Category Archives: Academic History

An Intersession Gallery

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Alan Shaler’s cooking class, with Gwen Pullman and Barbara Sloan, 1979. (Click all images to enlarge.)

For twenty-one years, beginning in 1975, Williston Northampton culture was partially defined by the Winter Session, later called Intersession, program.  It was modeled on the January Term programs then popular in many colleges.  The “statement of purpose” in the prospectus for the first year read,

“During most of the academic year, the Williston Northampton School is primarily concerned with the very important task of giving its students the best in college preparatory academics.   This should and must be our primary task, but often this leaves little or no time for experimentation with new programs and different approaches to learning.  Thus, during the school year 1974-75, Williston Northampton has lengthened its overall school year and set aside 25 days in January during which the whole school community will concentrate on programs which tend to be extra-curricular during the bulk of the school year.”

A quilting workshop, 1991

“The emphasis during the Winter Session is on learning by doing.  The student will not just read about the Navajo Indians but he will actually go and live among them.  He will not just speak French in class but will speak it with and among Frenchmen in Cannes.  He will perform in a play; or sing in a chorus; or build a table; or learn to type; or serve senior citizens in the community; or work each day with mental patients; or observe criminal court proceedings; or … the list goes on and on.  Student and teacher will be active and involved.  The student will not be graded but will be expected to evaluate his own accomplishments at the end of the session, which evaluation together with a verbal evaluation of his work  by the teacher will be placed in his permanent file.”

Students at the Ming Tombs, Nanjing, China, 1982

One observes, alas, the use of gender-specific pronouns to describe a program at a school then in its fourth year of full coeducation.  But let us overlook that, for the moment; it is symptomatic of a cultural issue endemic to the school for more than a decade after the merger with Northampton School.  This has been discussed elsewhere.  (See the last part of “Northampton School for Girls – and After.”)  Better we should consider the ambitious nature of this fledgling program which, remarkably, achieved most of its goals and established a high standard in that very first year.

Bob Bagley assisting with wooden toy-making, 1991

Over the next few years the program would grow and evolve.  The range of some of the offerings is hinted at in excerpts from the annual catalog, reproduced at the bottom of this article.  Students were encouraged to try new things, new approaches to learning — and by the second decade, students were teaching some of the courses.  Faculty frequently taught their avocations, rather than their academic specialties: some of the offerings over the years included fine cooking with Alan Shaler (English), carpentry and toymaking from Bob Bagley (Math), wood carving with Ann Vanderburg (Math), home renovation with Stephen Seybolt (English) and Bob Couch (Math and Photography), music and architectural appreciation from Elizabeth Esler (Librarian), “Developing a Comic Character” with Stan Samuelson (Math),  investment from Robert Blanchette (French), figure skating with Harriet Tatro (Science). Continue reading

Going to Mount Tom (ca. 1870)

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Abner Davol, class of 1872

Mount Tom — the “great hill” that dominates Easthampton’s eastern skyline — has drawn Williston students since the school’s founding.  Abner Pardon Davol, class of 1872, was no exception.  Davol, a native of Fall River, Mass., entered Williston Seminary in September, 1869, enrolled in the Scientific curriculum.  He graduated in 1872.

Student academic work from the mid-19th century is relatively rare.  But somehow Abner’s essay, “Going to Mt. Tom,” survives in the Williston Northampton Archives.  The manuscript, on both sides of a single folded 8 x 10 inch sheet, is undated.  The writing is not terribly sophisticated, and there is a certain naiveté to some of the content.  My guess is that this was submitted to a weekly English composition class during Abner’s first or second year at Williston.

Here is Abner’s paper.  Readers may click on each image to enlarge it.

Abner Davol, “Going to Mt. Tom,” page 1.

It was, and of course, remains, a distance of just under two miles from the Old Campus on Main Street to the foot of the mountain.  For Abner and friends to have walked the distance and achieved the summit in 80 minutes is quite an accomplishment.

Mt. Tom from Holyoke Street, at the time unpaved. Except for a few farms, the mile between the “factory village” and the foot of the mountain was unpopulated.
Page 2

What were they thinking?  Apparently Abner and his companions decided to descend via the steepest part of the escarpment, just beneath the basalt cliffs, a field strewn with broken shale.  And after sunset.  Contemporary maps confirm that there was a perfectly good road, but perhaps the kids were taking the most direct route from the summit to it.

“Factory village” was the residential area east of Nashawannuck Pond and the factories alongside it.  Town-gown relations were imperfect at this time, but Davol’s concern seems overstated.  It was probably added for dramatic effect, since it is likely that he expected to read his essay to his English class.

Mt. Tom from Nashawannuck Pond, ca. 1880. Then as now, the mountain was irresistible.

After Williston, Abner Davol returned to Fall River, where he became a banker and City Councillor.  He died in 1940, aged 87.

Teaching English, 1878

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Dr. Robert Porter Keep (Click all images to enlarge)

In the fall of 1876, a new Principal, James M. Whiton, arrived at Williston Seminary.  One of his first acts was to hire an assistant, Dr. Robert Porter Keep (1844-1904), at 32 a rising star among classical scholars.  The two of them announced their intention to modernize Williston’s innovative dual-track Classical and Scientific curricula.  This attracted the attention of Keep’s friend, the critic, author, and editor Horace E. Scudder (1838-1902).  Scudder was preparing a study of New England private schools, and must have visited Williston at about this time.  In his article, “A Group of New England Classical Schools,” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (Volume 55, June to November, 1877, p. 562-570 and 704-716), he asserted that with some curricular tweaking, particularly in the Seminary’s unique Scientific Division,  Williston could join the pantheon on what Scudder considered education’s Olympus: Andover, Exeter, Saint Paul’s, and Boston Latin.

