon a whole crowd of us went out in the orchard back of the K.O.A. house and watched the Fem. Sems. walking in their grove .... We lay around on the grass from the time that church let out until nearly supper time. It is great sport to watch the Fems. sporting around in their gay spring rigs."(24) All this was but prologue to Al's part in the Abbot Commencement festivities during his senior year. Headmistress McKean had asked him to be an usher---presumably because, as Cecil Bancroft's nephew, he would be considered safe. Al was delighted with his assignment; the girls looked "too smooth," he thought, and besides he got cuts from all his recitations. And were not his classmates jealous of him! On Monday evening he ushered for the Draper Prize Speaking and carried out flowers to the contestants. Some had so many that it took three ushers to carry them, he reported. The next morning he stayed in a room back of the stage during the Commencement exercises where there were a lot of girls and "raised cain." After serving as a waiter at the Commencement luncheon, he had the pleasure of sitting at the head of a table of girls. This ended at 2:15, at which time Al and a nameless young lady went out in the grove and stayed until 5:30. At 11:00 o'clock that night Al and a group of friends returned to the Fem. Sem. to serenade the girls, but since they had not rehearsed, they made "a pretty bad mess of it." Whatever Al might have to say about flappers and loose women later in his life, as a student at Andover he had a wholesome interest in the opposite sex.(25)
In the field of unorganized sports Al's passion was coasting. One hears almost nothing in the records of the day of skating, but coasting was a popular pastime. We have already noted the continuing wrangle between the School and the town about coasting on town streets and the amount of ink that the Phillipian spilled on the subject. Al Stearns's account of his coasting experiences do much to demonstrate why there was so much undergraduate enthusiasm for the activity. During his first year he writes, "We had some fine sliding yesterday and all the bobs in town were out." The next year he speaks of "one continual ding dong of gongs on different bobs" and how they could start at the corner of Phillips and Main Streets and go all the way to the railway station .(26) The winter of 1888 brought ideal conditions: "The road was all ice and we would start way up by the Graves's and go all the way to the depot. They shut down on our going to the depot, however, so we had to turn off into a side street by the Episcopal church. The whole slide was just a mile and I never went so fast on a rack before. In the evening nearly all racks had headlights so that when a rack was in front of our house, those way down by the church could see it coming."(27) Sometimes coasting was dangerous. "After we had been down several times the P.A.E. bob, which is the largest one, went down with about 20 fellows on it and just before they got to the Fem. Sem. a big dump cart drove out and they tried to turn to one side and just grazed it as it was. In trying to turn out, they got to slewing and just below the Fem. Sem. they struck a tree and went flying in all directions. We hastened to the spot and found one fellow senseless and several others badly bruised. We carried the fellow into the Morrill House close by and soon after he came to and is now all right. The accident put a damper on the rest of us and we decided to quit sliding."(28) But if one did not want to go coasting, there were always snowballs. "We have had some pretty good snowballing during the last 2 or 3 days and at the end of recitation hours the snowballs will be flying like hail out in front of the Academy."(29)
There were other lighter episodes during Al Stearns's stay at Andover. When his family was living in India, they had adopted the Indian custom of wearing pajamas to bed at night, and they continued to do so when they returned to this country. Al naturally brought pajamas with him to Phillips when he enrolled. When he put them on the first night, his roommate, Jimmy Sawyer, who wore the traditional nightshirt, said that it was one of the greatest shocks of his young life. He passed the word around among the other students and Al came in for a good deal of joshing. But when Sawyer hung the pajamas out the window for all the School to see, that was too much. Al had red hair and a temper, and this time he got so angry that he would not speak to Jimmy for three weeks. They finally made up, however, and Al got revenge by emptying a box full of June bugs into Sawyer's bedroom one warm spring night.(30) Al could usually control his temper, but there were occasional flashes. He was Chief of the Phillips Academy Fire Department and took his responsibilities seriously. On one occasion they had been called to help put out a fire in an ink factory nearby. When a group of townies began heckling the Academy firefighters, Al solved the problem by turning the hose on them.(31)
When the time came to make application to college, problems developed. Jimmy Sawyer and most of Al's other friends were all going to Yale, and he naturally wanted to go along with the gang. His Mother, however, would have no New Haven nonsense. The Stearnses were an Amherst family, and particularly in view of the College's generosity in letting Mrs. Stearns use the President's house for her school, Amherst was where Al must go.(32) Sick at heart, Al matriculated at Amherst in the fall of 1890. Fortunately, it was not long before he had no regrets about his choice.
Al's record at Amherst was as distinguished as the one he made at Andover. His Mother wisely insisted that he should room in the College, not at home, and thus avoid some of the disadvantages of being a day student. Though he used to eat meals occasionally at the Convent, he was for the most part a full-fledged boarding student. He was a good scholar, though he just missed making Phi Beta Kappa because he had cut some classes to go on an athletic trip and the professor, outraged at Al's sense of priorities, gave him a low mark. In order to make Phi Beta, all marks had to be above a certain level.(33) He joined the Psi Upsilon fraternity early in his career and made many close friends there. One of his happiest associations at Psi U. was with the black janitor, one George Davis, who used to lead the brethren in song on warm spring evenings.(34) Al did not get along with President Merrill Gates. When he was elected Chairman of the Junior Prom during his junior year, President Gates apparently considered this a sign of total depravity. He called Al into his office and told him he had been chosen to represent the College at a Y.M.C.A. conference in Princeton, to take place the same time as the Prom. Al was not a member of the Y.M.C.A. but could see no way of avoiding the assignment. His temper was not improved, however, when he arrived at Princeton to find that the conference had been the previous week. He also got into a bruhaha with the President over the powers of the student Senate, with the result that the Senate was finally abolished.(35) A good friend was Harlan F. Stone, who transferred to Amherst from the Agricultural College after having accidentally roughed up a professor there in a student free-for-all. This friendship was to continue throughout Al's entire career. Like many men of his day at Amherst he valued most highly the teaching of Charles Garman in philosophy. Garman was a chronic invalid who always kept the temperature in his room above eighty and wore a green eye shade. He used a kind of Socratic method to discuss with his students basic philosophical questions after they had studied pamphlets that he had composed and had printed. Garman's class was the last one in the morning, and often, according to Al's account, the students would stay an additional half hour or more to continue the discussion, even though it meant missing their dinners.(36) But again it was in athletics---particularly baseball---that he made his reputation. He got so good that he used to play semiprofessional ball in the summers; and when he graduated, he had many offers to join professional teams. Since he had permanently injured his pitching arm at Andover, he played second base and became one of the great infielders of his generation. One of his favorite baseball stories was of an episode that occurred during a Williams game. An Amherst batter hit a Texas Leaguer that the Williams outfielder dived for. The umpire ruled that the ball had touched the ground first. The outfielder, who knew the Amherst captain, Cornelius Sullivan, came rushing up and said, Sully, honest to God I caught that ball." Sully looked at him and then to the umpire and asked him to reverse his decision. This was greeted with tremendous applause from the Williams stands. So Sully turned to the spectators and said, "You should all know that that outfielder is the one person in all of Williamstown whose word I would take."(37) Amherst was---and is---a singing college, and Al, who had a deep resonant voice, loved to sing. One friend remembers driving back with Al from a trip and singing continuously for two hundred and seventy-five miles.(38) Despite occasional disappointments, Al's Amherst years were full of rewards, and the relationship he established with the College was to remain strong for the rest of his life.
