For many of us, identifying some of the basic facts of Cushing’s history is easy. For example, the school was chartered in 1865, and it was coeducational from the start. But what precipitated this charter? How did this school on the hill come to be, and who decided it would be so? Whether you know the answers, have a faint idea, or are completely perplexed, let us take you back in time and get you up to speed.
The year is 1850, and Thomas Parkman Cushing has drafted his last will and testament. A successful Boston merchant and Ashburnham native, Cushing bequeathed to his wife and family what one would consider typical in a will such as money, securities, and valuables. Following seventeen items of directing personal assets, Cushing’s will makes extensive plans for the future of his Ashburnham estate.
"…I am particularly desirous of using a portion of the estate with which God has blessed me, for the promotion of so important an object as that of improving the education, and thus of strengthening and enlarging the minds of the rising and future generations. Hoping that others having similar views and opinions, will hereafter co-operate with me towards effecting the same great and desirable end: my Will, therefore, further is, that two schools or seminaries of learning, shall be established and forever continued in my native town of Ashburnham, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; entirely distinct, and separated by a quarter of a mile – the one for males of over ten years of age, and the other for females of over ten years of age…"
Following this declaration, Cushing’s will outlines the foundation and endowment of the schools, as well as the wish that “…the Trustees hereinafter named, shall apply for, and obtain from the Legislature of this Commonwealth, a suitable Act of Incorporation or Charter, under which all the business and affairs of the schools herein founded may be conducted forever.”
With a vision in mind, Thomas Parkman Cushing was most detailed with his plans for the school, be it plans for a “suitable library” or “ample grounds for the exercise and recreation of the pupils of each school." One mention in particular rings true today with the Academy as we know it: “The building for the school for males to have a tower, a clock, and a bell weighing no less than two thousand pounds.”
Cushing’s will further dictated careful consideration in terms of the teaching that would occur within the school’s walls.
"And I would further suggest, that inasmuch as character is founded upon the modes and habits of thinking, in each individual, it should be a distinguishing feature of the schools herein established, that all the scholars of both sexes, should be carefully trained to think rightly and systematically upon the objects and principles which are to influence and govern them during their subsequent lives. Perhaps this cannot be better effected than by frequently requiring from each of them compositions on all important subjects; thus whilst they are displaying their thoughts freely and unreservedly to, and under the supervision of able and judicious Instructors, they will form opinions and characters which will constitute them intelligent, wise, leading and useful members of society."
Thomas Parkman Cushing died in 1854. After the ten years had passed in which he directed that trust funds should increase and accumulate for the establishment of the school, the Trustees applied for a charter. It was granted in 1865.
"There is hereby established in the town of Ashburnham an institution of learning by the name of the Cushing Academy, for the purposes set forth in the said will of Thomas P. Cushing… [The trustees] are hereby incorporated into a body politic and corporate be the same name forever, with all the powers and privileges requisite for carrying into full effect the provisions of said will, and with all the powers, rights, and privileges, and subject to all the duties, restrictions, and liabilities, set forth in the sixty-eighth chapter of the General Statutes, and other acts in addition thereto, and in this act, not inconsistent with the provisions of said will."
While Cushing was very much in favor of coeducation – a pioneer of his time – his desire wasn’t overly so. While two separate campuses were directed by Cushing’s will, the available funds would not allow for such plans. Separate entrances into the single academic building were as far as the Trustees could take this notion.
Today, Cushing Academy is still going strong. While Thomas Parkman Cushing may not have foreseen the wonderful growth and development that have evolved on campus and within the institution, the vision he saw is one that remains clear centuries later.
“…It is my opinion that the stability of our Laws, and the safety of our Government, the right direction of our Republican Institutions, the preservation of virtue, and of good morals: and, in short, the well-being and happiness of society, depend in a great degree upon the general diffusion and practical and useful knowledge among the people…"