Category Archives: Faculty

Professor Alvord Speaks His Mind

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Henry E. Alvord, ca. 1886. [Lovell, J. L. (John Lyman), 1825-1903. University Photograph Collection (RG 120_2). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries] (Click images to enlarge.)
Henry Elijah Alvord (1844-1904) had the privilege of reinventing himself several times during his lifetime.  A native of Greenfield, Mass., he graduated Norwich University in the spring of 1862, aged 18, with a degree in Civil Engineering and a military education.  He immediately enlisted as a private in the 7th Rhode Island Squadron, rapidly rising to the rank of First Sergeant, and by November 1862, was commissioned Lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry.  By the end of the Civil War in 1865, he had achieved the rank of Major, and was assigned a joint appointment as Superintendent of Freedmen’s Affairs in Northeastern Virginia and Superintendent of Schools in the Carolinas.

In 1868 he became Inspector General of the Indian Territory District (now Oklahoma), serving until 1869 when, by order of President Andrew Johnson, he was appointed Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Massachusetts Agricultural College (now UMass) in Amherst.  In 1871 he resigned from the Army and joined the U.S. Department of the Interior as a civilian Commissioner of Indian Affairs, eventually serving as Special Commissioner to the Sioux of Dacotah and Wyoming.

Then, for reasons unknown, he set his hand to other things.  In 1873 he was elected Professor of Drawing and Commercial Business at Williston Seminary, where he would remain until 1881.  (As shall be seen in the document below, he acquired other responsibilities.)  Most of his students were enrolled in the scientific, as opposed to the classical, department (for a look at the different curricula, see the last third of the article “Entrance Exam.”) “Commercial Business” primarily entailed bookkeeping and business math.  Students of drawing largely focused on mechanical drawing and drafting, but Alvord insisted that his program begin with an intensive study of freehand drawing.

Principal Joseph W. Fairbanks

In the spring of 1880 Principal Joseph W. Fairbanks, then completing his second year at the helm, asked Alvord, and probably all the faculty, to present status reports.  Whether this had been regular practice in the past is uncertain; few such statements from earlier years have come to light.  Fairbanks’ self-destructive predecessor, James Whiton, hadn’t lasted long enough to poll his faculty, nor would it have been in his character.  And by his own account Marshall Henshaw, who preceded Whiton and had hired Alvord, quarreled with him.  So it is likely that  Alvord was pleased to have been asked, possibly for the first time.  In any case, he responded with a detailed letter whose scope extended beyond the confines of Alvord’s assigned duties.  The document provides wonderful insight not only into faculty workloads and responsibilities at the time, but also addresses wear and tear on the buildings, student behavior, and much more.  (The first page of Alvord’s manuscript is reproduced here, followed by a transcription of the entire document.)

Department of Drawing, Williston Seminary
Easthampton, Mass, April 17, 1880

To the Principal.
In compliance with your request, I respectfully present the following statement of the duties performed by me in connection with the Seminary, during the current year, with remarks thereon.

Joseph Sawyer with his surveying class, ca. 1900.

My duties have been similar to those of previous years — three classes in Drawing of 2, 3, and 4 hours a week, respectively, extending through the year; one class in Book-keeping in the Fall Term, in history in the Winter Term and in Surveying (assisting Prof. Sawyer) in the Spring Term, five forenoons in the week; supervision of Gymnastic exercises four afternoons and Inspection of Dormitories on Saturday mornings.

The time thus passed by me with classes or on specific duty at the Seminary has averaged twenty-four (24) hours per week, during the year; in Drawing, 9 hours; in Recitations 5 hours; at Gymnasium 9 hours, on Inspection, 1 hour.

The Drawing: During the year there have been 35 different pupils in Instrumental Drawing, members of the Senior and Middle Scientific Classes, and 31 pupils in Free-hand Drawing, from the Middle and Junior Middle Scientific Classes.

A particularly fine piece of freehand drawing, indicative of the standards Alvord asked of his students.