After graduation Al decided to go into teaching---among others Garman had urged him to do so---and got a job at the Hill School, where he taught history for three years. Mike Sweeney, the famous Director of Athletics at the Hill for many years, had this to say about him:
He was very popular with the boys, who would go any distance with, or for, him, as he was the personification of tact, wholesome vigor, and good fellowship, an ideal man to lead and influence adolescent boys. He carried this personality to his class room, dormitory, dining room and chapel; a good scholar without the human weaknesses that some scholars display during the early years; a quite remarkable all-round athlete; a born teacher; and a man who impressed one as having the ability to go a great distance, no matter what he undertook; as he proved subsequently as headmaster of Phillips-Andover Academy.(39)
The high point of his career at the Hill, according to Al, came when a huge rat attacked him in bed one night. In an effort to catch and strangle the animal Al upset his bed, and the noise was terrific. The entire dormitory was soon at hand to witness this titanic struggle and to see Al eventually subdue his attacker.(40) After three years at the Hill, Al's uncle, Cecil Bancroft, turned to him for help. He was beginning to weaken physically, and the chance to have a young assistant whom he knew and trusted must have been appealing. Al was hired to teach history, be Director of Athletics---the first in the School's history---and generally assist the Principal in whatever ways he could. An added inducement must have been the chance to study at the Andover Theological Seminary---Al had a strong religious streak---and to get a degree there. He performed all these duties with distinction during the four years that his uncle was still alive, and when Dr. Bancroft died, his nephew was among the most promising men on the Phillips Academy faculty. As we have seen, after James Hardy Ropes turned down the Principalship, Al was chosen to that position in 1903.
The letters Al wrote to his Mother during that period provide an enlightening picture of his first two years as Principal. Al had always worshiped his Mother, and he was a faithful correspondent. Of his election to the Principalship he wrote: "And in many ways I am glad that it has come about in this gradual way. There is not the overwhelming sense of responsibility that would have come with a sudden and full appointment last year .... Last year some of the trustees were in doubt and had I been appointed then some people might have felt that Sawyer and perhaps one or two others had been over-zealous in my behalf. Now those who were formerly in doubt have expressed themselves as my warmest supporters. They have watched my work and have been satisfied with it and that fact alone gives me great confidence. The faculty and boys too seem to be wholly with me."(41) Discipline cases always bothered Al. While dealing with several, he wrote, "I feel like the weather (rainy and dark) "(42) And there were many problems with Abbot. He thought that his training at the Convent would serve him in good stead. In this case Abbot had expelled a girl who had gone off with a Phillips boy, and Al was afraid he would have to act too.(43) Sometimes he felt despair: "after reaching home after midnight, I began another similar session at 8:15 the next morning, a session which has lasted throughout the entire day and so it has gone on ever since .... parents, heartbreaking letters and the boys themselves. At times I have felt like taking to the woods and giving up the whole business. I don't wonder that Dr. Bancroft aged early. As for myself I feel 10 years older than I did a week ago."(44) A few days later he concluded, "I realize . . . that Dr. Bancroft was right when he said that a school master lives on the edge of a volcano. "(45) A Principal could never tell where his duties might take him: 'Today I spent the whole day in Salem hanging around the County Court House waiting for the case to be tried against some of our boys for ringing false fire alarms."(46) Not long afterward he spent "two entire days .... thwarting the attempts of one of our boys to run away to Japan. I had explicit orders by telegraph from the boy's father to seize the boys goods and to cut off all means of securing income. This I did, stopping payment on a loan he had just negotiated and appropriating about $500.00 worth of jewelry, watches, scarf pins, studs which the boy was endeavoring to sell. The youthful explorer accepted the situation gracefully."(47) At Commencement time there were additional burdens: "To add to my other duties I have been obliged to drill our Commencement speakers as we have no regular men in elocution this year.(48)
There were compensations as well. When the Head of Hampton Institute visited the School in 1904, he thought that there had never been a time when the atmosphere and general tone had been so good.(49) That summer another one of the Commons buildings burned down, despite all the fire department could do. The Reverend C. C. Carpenter "remarked that the Lord had done his best to help us out, but that the fire company had interfered."(50) When School started the following September, Al wrote his Mother of his concern that all the places be taken. They had admitted enough to fill the School, but there were anxious times until all the boys actually showed up. His burden that fall was made heavier by a history teacher who had left at the last minute to accept a better position. Al had to teach two classes and make trips to Cambridge to find a replacement.(51) Exeter that year had the largest school in its history. Al explained their success as a result of a scholarship program that was twice as large as Andover's, no entrance examinations, and a special lower school for younger boys, which provided special treatment for them.(52) Al was particularly pleased with the New Vesper Service that, at long last, he was allowed to introduce. No more would the Phillips boy have to sit through an hour-long sermon from a Seminary Professor on Sunday afternoon. The new service was one half hour in length, had plenty of music and a short talk, and began at 5:15, so that the boys could have almost all Sunday afternoon to themselves and go directly from Vespers to supper.(53) The landlady problem was still a time-consumer. Al called on one lady who was downcast because she had no boys at all. He suggested that if she put in a furnace and a bathroom, she would get some.(54) Along with his other concerns, he worked with the undergraduates to establish a student council.
At times his multifarious duties almost overwhelmed him:
If only I could work without interruption... but day and night I must break off again and again to interview a boy, listen to a landlady's complaint or cheer a parent until any trend of definite thought that may once have existed in my brain is sadly broken ... I don't wonder that Dr. Bancroft used to say often that when he accepted his position here, he gave up all idea of gratifying his longing to pursue a literary or scholarly life.(55)
So he went on, breaking up a Halloween march to Abbot by the Phillips boys, entertaining forty undergraduates and twelve Abbot girls on Thanksgiving evening, and journeying to Exeter to confer with Principal Amen about lowering faculty salaries.(56) His baptism was of fire.
If Al Stearns thought that his life as Principal would become easier with the passage of time, he was sadly mistaken. During his entire thirty years as Principal the demands on him were unending---indeed they could well have broken a weaker man---and if the problems he had to face changed but little, neither did he. When he retired in 1933, he was very much the same kind of man who assumed office in 1903. He had inherited from his uncle Cecil Bancroft a strong School and dynamic program for future development. He considered his major task the completion of the Bancroft program, rather than educational innovation, and he remained dedicated to the Bancroft principles throughout.
