Two Exeter principals discuss coeducation and its impact

Principal Emerita Kendra Stearns O'Donnell and Principal Bill Rawson on the Academy's transformation.

September 15, 2020

They are two of only 16 people to lead Phillips Exeter Academy since its founding 239 years ago. So, it is little wonder when Principal Emerita Kendra Stearns O’Donnell ’31, ’47, ‘63’ 89, ’91, ’97 (Hon.); P’00 and Principal Bill Rawson '71; P'08 get together, the conversation is fascinating.

The two met on campus on a cool August morning for a socially distanced chat about coeducation at Exeter and their respective places in its history. Principal Stearns O’Donnell was the first woman to be named principal, a post she held for 10 years beginning in coeducation’s second decade. Principal Rawson was a senior in 1970 when girls first arrived on campus and owns the unique perspective of student, parent, former trustee and current principal.

“I think my best memories of those early days is how excited I was,” said Stearns O’Donnell, appointed in 1987. “I think I felt like every new student at Exeter: I was full of imagining all the great things ahead and also some nervousness about everything being so new.

“I was excited to be the part of Exeter’s history. I was less wrapped up in being the first woman and more conscious, I think, of being the 12th principal at this ancient and revered institution.”

Watch the full conversation here:

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