In the 1970s, when Latin enrollments around the country were plummeting, Martha “Marty” Abbott, made the decision to add a Latin minor to her Spanish major at the University of Mary Washington – Mary Washington College at the time. (Latin was not as cool in the 70s as it is now; so she was only recently inducted into the Beta Nu chapter of Eta Sigma Phi at her alma mater). Ms. Abbott’s career subsequently demonstrated the wisdom of that choice, that one can thrive as a high school teacher of two languages, that one need not view Spanish as the enemy of Latin, and that cooperation among students of all languages allows those languages to thrive together.
She was hired to teach both Latin and Spanish in one of the most vibrant school districts in the country – Fairfax County, VA, known for its excellence in second language instruction. Her skills in the classroom were recognized by her employer, and she was named the Teacher of the Year at George C. Marshall High School twice. After fourteen years in the classroom, Ms. Abbott shared her skills more widely in the district, first as the foreign Language Coordinator and then as the Director of High School Instruction and K-12 Curriculum Services. She assumed these positions in a school district that offers language instruction in French, German, Korean, Latin, Japanese, Spanish, American Sign Language, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. Today she serves as a public advocate for the value of language instruction as the Executive Director of The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). In this role, she must argue for the positive outcomes for students of second languages, even in today’s political and economic climate where the U.S. President wants to build a wall across our southern border. As noted by our colleague, Prof. Thomas Sienkewicz, former Executive Secretary of Eta Sigma Phi and present Secretary-Treasurer of CAMWS, “Latin teachers and students alike should be proud of the fact that Marty, a Latin teacher, currently serves as the national director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, where she always insures that Latin has a voice at the table with the modern languages.”
Although she has labored diligently to promote cooperation among instructors and students of various languages, her accomplishments within the field of classical studies itself are worthy of admiration. Ms. Abbott has taught Latin at all levels and in different environments – from elementary school to adult education programs to the Virginia Governor’s Academy, from Latin I to Advanced Placement. She served on the committee of the American Classical League that developed our present Standards for Classical Language Learning and was a Vice-President for CAMWS. Ms. Abbott is perhaps most known by classicists for her work on the National Latin Exam – an undertaking that has been an unparalleled success in promoting the study of the language around the world. She joined the NLE Working Committee in the second year of the exam, 1979, and continued to serve in that capacity until 1996. She wrote the exam’s first syllabus in 1984 and advocated vigorously for the creation of the Forum Romanum series which began in 1996. Despite her many duties in teaching and administration, Ms. Abbott remains a consultant to NLE today.
For her proficiency in Latin, for her excellence as a teacher, and for her advocacy for all our programs, Eta Sigma Phi honors Martha Gordon Abbott. Plaudite, vos quaeso, omnes.