A difficult problem faced Al even before he had been formally elected Principal: the "Princeton Cribbing Case." In the days before the College Board Examinations each college gave its own, and if there were a large enough number of candidates, they held them at individual schools rather than a central place. In the late spring of 1902 plans were completed to administer Princeton examinations at Andover. The candidates had been notified, a Harvard professor engaged as proctor, and the papers received from Princeton and locked in the School safe. The night before the exam a group of Andover undergraduates, most of them not even seniors, waited on Al Stearns and said they wished to take the exams. Al explained that there were not enough papers, that they had not registered, and that they were therefore ineligible. Much to his dismay he received the following morning a telegram from Princeton that read: "Admit all candidates. Divide papers when necessary." The Harvard professor was outraged at this development but was finally prevailed upon to go ahead with the exam administration. After about an hour he was back in Al's office in a fury. "It's a damnable farce," he said. "Two to five boys huddled together working on the same paper. Not one of them could help cribbing if he tried." Again the professor was persuaded to return to his post, and eventually the examination was completed. When the papers were sent to Princeton, a strong letter of protest accompanied them---a letter to which the Princeton authorities never replied. To add insult to injury, shortly after this the New York Daily Tribune printed a story recounting how twenty-two out of thirty-one Andover boys had been rejected at Princeton for cribbing on their entrance examinations. At this point Al Stearns, who was never one to avoid a confrontation, hopped a train to Princeton, but the Registrar and the President were both out of town. He finally found a member of the Admissions Committee and presented his case to him. The only result of Al's trip was a short statement given to the press by the Princeton authorities that perhaps the Andover boys were not wholly at fault in the episode. But this retraction received little attention, and Al was snowed with protests from friends of Phillips Academy wondering what had happened. Finally a full statement of the Andover case was published, and things died down somewhat. The next year Phillips Academy refused to take any responsibility for the administration of the Princeton entrance exams, but they agreed to allow a Princeton professor to come to the school for that purpose. One might think that Princeton would have tried to reform the procedure, but nothing of the sort happened. The professor who arrived from Old Nassau was a cultured Southern gentleman whose solution to the proctoring problem was to put all the students on their honor, as was done at Princeton. He then settled down to read the newspaper. When Al Stearns's curiosity could restrain him no longer, he went over to the examination room to see how things were going. He found an unconcerned proctor, widespread use of trots, and generally a repetition of the previous year's experience---but with one big difference. This year no one at Princeton suggested that the Andover papers were not in perfectly good order. The whole episode illustrated the many difficulties that accompanied entrance examinations by individual colleges; once the College Board was established, most of the trouble faded away.(57)
Like his uncle before him, Al Stearns was constantly concerned with the problems of feeding and housing the boys properly. A great step forward in the boarding problem came in 1902 when Bulfinch Hall, the old gymnasium that had burned in 1896, was remodeled to serve as a Commons. Still, the new dining hall could not accommodate the whole school and a substantial number continued to board in private homes, some happily, some unhappily. At the start of Al's term, prices in these private boarding houses varied from $3.50 to $7.00 a week, and $4.00 a week in the dining hall. One of Al's first assignments when he returned to Andover was to board for a week at Major Marland's, in what is now Clement House. The Major had a $5.00 table and a $3.50 table. The latter complained that they were getting scraps from the higher-priced one. After a week's eating there, Al agreed, and the Major was prevailed upon to shape up. There were seldom any complaints about the highest-priced tables; thus Al was surprised one day to have a group of boys come to him with the accusation that the landlady was keeping all the white meat in the kitchen when goose was served, and giving the boys only the dark meat. Al never got tired of telling this story at alumni gatherings. Housing was another matter. While progress had been made toward having all the boys in school dormitories, with faculty supervision, there was still a long way to go. In 1900-01 out of 428 boys, 80 lived in the English and Latin Commons and 47 in the new cottages; 10 were day students; and 291 were scattered around in 48 private homes. The idea that the School could find 48 ladies who could ride herd on 291 undergraduates was obviously unrealistic, and because a landlady who was conscientious about the rules was liable to wind up without any tenants, the problem was that much more difficult. The location of the rooming houses was another important consideration; those near Abbot Academy were very popular, as were those on the outskirts of town, where expeditions to Lawrence could be undertaken with impunity. The boys were often heartless in teasing some of the older landladies. An aging spinster who was in charge of Pease House had an unreasoning fear of fire. When her boys learned this, they managed to produce several conflagrations in the house, on one occasion burning a vast amount of toilet paper up the chimney. In another house there was a removable register in the kitchen ceiling. The boys used to remove it and then send down a hook on a rope, catch the teakettle, pull it up and empty it, and then put it back on the stove, much to the mystification of the couple that ran the place. But it was the lack of adequate supervision that troubled Al the most. One house was reputed to have 'the best stocked bar north of Boston." Others were convenient starting places for parties in Lawrence. With the coming of the street-car line, a new headache developed for Al---the "chippies." These ladies came over from Lawrence on the trolley and attempted to strike up conversations with Phillips boys. The chances are that in the great majority of cases nothing very serious was intended. One alumnus told Dr. Stearns some years after his graduation: "You know, Mr. Stearns, there were mighty few fellows in our time who really meant anything serious in fooling with those 'chippies.' They liked to chin with them, jolly them, and thought they were getting a thrill out of it. Once in a while if a more daring fellow slipped his arm around one of them, he thought he had got a big kick out of it. That's all there really was to it. But nowadays, when a fellow can squeeze and pet a Prof.'s daughter on the family sofa what's the use of looking for trash in the streets? The lure is gone." Al, however, was not content to accept this easy explanation of the problem. He and the Faculty set out to drive the chippies off the Hill. It was made clear to the boys that even talking to a chippie meant instant expulsion. Then Al began to chase them off in person on weekend evenings. On occasion he got help from the boys. One group lured a group of young ladies close to the Latin Commons and then poured the contents of ash cans and slop pails on them. Another group got whips and gave the girls a whipping. From then on, things improved, but like so many other problems, their solution had to wait the completion of the school dormitory program. Once all the boys were housed under Faculty supervision, problems of discipline were drastically reduced.(58)
A regular part of Al Stearns's duties as headmaster was breaking up undergraduate riots and fracases of various kinds. Al was a sensitive and wise disciplinarian in dealing with cases of individual boys, and he soon developed a reputation in handling problems that involved the undergraduates en masse. The first fall that he was at Andover, in 1897, he was not a full-fledged member of the Faculty. He lived with his old friend Jimmy Sawyer and his wife on Abbot Street and was not expected to enforce school discipline. Yet he wanted to help his Uncle Cecil Bancroft, and before long he was in the thick of the fray. Andover won the Exeter football game that year, and the usual celebration occurred after the contest. Much to Al's surprise, he found that most of the undergraduates vanished immediately after the celebration; they had not returned to their rooms, and he could not find out where they had gone. Dog-tired after a long day, Al repaired to the Sawyers and went to bed. His head had hardly touched the pillow, however, before the most horrid sounds of revelry were heard from the street outside as about two hundred Phillips Academy students danced and sang and stumbled their way back to their rooms on the Hill. Al decided that he was in no position to interfere with this saturnalia at the time, but later he used his position as coach to elicit from the boys just what had been going on. It turned out that several years earlier a group of adventurous souls had decided that the regular victory celebration after the Exeter game was not enough and had instituted the practice of repairing to Pomp's Pond, with a keg of beer, where they continued to celebrate. These festivities had proved such a success that as time went on, they were enlarged, with recruits from the town and other friends of merriment being included. The number of kegs of beer had increased in proportion. Al knew that if he turned this information over to the Faculty, the result would be a raid on one of the parties, the apprehension and expulsion of a lot of boys, and general bad publicity for the School. Fortunately for Al there was in the School at the time an extremely popular Texan who was a football player and a born leader. Al went to this boy with his problem, told him that Andover graduates were unwilling to send younger brothers to the School because of these orgies, explained the unhappy alternative of Faculty action, and asked him to clean the whole thing up. The boy demurred at first, explaining that he was one of the ringleaders in the Pomp's Pond parties, but he was finally won over. He asked Al if he could get a few of his "jock" friends to help him and also suggested that few school rules might be broken in the process. Al promised to give him full support, and for the rest of the year nothing was heard of these revels. Al did not know what his deputies were doing, nor did he try to find out. Late in spring he asked the Texan how things were going. 'I guess we've finished the job," the boy replied. He said he and his friends had broken up party after party by pretending to be police, and that the participants were getting tired of the whole thing. The climax had occurred a short time before when six die-hards made a final try. The Texan and his henchmen had driven them away, and then to prove their point, had carried the beer keg all the way back to the Hill and placed it on Al Stearns's porch, much as a head might have been placed on a pike to dramatize an execution. And so the Pomp's Pond parties became a thing of the past---for the time being at least---and Al Stearns began the practice of enlisting undergraduate aid in the solution of school problems that he was to use many times again in the future.(59)
