Category Archives: Northampton School for Girls

Northampton School, 1926

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Northampton School students on the steps of Montgomery House, 1926. Jean Bigelow is in the 3rd row, third from right. (Please click images to enlarge.)

Recently the Archives acquired a photo album kept by Jean M. Bigelow, who attended Northampton School for Girls in 1925-26.  Since Northampton School had just opened a year earlier, in 1924, the contents of the album represent some of the earliest images we have.

We don’t know much about Jean Bigelow — in fact, her identification in the photograph above is based on an ambiguous caption on another copy of this photo given us by Elva Minuse, class of 1927 (that’s Elva in the second row, second from right), and comparison with uncaptioned family photos elsewhere in Jean’s album.  Beyond her academic transcript, she left no paper trail in our alumnae records.  According to Social Security records, she was born in 1907 and died, aged 78, in 1986.  She attended Vassar College, class of 1930, and lived in Worcester, Mass.

Some of Jean’s friends. Elva Minuse is at the bottom.

And that’s about all we know.  But the photos capture Northampton School for Girls at its very beginning, so this is a significant addition to the Archives.

Commencement, 1926. Jean is in the back row, center.

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Summer Reading

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

June — the seniors have graduated, the underclassmen have finished assessments (which are what we at kinder-gentler Williston used to call “exams”), and a lazy green quiet has settled onto the campus.  Our parting shot to our returning students: “Goodbye, and don’t forget your summer reading!”  It has been so for nearly a century.

I have a confession.  Back in the summer of 1966, prior to my entering Williston Academy’s 9th grade, I was handed a list of perhaps half a dozen books.  Now, I loved to read, almost at the expense of any other summer activity.  And there was good material on the list, most especially Walter Edmonds’ Drums Along the Mohawk, which was an exciting story, although in retrospect, I don’t recall its subsequent mention even once in David Stevens’ English 9.  But also on the list: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  Now imagine yourself in 1966, as a 13-year-old boy who has recently discovered the works of Ian Fleming and is anxious to get back to them (albeit under the covers with a flashlight), but is faced with endless pages of prose about living in the woods and planting beans.  I tried.  I really did.  But I couldn’t do it.  And in the ensuing 51 years, I’ve tried several more times but, apparently scarred by my adolescent experience, I still find Walden barely readable.  I think of Thoreau as the guy who put the “trance” in “transcendentalism.”

A summer reading requirement at Williston appears to date from the 1920s.  No syllabi have surfaced from that early date.  However, we have a list from 1941, which is worth reproducing in its entirety.   (Please click images to enlarge).

Once one gets past the still-valid point about a “foundation for effective expression,” as well as whiff of testosterone, one notes that the requirement – a minimum of three books – isn’t especially onerous, despite a suggestion (“hearty cooperation”) that one attempt “as many as possible.”  Where something doesn’t appeal, students are encouraged to move on.  And nowhere is there even a hint of a test or paper in the fall.It is interesting to note what is, and isn’t, here.  So many of these authors have fallen utterly out of fashion, never mind out of the canon, that some names are unrecognizable even to a pre-elderly librarian.   And with few exceptions, almost everything is by American or English authors, the overwhelming majority of them male, and only one identifiable as an author of color. Continue reading

Heroic

by Caren Altchek Pauley '62 and Holly Alderman '67

The truth, looking back now in the mirror of time, now, is that most of the teachers seem heroic in their own ways – all hard working women, very conscientious, and kind.  In current culture, the general kindness of our classrooms seems a profound blessing. — Holly Alderman.