When called to the Seminary, now about seven years ago, I was informed that the special object was to establish and develop the Dept. of Drawing, and particularly to teach the practical branches of Drawing, then just beginning to receive attention in the schools of this country.  The work has been gradually introduced as a requirement in the Scientific Course of Study and only within the past year has the original plan been realized.  As now in operation, the course of instruction is this:

The student begins with elementary work in Free-hand Drawing at the opening of the Junior Middle year and during that year devotes two hours per week in drawing outlines and practice upon the fundamental principles of Perspective, in the last Term.  In the Fall Term of Middle year, the instruction is given three hours a week, in outline drawing from models and solid objects, with applied perspective.  With the second term of Middle Year begins Drawing with Instruments (the class having then had one term’s instruction in Plane Geometry) and during the Winter and Spring Terms, Geometrical Constructions and Elementary projections are taught 3 hrs. a week. Continue reading

“A man whose God laughs little . . .”

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

A recent social media discussion among members of the Class of 1968 recalled Horace Thorner, English master from 1943 to 1970, a scholar whose breadth of interests and talents was truly extraordinary.  Thorner was a poet of frequent insight and technical virtuosity.  Some of his work has already appeared on this blog.  (See “The Round World Squared.”

For the school’s 125th anniversary in 1966, Thorner was asked to write a celebratory “Ode to Williston.”  Commemorative poetry is tricky; it is hard to avoid either hyperbole or mawkishness.  Thorner was reasonably — though not entirely — successful.  But his chapter on founder Samuel Williston is especially perceptive; Thorner, writing for an audience that perhaps expected the old hagiographic legend, captures the essential conflicts in the man better than others have managed using many more words (see “The Button Speech” ).

II. The Founder

Who was this man?  There is no simple rule
     To separate the warm flesh and the blood
From such another statue, pale and cool,

As since the time of ancient Athens stood
     In lifeless grandeur in the public square,
Defying time and tempest, lightning, flood,

But never living, never quite the bare,
     The unadorned, the simple human truth,
Standing in unabashed completeness there.

Indeed, he was ambitious as a youth,
     A start for marble statues, but God's will
To spoil his eyes left him uncouth,

Compared to what he wanted for his goal,
     To preach, just as his father had, to strive
With old New England devils for the soul.

He had his children, none of whom would live,
     And felt God's wrath, but trusted and was brave,
Adopted others Emily would love —

A stern man but a just one and no slave
     To outward polish in his speech or act,
Never forgetting that his father gave

A life of service to the church, a fact
     That well accounts for all the generous years
He took such care his parish never lacked.

We see the flesh through marble, know his fears
     To board a ship on Sunday well may show
A man whose God laughed little, lived on tears.

He may have driven bargains hard.  We know
     The history of most great fortunes proves
The man who rises, steps on some below,

And afterwards he finds that it behooves
     That he appease his conscience by his tithes.
Some great philanthropists had cloven hooves.

But whether conscience prospers or it writhes,
     The good it does lives after it, and so
They well deserve their shining laurel wreathes.

Williston wrote his conscience long ago
     Into the charter of his school.  The words
Still shine upon the fading page and glow

With all the brightness of crusader's swords.
     "Knowledge without goodness" — so they read —
"Is powerless to do good."  The phrase affords

An insight to the sturdy heart and head
     Of Williston, for they were words he chose,
Although, indeed, they had been elsewhere said.

On this foundation, then, the school arose
     Between the winding river and the hill
That speak God's strength in action and repose.

Horace E. Thorner
Naples, Italy, February 1966

All eight sections of Horace Thorner’s “Ode to Williston” are too long to publish here.  Readers who would like copies of the entire poem may email archives@williston.com.

Samuel Williston

An Andrew Lapidus Gallery

by Rick Teller '70
Andy Lapidus with his dog Radnik.
Andy Lapidus with his dog, Radnik. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Andy Lapidus – Andrew Stone Lapidus – wasn’t at Williston Academy for very long.  Having spent three years at Avon Old Farms, he was tempted north to Williston’s greener French Department and pastures in 1964.  Away from the classroom and the soccer field, he was rarely without a camera, and at a time when Williston didn’t offer a photography class, organized a camera club.