Hazing was something that Al refused to condone; on one occasion he used a novel way of breaking up a hazing party. One evening Jimmy Graham, the Chemistry teacher, called up Al and said a hazing party had just passed by his dormitory. Just why Jimmy could not do something about it himself is not clear; perhaps he had to stay in his dormitory. Al promptly high-tailed it over to the designated area and saw a procession of "preps," or new boys, led by several hazers. Rather than drive them all away, Al chose to join the procession as a "prep" and marched along with the rest. The "preps" were soon ordered to kneel down and "Pull up grass." When they obediently tugged at the grass, the order was stern: "With your teeth." At this point Al stood up suddenly and in that deep bass voice of his demanded of the hazers, "What are you doing here?" This move struck consternation into the hearts of the tormenters, who rushed away, tripping over rocks and logs, but not before Al had recognized one. The poor "preps" were completely at a loss, not knowing whether this was part of the hazing process. Al gently told them to go back to their rooms, and the exercises were closed. The hazer whom Al had recognized lived in fear and trembling for the next several weeks, but Al never turned him in; he thought he had probably suffered enough.(60)
In the 1890's the Phillipian had remarked that the annual cost of replacing broken window panes in the Commons was greater than the value of the buildings themselves. One of Al Stearns's early assignments was to do something about the problem. It had been exacerbated by the opening of Bancroft Hall right across the street, with its relatively luxurious accouterments. For one thing, Bancroft had toilets and showers, both unheard of in the Commons, and the Commons boys soon began to "borrow" them, all the while dubbing the Bancroft inhabitants "Gold Coasters." The latter retaliated by pulling up the Commons pump, and an unconscionable number of window panes were broken. Again Al decided to enlist undergraduate help. The football captain lived in the Commons, and it was to him that Al turned. It was finally decided to create a "Commons Glass Committee," with the football captain as chairman and two husky athletic types as aides. The committee was to have a free hand in dealing with the problem, and their existence and powers were duly announced to the student body in daily chapel. Returning from Boston late one night, Al was startled to find on his desk a note from the football captain asking him to come and see him at once. Late as it was, Al decided that he had better support his deputy. When he arrived at the boy's room, it was to be greeted with the news that the committee had had a very important meeting and had voted to expel one boy, put another on probation, and force a third to leave the Commons and room elsewhere. The chairman explained that the expelled boy was a "rotter" who had broken all kinds of rules; if the Faculty knew half of what he was doing, they would fire him. The boy on probation needed it to get straightened out, and the third simply did not belong in the Commons. As may be imagined, Al was horrified at the summary action, but after sleeping on it, he decided to back up his committee. It was not long before an irate father appeared on the scene, demanding to know what kind of School this was where the undergraduates rather than the Faculty expelled boys. Al handled him like a baby. He said he had not asked the boys for the reasons why they had expelled his son, but he was sure they would give them to him if he were to ask. As it stood, he told the father, there was nothing in the record against the son, and he could withdraw without prejudice. If he forced the issue, the chances were that damning evidence against the boy would come out and the Faculty would expel him. The father left in a huff, but a few days later he wrote that he would drop the matter. In the meantime the "Commons Glass Committee" kept at its work, and the number of broken windows decreased markedly. It would be only a short time before the problem was permanently solved by the removal of the Commons buildings lock, stock, and barrel.(61)
In the days before the development of an adequate system of athletics, and with the School divided into four clubs, class contests provided a means of letting off a lot of surplus energy. Shortly after he arrived on the campus, Al Stearns was asked by his Uncle Bancroft to inspect a class game. The Principal was well aware that these confrontations tended to get a bit rough, and he wished to be reassured that things were under control. When Al arrived on the field, he found the air blue from the smoke of exploding firecrackers hurled at the players by the respective oppositions. In addition, a small cannon was installed near first base. Loaded with grass and dirt, from time to time it added to the hazards of trying to play on the diamond itself. Any base runner had to bury his face in his arms to protect his eyes, if not his life. As Al watched, a boy was hit in the side of the head by a firecracker and collapsed in a heap, stunned. Fortunately, he soon recovered, but Al had seen enough. On his recommendation the Faculty voted to outlaw all explosives at class games. If the Faculty thought that was the end of the matter, however, they were sadly mistaken. At the next contest rotten eggs replaced firecrackers. It was not long before all the contestants were dripping with egg slime. This operation proved to be no laughing matter; one boy, hit squarely in the eye with an egg, lost his sight in that organ for life. Once again the Faculty moved, outlawing the use of eggs at class games; but the boys' resources were by no means exhausted. At the next contest the field was very wet, making possible the use of mud. As in past fracases, all the players were soon covered, and the spectators had as much fun as ever. Once compulsory athletics for all were introduced, much of the reason for class contests disappeared. A final practice associated with class games was the kidnapping of important players, in hopes of preventing them from playing. Al Stearns spent a great deal of time trying to prevent this from happening, and on one occasion drove out of one Commons building a large number of boys who were bent on kidnapping the class baseball captain, who lived on the top floor. Actually, however, he arrived too late to save the boy from his fate and later discovered that the captain had been locked in a barn on Salem Street. But his supporters managed to rescue him just in time for the game the next day. Shortly afterward, class games were banned.
Alfred Ernest Stearns not only developed techniques for dealing with the undergraduates en masse; he showed unusual sensitivity in handling individual cases. A good example of this talent was the way he dealt with the son of a prominent Washington politician. The first confrontation between Al and this boy occurred when Al surprised him leading a group of preps on a hazing party. Recognizing Al, the boy turned tail and ran, with the Principal, having shed his raincoat, in hot pursuit. The race proved to be a dead heat until suddenly the boy rose unexpectedly in the air and fell at Al's feet. Unable to stop, Al fell on top of him, at which point they both burst out laughing. It turned out that the boy had been done in by a tennis court net that he had not been able to see in the darkness. Al suggested that they return to the preps, and then proceeded to introduce each prep to the would-be tormentor. Everyone returned to bed. But that was just the beginning. At this time the School had been embarrassed by a large number of false fire alarms from boxes on Academy property; things had got so bad that the town fire department said they would answer no more alarms from the School area until a second alarm had been sounded. One night another false alarm was sounded from the box on the corner of Main and Morton Streets. Unfortunately for the alarm-sounder, as he was running away from the box, he lost his cap, and when Al was shown it by the police, he immediately recognized it as belonging to the prominent politician's son. Al decided on a novel procedure in dealing with the case. The next morning in Chapel he gave a talk on the evils of false alarms and then proceded to describe the kind of boy who would do such a thing. His description tallied precisely with that of the suspected culprit. After Chapel the boy came up to Al in a rage and demanded why he had been singled out for such treatment. All the undergraduates had known who was being described. When Al informed him that the police had his cap in their possession, he collapsed. By chance a trolley car was passing at just this time. The boy rushed out of Al's office, boarded it, and disappeared. The problem then entered a new phase; Al had to make special trips to Washington and New York to confer with the parents, and he was bombarded by various politicians, including Henry Cabot Lodge, pleading that he let the boy off and spare his parents the disgrace of arrest. The father in particular tried to impress on Al what a disaster it would be for his political career. Al held firm, pointing out, however, that the boy had committed a civil offense and had not broken a School rule, and promising that if the boy would clear himself with the local police, he could return to School. A few days later the boy appeared with a statement from the police that he had cleared himself and was duly reinstated. It would have been much easier to expel the boy in the first place, but Al's imaginative procedure managed to salvage him.(62)
Al showed a different kind of sensitivity in connection with the tragic case of a boy who was accidentally shot and killed. It seems hard to believe, but early in the century the undergraduates were allowed to take pistols to pre-Exeter game rallies and fire off blank cartridges to add to the general enthusiasm. The morning after such a rally, one boy dropped in to see a friend who had a pistol. How one chamber came to be loaded with a real bullet was never explained, but while the visitor was fooling with it, it went off and the bullet severed his jugular vein. Al Stearns and the school physician, Doc Page, were called to the scene immediately and were soon joined by a local physician, but all their efforts were in vain, and in a few minutes the boy died. Al soon realized that there was nothing to be done for the boy who had died and turned his attention to the owner of the pistol, who was wandering around in a state of shock. Al called on some of his dormitory friends to stay with him, and one of them gave up the Exeter game that afternoon to take him on a long walk. Soon the grieving parents of the dead boy arrived, and arrangements were made to have the body sent to the family's home. Before the parents returned, Al told the father that he wanted to ask a favor of him. The broken-hearted owner of the pistol had a new and terrible burden to carry for the rest of his life, and Al hoped that the father would be willing to talk to him. The father turned him down flat. His boy had been killed and he was not about to communicate with the person responsible for his son's death. Al continued to plead with him, pointing out how desperately the boy needed help---how he was, after all, the son's best friend. At last the father relented, and the boy was brought in, "limp and white-faced. When the father saw him, he burst into tears and took the boy in his arms, sobbing "My boy, my poor, poor boy." Later the dead boy's family invited the pistol owner to visit and help fill the gap caused by the death of their son. Though Al could be a stern disciplinarian, his action in this case indicates that he had many sides.(63)
