Since the 1800s, students from around the world have traveled to the towns of Wilbraham and Monson to avail themselves of excellent teaching.
A tradition of acceptance and diversity dates back to the founding of the two academies. Wesleyan Academy was the first coeducational boarding school in the country, and in 1847 Monson Academy became the first American school to enroll Chinese students. Soon afterward, students from Thailand began to attend Wilbraham Academy.
Monson Academy, founded in 1804, is the anchor of our history. Wilbraham Academy - originally Wesleyan Academy - was founded in New Market, N.H., in 1817 and relocated in Wilbraham in 1825. Although both Wilbraham and Monson academies were boys’ schools for a time, coeducation returned with the merger of the two schools in 1971.
- Founded in 1804, Monson, Mass.
- First American school to enroll Chinese students 1847
- Founded in 1817, New Market, N.H.
- Moved to Wilbraham in 1825
- First coeducational boarding school in U.S.
- Wesleyan Academy became Wilbraham Academy in 1912
- Began to enroll students from Thailand
By Brian P. Easler
Head of School
In the early 1970s, New England prep schools were dealing with a challenging landscape. During that time, the domestic economy was characterized by high inflation, high unemployment and lackluster economic growth. Declining boarding school enrollment, after a steady increase since the fifties, was also a concern, especially in a waning prep school consumer market where students began taking a more prominent role in educational decisions and for whom traditional boarding schools were beginning to be seen as too restrictive. Schools were closing, and those that had not needed a strategy.
As a result, many schools began merging with the opposite-gender school down the street or in the next town over, usually consolidating on one campus, selling unneeded assets to pay down combined debt, and becoming coed in the process. The results, in most cases, were merged schools that were stronger, more financially stable and more attractive to the student market. Schools like Williston Northampton (1971), Northfield Mount Hermon (1971), Loomis Chaffee (1972) and Choate Rosemary Hall (1974) followed this path, as did many others across New England. This was a largely favorable disruption in the boarding school world, and changed the face of New England boarding schools forever.
As many of you know, Wilbraham & Monson Academy merged similarly in 1971, and this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that merger. The WMA merger, however, had one very distinct and important difference from the others. Instead of merging a boys school and a girls school to become one coed school, Monson Academy and Wilbraham Academy were both boys schools at the time and had been rivals for decades. Additionally, the Academy ran into some challenges selling unused assets on the Monson campus. The result is that the Wilbraham and Monson merger was decidedly more difficult than what most others had to manage.
Despite the challenges of our merger, both schools were saved when it was not at all clear either could survive otherwise. This is a credit to the leadership and perseverance demonstrated by the members of the Board and the Administration during the merger and through subsequent years. This kind of commitment and dedication, even when faced with significant adversity, has become an integral part of our institutional culture. The work of those who managed the merger built the foundation on which the combined Wilbraham & Monson Academy thrives today.
Now, 50 years later, there is great reason for celebration of this historic merger. It gave us a strong and dynamic alumni body, as evidenced by the nine alumni trustees - two Monson alumni, two Wilbraham alumni and five WMA alumni. It provided the roots of our financial stability with a growing endowment, declining debt, and increasing donations - this past year the Atlas Fund crested $1.2M, the most ever raised. We completed the new $6M Athenaeum, funded entirely through contributions, in the spring of 2020, and the new 5,000-square-foot iLab in the lower level of the Mattern Science Building opened for the 2021-22 school year. Several of our signature programs regularly receive national and international attention, and we continue to refine existing programs and add new ones to keep WMA at the forefront of the prep school market.
Growth like this, resting squarely on the foundation of the merger and those who made it happen, has resulted in WMA rising significantly in the ranks of the NE prep school hierarchy. Despite this growth and advancement, we also remain committed to honoring our past. Traditions like ringing the Monson Bell and crossing the Rubicon continue to provide a historic basis from both schools for the current community culture, and we are careful to maintain these important connections. This continued commitment to the legacy of both Monson Academy and Wilbraham Academy, and the new legacy of the combined Wilbraham & Monson Academy, will underpin our growth going forward.
There is a lot to celebrate, today, thanks to the hard-earned merger of these two historic institutions and the foundation they both provided for the amazing school we are today. We look forward with excitement and confidence to the years and decades ahead that will further affirm the remarkable success of the WMA merger.
- WMA graduated the first Chinese student in the U.S.,who later became the first Chinese student to graduate Yale.
- Legend has it that Alumni Memorial Chapel was part of the Underground Railroad.
- The Academy has enrolled students of color since before the Civil War.
- We have a rich history of notable Alumnae of the 19th & 20th Centuries.