He left Williston in 1966 for the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, met his future bride Roxanne, and eventually shifted his professional attentions from French to counseling and advocacy for youth.  They raised three sons, Peter, Alex, and Paul. Sadly, he left us, aged 72, in 2010.  A few months ago Roxanne sent the Archives a cache of photographs he’d taken at Williston.  We exchanged a couple of letters – she was initially surprised that anyone remembered him.  Roxie visited the campus at Reunion last May and met others who had fond recollections as well.

doorBut of course I remembered him.  Andy was unforgettable.  Perhaps I should qualify that memory.  In 1964 I was 12, a somewhat nerdish, classically-trained Williston faculty brat.  Brats of my ilk found Andy fascinating.  Here was an adult who didn’t take adult-ness too seriously, who would break off a grownup conversation to deliver a wicked aside meant only for juvenile ears, or deliver a straight-faced pun so horrible that even Horace Thorner would shudder.  He was subversively funny.  I think we understood that deep down, he was one of us.

And his camera was an essential accessory.  Some of Andy’s native whimsy comes through in his photographs, especially in certain portraits, which often capture something unspoken about their subjects.

Here is a sampling.  Where images are uncaptioned, it is because we don’t know who the people are.  Readers are invited to help us with that; please email archives@williston.com; if you can fill in a blank, or if anyone is mis-identified, we’d like to know!

Chief cook Alphonse Barry
Chief cook Alphonse Barry
Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey
Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey

Continue reading

Sarah Stevens in Her Time

A tribute by Ellis Baker '51

Sarah Stevens color“First Lady of Williston” Sarah Stevens left us on February 9, aged 99 (read her obituary here).  At a memorial service in the Williston Chapel on Saturday, August 13, Ellis Baker delivered the following remarks.  Mr. Baker graduated Williston Academy in 1951, returned to teach English, 1957-1961 and 1966-2000, and was Director of the Williston Theatre.

Talking about Phil and Sarah Stevens separately is impossible … at least for me, since I knew them both from the time they arrived at Williston in 1949, Phil as Headmaster and I as an upper middler (11th grader), both new kids on the block . Actually, I had been there earlier, too, from age 10 in grade 6 in 1944 through grade 8 in 1947, through the end of the war years, in the Williston Junior School. And the distinguished Galbraith Years were soon to end. The end of an era. The beginning of another.

Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966
Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966

Phil Stevens had been hired to reconstitute Sam Williston’s school physically, to remove it from its once elegant but deteriorating 100-year-old downtown campus to the half finished “new campus” out Park Street where Samuel Williston’s farm and Homestead had been—and where in the 1920’s and 30’s Ford Hall and the “new gym” had been built before the Depression and World War II years. The problem now was: Phil had to move the school with precious few remaining funds, especially owing to Samuel’s ill-advised late-in-life bad business decisions in the 1870s, to which Emily Williston had objected to no avail and which ultimately had sapped the funds meant to endow Sam’s school. Sam had gone ahead without her approval, which he had never done before, she being the one with an uncanny head for business. He lost nearly everything. Until then, they had been the perfect team, and history has spoken of Sam and Emily in one breath.

The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.
The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.

For Phil and Sarah, the new 100-years-later team, the going was tough, but they had wasted no time, and at the end of their first year in 1950, we had a ceremonial celebratory parade through town carrying beds and desks and chairs and suitcases and bureaus to the modernistic new square brick edifice along Payson Avenue to be known as Memorial Dormitory, as yet surrounded by a sea of mud and construction debris. A dreary beginning, but it was the best Phil could do with too little money … certainly a stylistic departure from the Classical and Georgian … but that’s what you get when the money annually runs dry. You learn to get by. For classrooms and a library and labs and offices, even a chapel, Phil had renovated three 19th century factory buildings languishing at the edge of the campus by the railroad tracks. They would have to do. Given that Sam’s original button factory still stood a block and a half away, this 19th century factory connection seemed not inappropriate for this school “founded on a button.” Continue reading