History & Traditions

How it All Began

Vermont Academy was chartered in 1872 and opened its doors in the fall of 1876. The school was founded by the Vermont Baptist Convention and was associated with that denomination for the first 60 years of its history. From the beginning, students came from all over the country and from many foreign nations.

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  • On a Gravel Bed with Wild Strawberries

    The Place: Windsor, Vermont
    The Year: 1869
    The Setting: Annual meeting of the Vermont Baptist Association
    The Minutes: "Resolved: That a first-class Literary and Scientific Institute for the education of our youth of both sexes be established."

    The Place
    : Saxtons River, Vermont
    The Year: 1876
    The Setting: On a plateau known as Burke's Hill---a gravel bed with no trees, growing little but wild strawberries
    The Event: The opening of Vermont Academy!

    "A word to parents: the heartiest sympathy and confidence is desired between teachers and students and between teachers and parents." —1891 Handbook

    The first headmaster was Dr. Horace Mann Willard, an energetic and far-sighted educator who insisted on a course of study unique for its time---a broad curriculum which challenged students to think for themselves and make responsible choices. This characteristic of Vermont Academy remains today, as does Dr. Willards's dedication to developing the whole student.
  • Notable Alumni of the Early Years

    • Clara Converse, Class of 1879: a lifetime missionary to Japan whose New Hope School continues to flourish today
    • Hon. John Barrett, Class of 1885: scholar, diplomat, and founder of the Pan American Union
    • Paul Harris, Class of 1888: the founder of Rotary International
    • Dr. Florence Rena Sabin, Class of 1889: one of the country's first woman doctors, a teacher of medicine, and the architect of the public health system in the state of Colorado. Learn about the Sabin award
    • Russell Porter, Class of 1891: an arctic explorer, scientist, and telescope expert whose work was instrumental in establishing the Palomar Observatory
  • Key Milestones

    • 1876 Vermont Academy (VA) is founded as a coeducational school.
    • 1901 Olin Gay '05 begins a 76-year period of service to VA as a student, alumnus, and trustee.
    • 1909 Faculty member and assistant headmaster James P. Taylor founds the Long Trail and Vermont Academy's Winter Carnival.
    • 1916 A year before American troops land in France, a decision is made to close Vermont Academy due to low enrollment and financial struggles.
    • 1921 A number of Saxtons River residents ask Reverend William Davison to organize VA's reopening. The school reopens with an enrollment of 132 students—77 boys and 55 girls.
    • 1924 Headmaster John B. Cook raises enrollment to 180 by attracting students from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
    • 1931 VA becomes an all-male school.
    • 1934 In dark Depression days, VA is in receivership when Laurence Leavitt accepts headmastership on the urging of Olin Gay and the unwavering faith he has in the value of the Academy. Leavitt serves as headmaster for 25 years and his leadership is instrumental in helping to revive the school.
    • 1963 VA enrolls its first African American student, Bill Knox.
    • 1964 VA enrolls Trudell "Butch" Guerue, its first student from the ABC Program (A Better Chance). Guerue was later honored as VA's 39th Florence Sabin Award recipient.
    • 1965 Michael Choukas Jr. '46 becomes headmaster. Read about his 12-year era that shaped the future of VA
    • 1975 Once more, VA becomes a coeducational school and begins admitting females as day students.
    • 1977 James M. Steindler becomes headmaster.
    • 1980 Female boarding students are enrolled.
    • 1986 Robert Long becomes headmaster and serves until 1993.
    • 1993 James Mooney serves as Headmaster until 2009; daughter Brooke returns "home" to VA in 2013 to spend her senior year.
    • 2009 Sean P. Brennan is selected as Vermont Academy's sixteenth Headmaster to lead the school into a successful and innovative future.
    • 2016 Stan Colla is appointed Interim Head of School for the 2016-17 school year.
    • 2017 Dr. Jennifer L. Zaccara begins her tenure as VA's eighteenth Head of School.


Work hard. Play hard!
At Vermont Academy, there are several traditions that students and faculty look forward to after working hard in the classroom, on the field, and under the spotlight of performing arts. Competing in team-building games, sharing food, and having fun together brings us even closer as a community. Check out a few of our traditions below.

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  • Wildcat Games

    What better way to get to know your classmates and bond than by participating in the Wildcat Games--a "mini" Olympics that pits class against class in a variety of comical and fast-paced events. Advisors and class deans serve as official judges and each class is separated by color--the freshman often with the power of pink on their side.
  • Mountain Day

    As soon as the leaves start turning, Vermont Academy students start speculating when the Dean of Student Life will proclaim it Mountain Day. When they hear the ringing of the bell by four-year seniors, classes come to a halt and students and faculty alike are whisked to a secret location for a day of sun, food, and fun.
  • Pumpkin Run

    In late October, Vermont Academy holds its annual Pumpkin Run for the entire VA Community--a 5k fun run over campus trails to support a local food shelter. The entry fee is a non-perishable food item, and the top runners win a pumpkin pie baked by VA's amazing dining hall staff.
  • Spirit Week

    Soon after the Pumpkin Run, VA students and faculty enjoy a mischievous and jam-packed week to celebrate Wildcat Spirit, culminating with a Halloween celebration. Theme days include Fashion Disaster, Twin Day, Pajama Day, and Costume Day.
  • Kurn Hattin Home

    Vermont Academy is honored to host students and faculty from Kurn Hattin for an annual Christmas celebration. Since 1894, Kurn Hattin has helped thousands of disadvantaged children and their families by offering a safe home and quality education. VA students shop for and select gifts that are presented by Santa and his elves to Kurn Hattin students. During the year, each class sponsors a Kurn Hattin Sunday as part of VA's Community Service program. The day is filled with special activities and cherished time where VA students act as mentors to the younger students.
  • Winter Carnival

    Vermont Academy is proud to host the oldest Winter Carnival in the country--founded by former VA faculty member and assistant headmaster James P. Taylor in 1909. Held each year in February, the Winter Carnival includes such favorite events as the polar bear run, tandem skiing, dodge ball, VA Voices on Ice, and ice sculpting. 
  • Earth Day

    Every April, Vermont Academy students and faculty celebrate Earth Day with community service projects on campus and the surrounding areas. Following a picnic of locally grown food, the Saxtons River Elementary School joins VA for an afternoon of activities, music, and crafts.