Some weeks ago, as we prepared a special Northampton School for Girls feature in the Williston Bulletin, I asked a few alumnae to name adults whose presence during those formative and formidable ‘Hamp School years had made a difference.  We couldn’t use every response.  But two of them, from Caren Altchek Pauley and Holly Alderman, were special enough to deserve publication.  Here they are, with thanks to the authors for allowing us to share! — RT

Dagmar Abkarian
by Caren Altchek Pauley ’62

Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)
Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)

With a comforting presence, Dagmar Abkarian ruled the  pristine two-room Northampton School for Girls “infirmary,” located on the upper floor of Montgomery House.  During my tenure, 1959-1962, she was a formidable presence, dark, round and with an unusual lumbering gait which seemed to separate her legs when she walked. She wore an immaculate white uniform, nurse’s coif, sensible white shoes, and a name badge.  She was unlike any other teacher or faculty member at the school.  Her coloring was like mine.  It separated her and me from nearly all the other  faculty, staff members and students  who were mostly light eyed blonds and fair skinned.  She was also a bit garrulous and although a mature woman, rather girlish at the same time.

I was a frequent visitor to the infirmary, as every bout of homesickness, math test, science test, and athletic competition caused me to seek consolation in her peaceful domain.  Before school counselors became de rigueur, it was the school nurse on whom we depended for advice on “how to survive”.  She took my temperature, and then usually pronounced me OK, to my utter and complete disappointment.  Then she discussed the challenges of that moment, before nearly squeezing me to death in an affectionate hug.  With her sympathetic endorsement, I knew I could make it through the morning geometry exam and even the afternoon field hockey game, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had little talent for either and thoroughly loathed both. Continue reading

“The faculty don’t furnish towels . . .”

by Rick Teller '70. Williston Northampton Archivist

The waning days of summer: faculty are preparing for meetings and fall classes while students are finishing their shopping and summer reading — or in a few instances, starting it.  School opens in less than two weeks, with all the joy, angst, and tradition associated with the event.  Once upon a time the tradition included a tea for new students, hosted by the Headmaster’s spouse and a phalanx of faculty wives.  In 1966, a well-scrubbed and tightly necktied “newboy” myself (yes, it was one word then), I was present at this event.  A woman of extraordinary warmth and empathy, Mrs. Stevens really did help to take the edge off of the noisy and sometimes impersonal first week of school.  On the other hand, many of her guests had never tasted tea, and when offered cream or lemon, took both.  Having lived in England the previous year, I knew better, but after 49 years I’ve never learned to like the stuff.

new boys tea 1966
Mrs. Phillips Stevens at the New Boys’ Tea, September 1966 (Dorothy Potter Associates)

These days we have student arrival and orientation organized and personalized down to the last detail.  It was not always so.  There is certainly no suggestion of the gentility evoked by Mrs. Stevens’ tea-party in the following letter, by Charles Carroll Carpenter, class of 1856, to his father.  Carpenter, of Bernardston, Mass., was a new student in the spring of 1854.  (Original spelling and punctuation have been retained.)

Williston Seminary, No. 39
Easthampton, Ms. April 20 1854 . P.M.

Dear Father,
The bell has rung for evening study hours, and I will improve the signal by penning a few hasty lines homeward.To speak of events, historically, I arrived safely at No. H. on Tuesday morning.  On the way, met (in the cars) with a young fellow, like myself, Williston-bound; Leavitt, of Charlemont,1 son of Roger H. Leavitt, Esq.  Had to wait in No. H. all day—crowds of students came up in the train—and several stages and teams were in readiness to convey them over.2  Ten of us got into a three seated wagon, with my distinguished townsman, Mr. Moore, for a driver.  It was most terrific going—mud and melted snow formed a horrible coalition—Could hardly get out of a walk, a single step.  We suffered the greatest trouble, however, in fear that other students would get ahead of us and engage the rooms; but after two hours we arrived—“put” for the “Sem.”  The Chief Boss of the Institution, Mr. Marsh,3 is absent, on account of dangerous family sickness— and everything went hurly-burly.  I engaged however of the pro tem. janitor, a room, for safety—and then went to President Hubbard’s.4  That official is very pleasant and courteous; and when I informed him that I had written to Mr. Warner,5 he called me by name, and said he had engaged me a room, and gave me other useful information.  Then returned and found Pres. H. had bespoken me an excellent room, in the Brick Seminary—I obtained the keys to it, and at once, with young Leavitt, moved in “bag and baggage.” Continue reading