Some of the more difficult and time-consuming disciplinary cases involved Andover undergraduates in trouble with the police. In the course of his career as Principal, Al Stearns spent many long hours trying to get his charges out of hock. During one of the class games, the usual amount of extracurricular activities had taken place, involving, among other things, the exploding of a large number of firecrackers. One boy with a firecracker sputtering in hand looked hurriedly for a place to deposit it and spied a mailbox nearby. Without thinking, he opened the lid, deposited his firecracker, and ran off. In a few seconds an explosion occurred, and the top of the mailbox went flying off into space. On this occasion the police moved promptly, discovered the perpetrator, and arrested him. The case was all the more serious because it involved a federal offense, and the boy was summoned to appear before the Postal authorities in Boston. Al accompanied him, and when he and the boy entered the hearing room, Al's heart sank, for he saw before him a group of frowning officials headed by a big, burly Irishman who looked particularly foreboding. As the testimony of the Andover police was presented, the tribunal nodded with apparent approval of the case that was being presented. When the evidence had been completed, the Andover police and the boy were dismissed, but Al was asked to meet with the Chief Postal Inspector in his office. AI expected to be bawled out for not disciplining his boys properly, but much to his surprise, when he reached the Chief's office, the official burst out laughing. By way of explanation the Chief told Al that when he was first appointed, he had promised to be really tough and to bear down on anyone who violated any postal laws. One day he was called by the Cambridge police and told that three Harvard boys had blown up a mailbox. He ordered them brought before him immediately and prepared to throw the book at them. Much to his amazement, when the three were brought in, one of them turned out to be his own son. He immediately revised his tough speech and wound up putting the three on probation. The Chief said he was reminded of that incident in this case; he knew the boy meant no wrong, but he suggested that Al let him sweat for a few days before telling him that the charges would be dropped if he kept out of trouble from then on. Al followed his advice and kept the boy in suspense for some time. The boy was later to say that he had sweat more in those few days than he had in all the remaining days of his life.(64)
In dealing with disciplinary cases---as indeed in all he did---Alfred Ernest Stearns was primarily a moralist, for whom religious and moral training was at the heart of any successful education. He came from a long line of clergymen, and as a child had received a thorough grounding in Calvinist religion---family prayers, the saying of grace, regular church attendance, and all the rest. During his first years at Andover he attended the Theological Seminary and, as noted, earned a degree in Divinity. He did not think much of the course of study, but his Uncle Cecil Bancroft assured him that a graduate degree was worth getting.(65) Throughout the rest of his life he strove to transmit to his boys the moral precepts that he had learned and to give them the same exposure to religion that he had received. That he was strongly dedicated to these aims was clear to anyone who heard him conduct morning chapel at Andover. Generations of Andover graduates will never forget that tall, imposing figure praying. Eyes tight shut, that rich sonorous voice filling the building, he asked that undergraduates be kept from the things that were base and sordid in life and be led to the things that were pure and good and true. He reinforced his points by kicking the bottom of the pulpit. Al saw all of life as a struggle between the forces of good and evil, with temptation ever present. Duty and discipline were, he believed, the keys to the good life. In essence he was a. nineteenth century man, the last of the Calvinist Principals, whose outlook was essentially Victorian. Samuel Phillips would have approved of him, for he accepted most if not all of the religious tenets in the School's constitution. Given this background and these beliefs, it is hardly surprising that he thought moral education of prime importance.
"Education is commonly classified under three headings," he wrote, "primary, secondary and higher . . . . to these three add a fourth . . . the highest education is religion."(66) "The country's greatest menace is not the uneducated masses but clever, intellectual crooks who mold the masses to their will, (67) and only too often the "intellectual crooks" had little interest in either religion or morality. One gathers a clear picture of Al Stearns's attitude toward religion from correspondence he had with President George Olds of Amherst about the question of compulsory chapel at that institution. The college paper had polled the undergraduates and found that 424 were against compulsory chapel, 16 were for, and 1 was indifferent.(68) As a member of the Alumni Religion Committee at Amherst, Al wrote President Olds:
I have a strong conviction that the feeling against compulsory chapel is not nearly so deep as we are sometimes led to believe. The religion element has played a small part in [required weekday chapel services], as we all know. In many institutions the services have been nothing short of a travesty on religion, and the boys have naturally rebelled. Where the services have been kept on a truly spiritual level, I have never been able to find any vigorous opposition on the part of the student body as a whole.
He continued with bitterness:
Not only would there be a loss on the religious side, but there would be a distinct loss to the morale and spirit of the college. The thing that has troubled me most . . . is that the pronounced and pugnacious agitation against compulsory religious exercises has come almost wholly from a conviction [sic] of clever and noisy Hebrews, plus a group composed of the type . . . who have practically no religious background themselves and are like iconoclasts.
If we had to give up religion here, I should feel that we had knocked the bottom completely out of all that is of prime interest and concern to me in connection with the responsibilities and opportunities that I face in my job as Headmaster.(69)
On another occasion he asserted that if he could select only two courses for a school curriculum, they would be on bible and public speaking.(70)
One can get a clear understanding of Al Stearns's basic beliefs and attitudes from a little book that he wrote in 1923 entitled The Challenge of Youth. Youth, Al thought, had a dual nature---there was always a struggle going on in young people between temptation and vision, between shame and grandeur. Yet the potential for youth was unlimited if only the institutions of society could maintain the old virtues, the old discipline. The question was, Al believed, whether the "agencies which civilization has developed to aid in this eternal fight for virile and self-controlled manhood and womanhood" were still strong.(71) It was Al's considered opinion that the influence of the home was on the decline, that parents were failing to instill in their children the old discipline, the old respect for virtue. He was particularly distressed when parents attempted to prevent legitimate punishments from being meted out to their children. If parents were failing their children, the church and religion were not doing much better. Gone were family prayers, the saying of grace, the reading of the Bible. Indeed for most youth the Bible had become a closed book. What Al called "Modern Substitutes" for the home and church were positive forces for evil. He quoted with approval a statement by "Dr. Max G. Schlapp, Criminologist" that blamed the increase in inmates in insane asylums on "the motion picture and the motor car, almost exclusively" as well as "the general jazz environment which surrounds the race." The titles of currently popular movies simply reinforced the point: "Why Trust Your Husband? The Fruits of Desire. The Woman of Pleasure. His Temporary Wife. Playthings of Passion. His Bridal Night."(72) A new and alarming pattern of social behavior had developed among young people. "Joyrides," "petting parties," and all-night dances seemed to be the order of the day, and anyone who protested these activities was sure to be labeled a "Grundy" or a "Grouch." Though it seems unlikely that Al had ever read John Dewey, he does not hesitate to excoriate the new approach to education---"self-expression, self-realization, self-determination---what their advocates refuse to tell us is that in the last analysis these all spell Selfishness, and with a large 'S.' "(73) This new permissive attitude was not limited to education. "The classic expression of an old-time railroad magnate, 'The public be damned,' represents an all-too-common attitude of mind in these later days. Woman shouts for her 'rights'; labor joins the chorus . . . and the sterner sex [a favorite Stearns expression] screams for its 'personal liberties.' Seldom, in all this noisy turmoil, do we hear the inspiring words 'duty,' 'service,' 'sacrifice.' "(74) Finally, Al was dismayed at the change in the position of women in society. Today, instead of finding women serving as "an ideal, as an inspiration, as a challenge," one sees the "flapper"---hard-drinking, promiscuous, with painted face and rolled stockings. And he closed on a somber note:
experience teaches us only too plainly that youth must have the help of its elders if it is to reach the high goal that these visions challenge us to seek. It is our duty and it is our privilege as well to face this task and accept this responsibility. We are not doing it today.(75)
Al Stearns's conservative view of society was reflected in his political beliefs as well. He was unreserved in his enthusiasm for General Leonard Wood, certainly a conservative figure in his day. His admiration for Calvin Coolidge was equally strong, partly because he and Coolidge had been at Amherst together and had worked together on various Amherst committees. In 1926 arrangements were made to have Sherwood Eddy, son of a popular visiting preacher, D. Brewer Eddy, come to the school to speak, presumably on some religious topic. Al was dismayed when he was offered a choice of three topics "What I Saw in Russia," "Russia---A Warning and a Challenge," and "Bolshevism and Fascism---The Danger Zones of Europe."(76) Al wrote to the father:
