Category Archives: Student Life

William Brooks Cabot Writes Home

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

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.

Detail of Cabot’s first letter, Sunday, August 30, 1874, on school stationery (Click all images to enlarge)

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 [1874]

Dear Mother

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).

William continues,

The German Student Lamp, a kerosene-fueled desk lamp that produced a soft, non-flickering light. (Photo: eBay)

I have so far spent about ten dollars besides tuition, for R.R. Fare, books, &c.  I use a kerosene lamp to study by & think it better for my eyes than gas.  I have a lamp with a burner like the German Student lamp & it gives a very good light.

I guess we will both take the optional course, as then we will not be examined & I expect plenty of study even then.  The class is larger than usual this year – I mean the Junior – & I think the greater number take the Scientific course.  I don’t expect to use my rifle more than three or four times this term and perhaps not at all.  I have to get permission from one of the Profs. before I can take it out even to shoot at a mark.

Yesterday six of us went over to Mount Tom, which is only about two miles.  We walked over & came back in the cars.  Most of the boys were rather lame this morning but I didn’t feel it at all.  Tell Mollie I wish she would give W. E. Waite’s pistol to him.  It is in one of the drawers of my bureau.  I forgot it the morning I came away.

It seems astounding in 2019 that Williston would permit students to own firearms at all, or that William would be indignant over needing permission even for target practice, but in the mid-19th century, it was probably taken for granted.

I have been to church twice today.  We are all obliged to go to the same church, unless the parents expressly desire that they should attend some other.  Although it is against the rules some of the boys are out as late as they please, almost every night.  I do not know yet whether I can take Latin instead of Zoology or not but I hope I can.

With much love to all,


Captain Henry E. Alvord. No photograph of the egregious Captain Hill has been reliably identified.

William’s second letter, written on a Sunday three weeks later, introduces Captains David Hill and Henry Alvord.  Regular readers of this blog may have already met Captain Alvord; he was clearly, at best, stiff-necked over rules.  David Hill taught Physiology and Physical Education.  He had been wounded in the Civil War.  Everything written about him suggests that, frustrated by having missed the final two years of opportunity to inflict suffering upon rebels, he was a martinet who projected his resentment on his students.  Within days of his arrival at Williston he had instituted military drill, including marching and bayonet exercise, as the daily warm-up activity prior to gymnastic practice.   (Present day athletes might consider this the next time they complain about calisthenics.)

Why Captain Hill could not, nearly a month into the fall term, find “time” to accommodate an earnest and talented student’s application to take his course remains an open question.  But documents indicate that he and Alvord largely occupied themselves in meddling with administrative matters, particularly when they could undermine colleagues who did not share their views.

Williston Sem. Sept. 20

Dear Mother

I was glad to receive yours of the 18th, also Mary’s of the 16th.  Capt. Hill did not get time to examine us in Physiology until yesterday.  He gave me three written questions which I had to answer upon paper, & when I finished these he asked me a few questions verbally & then said that he would look over my paper when he had time.  So I do not know whether I have passed or not as yet.

“Prex” – Principal Marshall Henshaw (served 1863-1876). Hill and Alvord would engineer his removal in favor of the wildly unsuccessful Principal James Morris Whiton.

I do not suppose that my report for the month will be very good, as I have had a good deal of extra studying to do, especially on my Physiology.  One of the Profs. – Capt. Alvord – has come here to room; so we will have to observe study hours rather more strictly than we have been in the habit of doing.

Yesterday Prex. gave notice that we must be in our rooms at 7 P.M. instead of 7:30 as before.  This is because the days are getting short, & they are afraid to have us out after dark.  The students use tobacco as much as they please, & even some of the little boys in the English Class strut around with cigarettes in their mouths.  Almost all the students who have been here any length of time, smoke.  The Faculty never say a word about it.

I have just sent two weeks washing (12 pieces) by the man who takes the other boys clothes.  His wife can do up shirts better than any I ever saw.

There seem to be more parties, etc. going on at B. than usual.  I wish I could be there to attend one or two.  We have been having a good time evenings after getting our lessons, but Capt. Alvord’s coming ends that, as it is considered just as bad to be out of your own room as out of the house after study hours.  One of the boys rooming here is from Illinois & is one of the best fellows I ever saw.  His name is Keator.  I believe he said he was about 18 years old.  Is a first rate scholar & neither smokes, drinks nor swears; which is rather remarkable for this place.  Yesterday I took a long walk out west of the village & might have shot three or four partridges if I had taken my gun.

It costs a great deal to get along, as there are so many little things to get, but I have enough money to meet my expenses for about two weeks longer.  How does Ranger get along?  There are hardly any dogs here.  Tell Mary to write when she has time.  With much love to all.  W.

William Cabot did not return to Williston for his senior year.  He enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, but left before finishing there as well, eventually completing a Civil Engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1881.  He went on to a long career in mining and engineering out West and ultimately in Brooklyn, but he is primarily remembered as an important amateur explorer and anthropologist who worked primarily with Native Americans in Labrador and Northern Quebec.  There is a good biographical article at this link, including  a photograph — no images of William in his student days have come to hand.

Edwin Lynde returned to Scranton to build blast furnaces and had a long career in the steel industry.  The fastidious Frederick William Keator eventually became an Bishop in the Episcopal Church and a college president.  By the Spring of 1885 both he and Lynde had moved to other boarding houses, very possibly to escape the pernicious influence of Captain Alvord.


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.

Continue reading

The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new. (Click all images to enlarge.)

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading

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