This fall we are celebrating the 95th anniversary of the 1924 founding of Northampton School for Girls, which merged with Williston Academy in 1971. Many Northampton alumnae consider their school a unique, special place. It is harder, with nearly half a century’s perspective, to pin down just what the essence of Northampton School was. But recently a survey of ‘Hamp alumnae came to hand. It comes close. The study was carried out in 1965 and published in their Alumnae News the following year.That report is reproduced here in its entirety, without further commentary. We’ve included a few additional photographs mostly because we like them, and they break up the page. They’re not meant to illustrate any particular narrative. (As always, please click each image to enlarge.)
Surely “cater to your customers” must be the most fundamental principle of marketing. When Williston Seminary’s campus newspaper, The Willistonian, made its first appearance in March of 1881 (making it, 118 years later, the oldest continuously published secondary school paper in the United States), its student editors sought to finance their enterprise by selling advertising. With a couple hundred teenage boys occupying the campus, local merchants sought to appeal to their wallets. Logically then, we can open a window into an 1880s adolescent’s mind by examining how, away from home and parental supervision, he wanted to spend his (or his father’s) money — or how local merchants wanted him to spend it.
Early issues of The Willistonian came in an advertising wrapper. The “front page” was actually inside. Because the paper was also sold by local merchants, a portion of the advertising was aimed at the general public. And industries like Glendale Elastic Fabrics — one of the late Samuel Williston’s enterprises — may have purchased space out of a sense of obligation to Samuel’s widow Emily, if not to the school.
The advertisements below are selected from the first three years of The Willistonian, 1881-1884.
“Opposite Williston Seminary” meant Shop Row, on Main Street. C. S. Rust appealed to young men’s fashion sensibilities.
Recently, through the generosity of Mr. Eric Brothers, the Archives acquired two letters written by William Brooks Cabot, class of 1876, to his mother in Brattleboro, Vermont. In August, 1874, Cabot had just arrived at Williston Seminary, and was enrolled in the Middle Class — the equivalent of the modern 11th grade — in Williston’s Scientific curriculum. The following transcriptions retain William’s occasionally idiosynchratic punctuation and free-form sentence and paragraph structure. He was, after all, just 16 years old and, in fairness, somewhat ahead of his peers (then and now) in matters of spelling.
It was a Sunday. William had just moved out of a dormitory and into a boarding house where he had already arranged for his meals — the school had no dining hall of its own at this time.
Easthampton, Aug. 30th 
I am sorry father was not at home to decide what course I should take with regard to my studies. I shall take Geometry, Drawing, Zoology, & German, though if possible I shall take Latin instead of Zoology.
We have changed our rooms & are now boarding where we take our meals. I only pay $5 $6.00 per week in all, which is about twenty five cents more than I paid – or rather, was to pay at the Sem. It’s much more convenient for meals & we have carpets & towels, & do not have to do our own chamber work, as we did at the Sem. We paid our tuition yesterday. My bill was $26.00.
We have to attend chapel at a little before nine in the morning. We do all our studying in our rooms, which I like very much. At 7:30 P.M. the chapel bell rings, and we must go to our rooms immediately. Once in a while a Prof. will happen around after dark, to see if we are all in our rooms, but we have not been honored by a visit as yet.
We are living at a Mrs. Embury’s, where there are five of us. One is from Moline, Ill. & another from Scranton, Pa.
William’s housemates can be identified as Frederick William Keator, class of 1876 Classical, from Moline, and Edwin Hunter Lynde ’76 Scientific, from Scranton. For a newly-enrolled kid who had, to this point, grown up in southern Vermont, these may well have seemed like exotic places. As he would no doubt later discover, while the majority of students hailed from the Northeast, in 1874 Williston enrolled students from as far away as Louisiana, Alabama, and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). Continue reading →
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.
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.