I did not realize for a minute, when I accepted your suggestion that Sherwood should speak to the boys this fall, that he was going to talk on Russia and the Russian situation. Not that I object to knowing more about that big and complicated problem, but I do feel that the complications are so many and so far not fully disentangled that it is a risky topic to try to present to school boys. Were the audience made up of college students, even, I should feel very different about it. The boys are [so] apt to be interested and influenced by striking phases or phrases that I honestly question the wisdom of using this topic for the meeting suggested. If Sherwood is going to use it, I can only say that I feel justified in asking him to treat it with the utmost mildness, regardless of his own personal feelings.(77)
He went on to say that there was a member of the faculty who was apt to be "a bit hysterical" on the subject. It was finally decided that Sherwood should take on the Faculty after his talk to the boys. Despite Al's fears the whole evening was a great success. "Even our most rabid conservative pronounced Sherwood's philosophy sound," Al wrote after the talk.(78) Nor did he approve of people who tampered with national stereotypes. He was outraged at Rupert Hughes's life of George Washington and at Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry. In a sermon delivered at Cornell in 1931, he referred to these authors as "buzzards hovering over some new-found piece of carrion." Lewis either ignored or was oblivious of Al's blast, which was reported in the New York Times, but Hughes hit back. After defending his treatment of Washington, he wrote, "Of course, it is to be expected that anyone who prates of Christ and of charity in judgment is using this as a preface to savage injustice and falsehood, and you have conformed to type. I have made few efforts to answer the many lying misrepresentations of my spoken and written references to Washington, but I have yielded to the impulse to inform you that your assault on my work and my character is viciously false both as to my motive and my publication."(79)
When it came to supporting his Faculty in the exercise of their Civil Rights, Al Stearns's record leaves a good deal to be desired. A striking example was the case of Bernard Allen, a Classics teacher at the Academy who became involved in a strike in neighboring Lawrence.(80) Allen was one of five brothers born to a prosperous contractor in Walpole, Massachusetts, all of them independent thinkers. The oldest brother took over his father's contracting business in Walpole; another, Philip, went to Andover and Yale, became President of the Bird Roofing Company in Walpole, and was eventually a member of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston; a third devoted himself to the stock market, made a great deal of money, and finally came a cropper with Kreuger and Toll; a fourth was a distinguished engineer at Clark University. Bernard took a different course. He attended Phillips Academy, graduating in 1888, went on to Yale, where he graduated four years later, and after a year of teaching at a school in Newbury, New York, joined the Andover Faculty. From the start he proved himself an effective teacher and a dedicated scholar who demanded precision from his students. No one ever seems to have questioned his competence as an instructor. Yet his position as a teacher at Phillips Academy was always insecure because of the political beliefs that he held. Just how these beliefs developed is difficult to say; certainly he was a "sport" in the family, where the other members were conservatives. In 1912 he became an enthusiastic supporter of Theodore Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party. When that movement failed, he moved forward to become a Socialist. It should be remembered that the Socialists polled over one million votes in the Election of 1912. At one point in his career, Bernard Allen had "I.R.R." put on his license plates, indicating his support for Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. Though it is difficult to prove the fact conclusively, the presumption is strong that Allen was the only Socialist in the Andover community. There seems to be no question that his unorthodox beliefs made the administration uncomfortable. After he had taught at Phillips Academy for twenty-five years, he still had no permanent appointment, and his salary remained well below that of his contemporaries. Between 1908 and 1918 his stipend went up only five hundred dollars, from fifteen hundred to two thousand. A characteristic salary letter was written to him by Dr. Stearns in 1911; it spoke of a possible "readjustment of our teaching force" in the near future and thus the impossibility of giving "definite assurance at this time of a permanent position for the future. (81)
Despite the fact that Allen was suffering financially for his beliefs, he continued to teach at Andover until an episode in 1919 that was to change his whole life. At the end of World War I working conditions in American factories were difficult at best. Inflation was cutting into real wages, soldiers were returning to the labor force, and foreign competition had revived. Lawrence, Massachusetts, was feeling the full effects of all these forces. The labor leaders in the city determined to push for a forty-eight hour week, instead of the old fifty-four hour one, but to demand the same pay they had received previously. The mill owners, during a slack period were glad to cut the working week to forty-eight hours, but they balked at giving the same pay. The result was a strike that started in January and was to last well into the spring.(82) There could be no question where Bernard Allen's sympathies lay. He believed that William Wood, President of the American Woolen Company, "was one of the greatest menaces to New England Industrial life."(83) Intent upon seeing the strike at first hand, he went to Lawrence on Sunday, 16 February 1919. Here is his account of what happened:
In Lawrence, four miles away, a strike of textile workers was going on, caused by the refusal to grant a demand for an increase in wages which would make up only in part a much larger increase in the cost of living. This demand, it was clearly shown, could easily have been granted without appreciable effect on profits, and in fact, was granted a few months later. It would be difficult to find a strike carried on with less violence on the part of the strikers than this, or one conducted with greater moderation.
In company with a small group from Boston, led by Mr. Rotzel, I visited Lawrence one Sunday morning. Our purpose was to show our sympathy for the strikers, and to learn as much as possible about the situation at first hand. I had also in mind the possibility of trying to remove some common misunderstandings by writing to the press.
Under conditions somewhat different, publicity might justifiably have been sought for the sake of calling attention to the fundamental principles of civil liberty involved .... At this time, however, I could see no advantage in publicity and did not seek it in any way. The wide publicity which followed came solely from the utterly unprovoked attack upon us by mounted police, who dispersed us with blows as we were quietly leaving the railroad station.(84)
The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune's account, while generally substantiating that of Bernard Allen's, adds some interesting details:
. . . the police made it very evident to the visitors that their presence here could be well dispensed with and that Lawrence could quite ably adjust her differences without their help. The crowds were kept moving by the police and there was considerable excitement. . .
Instructor Bernard M. Allen of Phillips Andover Academy had an exciting time when he was put to rout by the policemen who broke up crowds in the vicinity of the depot. Mr. Allen had a card inscribed "48-54" in his hat and when chased by the police ran up the Post Office steps and later toward the transfer station where he boarded a car for Andover.
When interviewed last evening Mr. Allen said that he came to Lawrence to investigate for himself the conditions here. He admitted having a card in his hat and said that he wore it because he was in sympathy with all who endeavor to secure better wages and better working conditions. "At no time did I hesitate at all to follow the directions of the police officer or attempt to answer him back. I simply waited and tried to find out what he wanted me to do," said Mr. Allen.(85)
The story in the Eagle-Tribune did Allen in. It was widely copied, and soon letters, mostly protesting Allen's behavior, began arriving on Al Stearns's desk. Later in the week the New York Times produced an editorial entitled "Bolshevism in the Schools." It read in part:
Are the preparatory seminaries of America to be nurseries of its overthrow?
A teacher of an old eighteenth century school, Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts, descends upon the industrial city of Lawrence, as a "Comrade of the World", crying for a strike, and imagining in his vealy way, that it is a clever and noble thing to associate himself with the forces of trouble.(86)
Occasionally Al received a letter sympathetic to Bernard Allen. One man wrote, "they [the police] made the Goddess of Liberty feel for an hour or so last Sunday that Lawrence officials were no friends of hers."(87) But for the most part the letters were highly critical of Allen's action. J. A. Macdonald of the Arlington Mills wrote, "As a Lawrence mill man and the father of a boy attending Phillips Academy it seems incumbent upon me to express to you the resentment which many here feel, that one of your faculty, B. M. Allen, should inject himself into a situation already discouraging and difficult enough." After explaining how the forty-eight hour week would handicap American mills in meeting foreign competition, he went on, "but not content with this a radical Socialist element joining with the worst element among the foreigners, has demanded 54 hours pay for 48 hours work. The real leader of the movement is a Russian Jew, who claimed exemption as an alien, and it seems too bad that just after this war, men of this type should be encouraged by educated men, under whom we place our boys for instruction in the formative period."(88) Al's reply to Macdonald made it clear that Bernard Allen could expect little sympathy from him:
I have your letter of February 17th. There is not a word or suggestion in it with which I do not sympathize to the fullest extent . . . . I venture to say that as a headmaster I have been more distressed and disgusted with what occurred in Lawrence last Sunday than have you as a father. That very Sunday afternoon ... I had made as a basis of a talk to the boys in chapel the growing menace all over the world revealed in socialistic and anarchistic tendencies of various kinds. I had emphasized as strongly as I could the unstable character of the leaders and promoters of these movements. . .
