The Early Principals of KUA: the challenges they faced.
Daniel and Hannah Kimball kept up a lively interest in their Hilltop school throughout their lives. Sadly, Daniel’s life ended suddenly in 1817 and he had only a few years to observe the first principal’s efforts to bring the Academy to life in the classroom. Much of what we know about our early principals comes from the first General Catalogue 1815-1880. It includes a brief history of KUA written by the fourth principal, Dr. Cyrus Smith Richards, in 1880. The quotes that follow are from his history.
Otis Hutchins, first principal 1815-1819
In the early years, the principal’s duties were not only administrative, but also as head teacher and for a few years, the only teacher. It wasn’t until 1817 that an assistant teacher was noted in the catalogue and not until 1824 that two assistant teachers were hired; until 1837, all of these men stayed for just one year. For a year in 1818, there was a teacher of penmanship and in 1828, a teacher of vocal music. For the first two years, it would seem, everything fell onto the shoulders of the first principal, Otis Hutchins.
Hutchins, an 1804 graduate of Dartmouth College, brought with him some experience in leadership as he had been principal for two years, 1812-1814, of Chesterfield Academy, Chesterfield, NH, a school he had attended, class of 1801. Richards described him as “A man of undoubted ability and superior scholarship; greatly respected by the citizens of Meriden, and beloved by all his pupils.” The reason, he wrote, for Hutchins’ early dismissal by the trustees was “… he lacked organizing ability. His classifications and general arrangements were often sadly at fault; so that he and his teachers were often working at a great disadvantage. Still, his administration, of four years, was very useful, with an encouraging patronage.” Hutchins returned to Chesterfield Academy in 1819 and served as its principal for four more years. At age 43, he apparently left the world of schools to preach and to farm in his birthplace of Westmoreland, NH, until his death in 1866.
John L. Parkhurst, second principal 1819-1822
The second principal was born in Framingham, MA, in 1789, and was a graduate of Brown University. He lead KUA for three, short years, his term “… was conducted amid great embarrassments, perhaps without fault of his. Much of this time there were no regular sessions of the school; only private recitations of a few scholars.” The Academy went from 40 graduates, eight non-graduates and five women in the class of 1819 to only seven graduates in 1920 and no graduates his last year, 1822. To be fair, student records were not well kept in the early years with many lists drawn up from students’ memories and, when they existed, imperfect catalogues, but the general outlook was not good. This was primarily due to the fact that Daniel Kimball’s estate was still entangled with that of his former business partner and executor, John Bryant and it wasn’t until 1822, five years after Kimball’s death, that his estate was finally settled. As Richards wrote, the $34,000, “… immediately gave new life and promise to its future prospects.” The grateful trustees, money in hand, voted to change the name of the school from Union Academy to Kimball Union Academy in honor of its great founder and benefactor.
After leaving KUA, Parkhurst taught in different schools in New Hampshire and Maine and during his lifetime, published five textbooks. Towards the end of his life, he, too, became a farmer until his death in 1850 in Gorham, Maine.
Israel Newell, third principal 1822-1835
Newell was born in Durham, ME, in 1794, and was a graduate of Bowdoin College. The new principal arrived at an advantageous time for himself and for KUA as Kimball’s fortune was now at the disposal of the Academy. His former student, Richards, wrote that he was, “… a remarkable man; dignified and prepossessing in personal appearance, a prudent manager, strict, and sometimes severe, in his discipline, he soon gave to the school a high and commanding position among the schools of New England. Though a scholar of moderate attainments, as a teacher, he had rare abilities in arousing and stimulating the mind, and enkindling an earnest and healthy ambition in his pupils.”
The school prospered, but in Newell’s second year tragedy struck when the original Academy building, along with its valuable library, burned to the ground. It was caused by a faulty flue in one of the four rooms on the second floor where the eight boarders lived. One stormy night, the smoke in the fireplaces blew into the rooms causing the boys to go elsewhere to study, but before they left, they carefully covered the embers with ashes and removed wood and kindling from the hearth. During the evening they checked on the fires several times, but suddenly the fire engulfed the building; it was consumed within fifteen minutes. The first Academy building constructed through the energies of Daniel Kimball was gone. By 1825, a new, brick building, known as the Second Academy was completed.
In 1827 Newell had the benefit of the first recorded “permanent teacher,” one whom Richards wrote did not have Newell’s “magisterial qualities” but praised him as “… a man of wider breadth of scholarship and an enthusiastic teacher ….” During their years together the number of students averaged over 100 annually and in Newell’s 13 years here he enrolled over 1200 students and “fitted” 200 for college. Because of his poor health he returned to his hometown in Durham, ME, and, like his predecessors before him, farmed until his death in 1846.
Next time: Cyrus Smith Richards, 4th principal of KUA 1935-1971