Scudder advocated adding the study of English to the curriculum.  It is hard to believe today, but Williston students of the time took only one literature class, plus weekly or monthly meetings in English fundamentals.  Appreciation of literature was largely absent from the Scientific curriculum.  The Classical scholars got plenty of it — but solely in the Greek and Latin classics.

Keep was clearly intrigued, and appears to have written to Scudder asking him to elaborate.  One challenge would have been to create a framework that accommodated the different needs and backgrounds of Williston’s Classical and Scientific students.  Scudder, in his long-delayed response of April, 1878, addressed this and more in the following letter.  It is a remarkable document, presenting a surprisingly modern approach to the study of reading and writing.

Page one of Scudder’s letter, which fills four sheets — 16 pages in all

 

[Note: In transcribing the manuscript, I have retained Scudder’s punctuation and included crossed-out text.  Editorial additions are in [bracketed italics].  Where a word was unclear, I have placed it in [brackets?] with a question mark. – R.T.]

My dear Dr. Keep,

I have two pleasant letters from you unanswered, but I have been taking a little journey, and that has broken up my regular life.  I had not forgotten my intention of writing to you on the matter of teaching English, but the more I have considered it the more difficult I find it to make any practical suggestions.  It is a harder question I think at Easthampton than elsewhere because of the two classes of students.  English literature as part of a liberal training would be taken differently when the students was ending his special studies and when he was beginning them.  The boys who go to college not only will have opportunity later, but the very character of their early grammatical study in Latin & Greek would modify the study of English.  The boy who ends his studies at Easthampton – and I suppose the great Scientific schools by no means stand to your scientific side, as the colleges do to the classical side – ought to make of English literature a substitute, in a degree, of classical literature, and to obtain from his training some of the liberalizing influences which follow from a classical course, though his age and previous studies do not give him any advantage for this over the classical student.  His only advantage I conceive is that he can and ought to give more time to the study and to its cognate study of modern history.

Still, with this complication, I think there might be a method which would be better than a mere desultory study with reference to college examinations, or than the somewhat haphazard method which prevails largely in our academies and high schools.

Horace E. Scudder (Wikipedia Commons)

First of all I would lay down the principle that literature itself should be studied and not books about literature, and in that I am sure you will agree with me as the course sketched by you indicates.  Now there are three sides which literature presents, the philosophic, the historic, the aesthetic, and I conceive that each should be carried on, but that greatest weight should be given first and last to the philosophic, that the historic should be of more [regard?] midway, and that the aesthetic should be deferred as much as possible until the close of the course.

The philosophic side I conceive to begin with the analysis of sentences and with philosophic grammar; the historic to begin with the history of words and with the political and social connexions of literature; the aesthetic to begin with a discrimination of forms of literature and end with conceptions of its art, in harmony with other forms of creative work. Continue reading

Botanizing

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Rosaceae, Cerasus virginiana (Prunus virginiana), Wild cherry (Please click all images to enlarge)

It was a sunny Saturday, June 20, 1863.  The term was almost over; students and teachers were about to disperse.  With the papers full of news of Civil War hostilities, alumni and family members gone South to fight, there was an overtone of uncertainty about the future.  But for at least a day’s respite, twenty Williston students — ten young men and ten young ladies — went on a plant collecting expedition — “botanizing,” as they called it — to Southwick, about ten miles from Easthampton.  How much of this was serious scientific pursuit and how much an excuse for a picnic, we will never know.  Even at still-coeducational Williston Seminary (the Ladies’ Department would be closed in 1864), opportunities for mixed social activity were few.

Mollie Nelson’s note commemorating the day. Mollie’s name is at bottom right.

The organizer and chaperone was William Austin Richards, Williston 1855, Amherst ’61, who upon his graduation had returned to Williston as a teacher of Latin and Greek.  Richards planned to teach for a few years to gain a little experience and cash, before studying for the ministry.  None of his Williston responsibilities included anything scientific; natural history must have been merely an avocation.  And although a document refers to the “botany class,” there was no formal course in the Williston catalogue.  Nonetheless, at least some of the students took the scientific side of the day very seriously.

Ranunculaceae, Coptis trifolia, Three-leaf goldthread
Mollie Nelson’s cover labels for the wild cherry specimen at the top of the page.

One of these was Mary Lydia Nelson — “Mollie” — a senior from West Suffield, CT.  Mollie went home and meticulously pressed the day’s collection of plants.  Almost unbelievably, 154 years later, her specimens remain in nearly pristine condition.  Mollie did everything right.  There are 57 folders, each a sheet of paper 23 x 18 inches (11.5 x 18″ folded.)  Mollie chose a very high quality heavyweight rag paper with almost no acid content, so there has been practically no chemical reaction between plants and paper.   She secured each plant to the paper with nearly invisible white cotton thread.  Almost every specimen was carefully labeled with phylum, genus, and species.

Trilliaceae, Trillium erythrocarpum (T. undulatum), Painted trillium or Painted wakerobin

Mollie retained her plant collection as a cherished keepsake.  It stayed in her family and against all odds, was always well stored, away from extremes of temperature and humidity.  In 1983 Mrs. J. R. Nelson, widow of one of Mollie’s descendants, presented the collection to Williston Northampton. Continue reading