I prefer not to discuss at this moment the special problem that confronts us in view of the unfortunate activities of a member of our faculty at a time of real crisis .... The fact that he was present and evidently expressed his sympathy with the strikers in general furnishes fuel enough for my indignation; and the matter is not likely to rest where it is.(89)
The matter did not rest there. Key members of the Board of Trustees were convinced that the School's reputation had been severely damaged, and action had to be taken. Elias B. Bishop wrote the Headmaster asking if he would object if Bishop demanded Allen's resignation.(90) Alfred Ripley, President of the Board, expressed a similar point of view. Finally a decision was reached: Allen had to go.
A few days later Allen was asked to meet with a group of Trustees in Boston. Among those present were President Ripley, Headmaster Stearns, and Professor James Hardy Ropes of Harvard. What happened is best described by Allen himself:
At that meeting I began to give my reasons for thinking that this strike deserved the support of every believer in social justice, but was cut short by the President of the Board, who said, in substance, that they were not concerned with that question at this time, but with whether I had shown such a lack of judgment and loyalty to the school as to prove my unfitness to continue as a teacher. The failure of this statement to bring forth a protest from any other Trustee present made further defense seem useless.(91)
Trustees Ripley, Ropes, and Stearns flatly requested that Allen submit his resignation, and he agreed to do so. He stayed up all that night, in company with his brother Philip and two friends, writing his letter. (92) When completed, it was a moving document. After explaining how his presence in Lawrence was perfectly legitimate and the action of the police unjustified, he went on:
. . . after careful consideration I have decided that the only thing for me to do is to relieve the Trustees of all further embarrassment, so far as that is possible. I therefore tender my resignation as instructor in the Academy, to take effect as soon as you can conveniently arrange for my work.
It is not an easy thing thus to sever connection with the school to which I came as a boy, and where I have taught for nearly twenty-six years. But the interests of an institution like this must always be of more importance than those of any individual, and a deep feeling of loyalty to the Academy has been the controlling influence in this decision.(93)
The Trustees did not formally accept Bernard Allen's resignation until their meeting on 21 March 1919, and their action on that occasion indicates that there must have been some regret about the way the whole affair had been handled. To ease their consciences a bit, Al Stearns wrote Allen:
As an appreciation of your constant loyalty to the school and your deep interest in all that pertains to its welfare the Trustees voted unanimously to pay you in full your salary for the current school year, even though your official connection with the institution has already terminated. It is a real pleasure to me to be able to advise you of this action.(94)
Bernard Allen went from Andover to teach in Cheshire, Connecticut, where he had a distinguished career. He published three Latin grammars and wrote numerous articles for Classical journals. A professor of linguistics at Yale wrote of him, "among American schoolmen he has not more than two or three rivals."(95)
In 1938, though sixty-nine years old, Bernard Allen decided to reopen the case. He wrote to the Trustees, suggesting that their action in accepting his resignation was in part due to the hysterical atmosphere of the times and wondering whether due weight had been given to ethical considerations. Appended to his letter were a number of character references from distinguished Classical scholars.(96) The Trustees, understandably, were unwilling to reopen the case. They pointed out that all the Board had done in 1919 was to accept a letter of resignation that had apparently been freely tendered and that the Board's action did not cast any reflection on Bernard Allen.(97) But this could not satisfy the old man, and he went to his grave still bitter at the treatment he had received from Phillips Academy. There is no question that the handling of the case was in part a result of the Red Scare that was sweeping the country in 1919. The trustees, in taking the action they did, were behaving as did much of the rest of the country. Yet it should not be forgotten that some stood fast against the hysteria of the day. At the time of the Boston Police Strike, which also occurred in 1919, Harold Laski, then a young instructor at Harvard, raised alumni hackles by speaking out in favor of the police. A movement was started to demand Laski's resignation. President Abbott Lawrence Lowell of Harvard disagreed completely with Laski's position on the Strike, but he felt that freedom of expression was more important than a particular point of view. As he said to a friend, "If the Overseers ask for Laski's resignation they will get mine!" and the affair soon died down.(98) It is regrettable that no one at Phillips Academy in 1919 had enough conviction of the importance of civil liberties to take Lowell's position.
When it came to dealing with minority groups among the undergraduate body, Al Stearns followed no consistent policy. Generally speaking, he sought to have Andover students represent a broad cross-section of the American population, and he always had a soft spot in his heart for boys on scholarship. When it came to blacks, however, he was more ambivalent. Writing to Arthur Drinkwater of the Class of 1896, who wished to found a scholarship for black students in memory of a black classmate, Al said:
In my earlier years as head of the school I fought vigorously for the colored boys in our midst and for those who sought to enter. As years passed I began to grow increasingly doubtful as to the wisdom of my position, for it seemed to me that these fellows were being harmed more than helped by the school .... As the doubts grew, I decided to discuss the matter frankly with the best informed man I could find. Dr. Frissell, then of Hampton Institute, had a boy in school at the time and was a graduate himself. I talked the situation over very carefully with him and was assured that my doubts were fully justified and that in his judgment we were harming more than helping the colored boys who were admitted to the school. Later I talked to Booker Washington and found that he felt, if anything, more strongly than did Dr. Frisseil that it was unwise to take colored boys into the Academy. Both of these eminent authorities expressed the opinion that these fellows were pretty sure to have their heads turned and be cut off more or less from the natural work among their own people which was their lot and their privilege .... I decided that except in very rare instances colored boys ought not to be encouraged to come to the school. The last two who have been here have done exceptionally well, and one of these is now about to graduate from Harvard.(99)
On the other hand when a black alumnus, much more aggressive than Washington, charged that the American history course at Phillips Academy was presenting the viewpoint of white superiority, Al took pains to reassure him that this was by no means the case.(100)
Each class at Phillips Academy had a certain number of Jewish boys in it. Though there is no evidence that there was ever a formal quota for their admission, the Admissions Office appears to have acted informally to keep their numbers down. Few Jewish students were ever admitted to the school fraternities. When a lady in Cambridge wrote Al asking him to list the members of the Andover delegation going to Harvard who would make good ushers for her Brattle Hall Dances, he reported to her on the Wasp types and simply wrote "Hebrew" by the names of the Jewish boys.(101) Yet the discrimination that existed was almost entirely social. In the classroom and in extracurricular activities Jewish boys had as much opportunity as the other undergraduates.
One group of special students in whom Al took a particular interest was the Chinese. Phillips Academy had begun enrolling Oriental students as early as the 1860's, when Joseph Neesima attended. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century there were a few present each year, but with the coming of the twentieth the number increased substantially, and Al himself played the leading role in dealing with them. After the Boxer Rebellion the powers involved in its suppression imposed on China an indemnity of about $335,000,000. The United States believed the sum too large for China to meet and, when protests were to no avail, decided to turn its share over to the Chinese Government to establish a fund for the education of Chinese students in the United States. The Chinese responded by establishing Tsing Hua College, an institution devoted to preparing Chinese students for matriculation at American colleges and universities. Since the standards of Tsing Hua College were extremely high, and since there was a growing desire on the part of progressive Chinese to emulate the United States as they modernized their empire, a growing number of Chinese students who were unable to get admitted to Tsing Hua sought other ways of preparing themselves for American higher education. The reason why Phillips Academy became particularly involved was that Sir Chentung Liang Cheng, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, who spoke at the commencement ceremonies in 1903, had studied at Andover in 1880-81 and distinguished himself in the Exeter baseball game of 1881 by knocking a three-bagger and a two-bagger. In his speech at the Commencement luncheon, the Ambassador, who had a deep affection for his old school, predicted that more and more Chinese would want to come to American schools, and he promised to send qualified youths to Phillips Academy. From that time on, the number of Chinese at Phillips Academy mounted steadily. Sir Chentung Liang Cheng personally recommended one of the first groups to come, and many others from the educational mission of Dr. Yung Wing in Tientsin followed. In 1920, for example, fifteen Chinese students came to the School, and during the period from 1903 to 1920 close to one hundred entered. The success of the program is indicated by the statement of a newly arrived Chinese boy who said, "Everyone in China knows about Andover .... it is about the only school we hear about over there." Al Stearns, very high on these students, thought they did much to modify the provincialism of the American boys, and he admired their high moral standards. But they needed to relax and play more, he thought. Though they were participating in tennis, track, swimming, and especially soccer, they were still an over-serious lot.(102)
Successful as this program may have been, it added a tremendous burden to Al's already busy life. Sir Liang Chentung Cheng's first group of boys were under the personal care of Al, and that established a pattern followed by most of their successors. In a sense the Chinese boys were sent not so much to Andover as to Al Stearns. In the files there are four fat boxes filled with correspondence between him and various Chinese parents, missionaries, educators, and the like. Among them are letters concerning the Sun children. In 1920 Al received word that seven Chinese students were on their way to Andover---five the children of Mr. C. Y. Sun and two friends. As one correspondent wrote, "He [Mr. Sun] sends them all to be in the care of Principal Stearns of the Academy as a sort of guardian.(103) The first contingent of four were to sail from Shanghai on the Nanking Maru and then proceed directly across the continent to Andover, arriving in time for the opening of school. In due course Arthur, Charles, Thomas, and Mary Sun arrived in Andover, and since only Arthur could go to Phillips Academy, the rest were taken into the Stearns household. The boys might have to eat at the school Commons, Al wrote, so as not to put too great a strain on his kitchen arrangements.(104) This would certainly satisfy the desire of the parents that the children be placed in a "Christian home" and that they be given "a training that would tend to strengthen their character, both morally and intellectually.' "(105) In due course reports on Arthur were received; they indicated a satisfactory record at Tsing Hua College and listed the English books that he had read, among which were Ivanhoe, Sohrab and Rustum, and Quentin Durward.(106) It was finally decided that Arthur should go to Phillips Academy and the other three to the Andover public schools, and by November, Al was able to write Mr. Sun that they had all settled in very well. The Stearns family were anxious to demonstrate to their visitors what an American Christmas was like, and plans were made for a big party, with a tree. All the Chinese students in Phillips Academy were invited---some twenty.(107) Lest Al fail to understand the kind of training a Chinese child should have, Mr. Sun spelled it out. The ideals were "Punctuality, Frugality, Discipline, Self-sacrifice for a good cause, Self-respect, self-denial, self-control, self-defence, Respect for righteousness, Exactness." It was a tall order.(108)
One has only to read the correspondence between Al and his Chinese friends to be appalled at the amount of work they involved him in. And his letters were no short notes; many of them were three or four pages of single-spaced typewritten communications. In February, 1921, for example, Al reported on the problem of room and board. He did not want to make any money on the students but he had to meet expenses at a time of rising food costs. In addition, "the advent of these young friends at my house brought me immediately face to face with a demand from the kitchen for an increase in wages."(109) On the other hand, there were compensations. In February Mr. Sun wrote that he was sending Al "a fur overcoat skin and a fur collar. . . Had I known your fit I would have had the overcoat made complete here."(110) When summer came, Al was faced with a difficult problem: what to do with the Chinese students during vacation. He finally solved it by sending them all to summer camps.(111) As if he did not have enough Chinese problems, Mr. Lin of Tientsin wrote, asking Al "to act as Guidance of my boy," who was also at Phillips Academy.(112) Later in the summer Mr. Sun reported, "Mary wrote to me about the ball game, Andover vs. Exeter. I am much astonished at her excitement she betrayed upon Andover's victory and how she went to ring the school bell.."(113) The following year Arthur went to M.I.T.---without a Phillips Academy diploma---while Mary went to Northfield and the two younger boys entered the Academy. If Al thought that his guardianship would end when a boy went on to college, he was sadly mistaken. Two years later he was sending Arthur checks, and Mr. Sun urged Alto see that Arthur got a good Christian training while at M.I.T. Mary found Northfield too difficult, and returned to the Stearns household to go to Abbot as a day student.(114) For a while she appears to have caused trouble, becoming deceitful and disobedient, but later Al reported that she had shaped up pretty well.(115) Charlie developed an interest in music and began playing the banjo; this created the problem of music lessons.(116)
After Christmas 1923 Al wrote Mr. Sun begging him not to send such expensive Christmas presents to the members of the Stearns family: the duties on them were killing him. He was also disturbed by the statements of the Sun children that the value of the presents was far greater than that indicated in the inventory.(117) And so it went. It should be remembered that the four Sun children represented only a small percentage of all the Chinese students that Al was responsible for. Incredibly, Al survived the ordeal, and in the process broadened the make-up of the Phillips Academy student body and did much to build good relations between China and the United States.
The difficulties of Alfred Ernest Stearns's life as Principal of Phillips Academy were matched by those of his personal life. In 1900 he married Kate Deane of Springfield, Massachusetts, whom he had first met when she was a student at his mother's school. The couple had three children: Alfred, who died in infancy, Charles, and Marjorie. After a little over ten years of married life, it became clear that Kate Stearns was seriously ill emotionally, and Al was obliged to have her institutionalized for the remainder of her life. His mother-in-law extracted from him a pledge not only to continue to support her in the institution but also to agree not to remarry while she was alive. Since he could not very well raise two children and do the entertaining required of the Principal of Phillips Academy while carrying out the manifold duties of his position, he engaged Miss Grace Clemons, a native of Ballardvale, who had been teaching a small school in the home of Bartlett H. Hayes, to be his hostess and a governess for his children. She was to remain in this position until Al's retirement in 1933, and after the death of his wife that same year, to marry him. The two children presented problems also. Charlie was never successful either in school or later in making a living; he gradually drifted away from the family and finally lost all contact with them. Marjorie, though a charming and sensitive girl, was never strong physically and needed special care. As often as not when Al returned home after a hard day, it was not to the serenity of an easy-going establishment but rather to new problems and new challenges.(118)
Alfred Ernest Stearns was nevertheless a strong Principal in an era when schools were usually known by their Principals. Whenever he appeared at a Phillips Academy happening, his presence was immediately felt. He emanated a sense of integrity and morality. Yet his allegiance was to the past. The nineteenth-century moral code he had learned as a young man he carried with him to the grave. He was no innovator. With minor exceptions, for example, the curriculum that he inherited from his uncle Cecil Bancroft remained unchanged at the end of his term as Principal. He was uninfluenced by modern trends and usually deplored them. No intellectual, he preferred people who did things to people who thought about them.
His capacity for concern for others was vast, and despite his stern exterior, he could be soft-hearted and generous. He often gave money to poor students and to faculty members out of his own pocket. He could take the trouble to call on a prep the night of his arrival in Andover and give him a warm welcome.(119) His students had differing opinions of him. One wrote, "Al Stearns towered above all of his contemporaries in the skill with which he developed character among his students."(120) Another said, "I was in awe of him; his moral perfectionism image was hard to break through, and I never had any warm relationship with him. He was so austere that the students often nick-named him 'base and sordid,' quoting a cliché he used too often in his chapel sermons."(121) There was no question about his being respected, however. Year after year in the poll in the school yearbook he won by a landslide the title "Most Respected."