Sharing Williston Northampton and Local History

The Great Seminary Fire

The first Seminary building, Detail of an 1845 engraving by G. H. Throop.

Williston Seminary’s first building was the so-called “White Seminary” or “Old Sem.,” erected in 1841.  Of neoclassical design, it was built of wood — indeed, it was Samuel Williston’s penultimate wooden structure before his decision to build entirely in brick.  (His 1843 mansion, today’s Williston Homestead, was the other.)  In 1857 the White Seminary burned to the ground.  Two student letters describing the fire survive in the Archives.  That of Henry Perry ’58 is reproduced below; another very different account, by Abner Austin ’59, will appear later this summer.  The letters are remarkable not only as documents of school life but as reflections of the authors’ personalities.

Henry T. Perry (1838-1930), class of 1858, of Ashfield, Mass., went on to Williams College and Auburn Seminary.  He entered the Christian missions and spent most of the years 1866-1913 in Turkey, where he was witness to the Armenian massacres.  His biography, Against the Gates of Hell, by Gordon and Diana Severance, was published by The University Press of America in 2003.

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From the Archivist’s Bookshelf

Edward J. M. Rhoads.  Stepping Forth Into the World: the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81.  Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011.

In the 1870s, under the auspices of the Hartford-based Chinese Educational Mission, 120 carefully selected Chinese boys were sent by their government to be educated in American schools.  The boys, some as young as ten or eleven, initially stayed with host families, then enrolled in a number of private and public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  Many went on to enroll in New England colleges, including Yale and MIT.  The students faced not only the challenges of language and curriculum, but of maintaining their cultural identities in an utterly foreign society, one in which anti-Chinese sentiment was growing.  The program ended suddenly in 1881 and the students were recalled home, many to face suspicion over their newly acquired Western educations and mores.

Eleven Chinese Educational Mission students attended Williston Seminary.  Many excelled in academics, and in such activities as oratory and debate.  Several publicly embraced Christianity, an action sure to create controversy both back home and within the CEM.  One of the founders of Williston’s Chinese Christian Home Mission, Tan Yaoxun ‘79, actually defected rather than return to China.

In the first scholarly study of the CEM since Thomas LaFargue’s China’s First Hundred (1942) Edward Rhoads’ research brought him to dozens of libraries and archives throughout the Northeast, including Williston’s.  Dr. Rhoads (Professor Emeritus of History, The University of Texas) tells a compelling, highly readable story of students caught between two worlds.

Your comments and questions are encouraged!  Please use the space below.

The Angelus

“There is so much to be done at school that we often forget to think, to pray, or just enjoy the taste of life. This Student Council is presenting an Angelus bell to the school to remind us all of the need of quiet thought. Traditionally the Angelus is rung as a call to prayer. Our Angelus will be what we make it. There is much to think about in that brief moment of our own. There is world peace to pray for, boys in Korea to be remembered, people at home to be loved, and our own thoughts to be thought. The Angelus will be rung daily to provide a moment of peace in the whirl of activities. It is a small beginning but if eighty girls pause in the middle of rush and confusion to pray and to think, it is a beginning.”  – Maria Burgee ‘52 [Maria Burgee Dwight LeVesconte], at the dedication of the Angelus, 1952.

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Northampton School for Girls — and After

Presented at an all-school assembly, October 11, 2011
by Richard Teller ’70, Archivist

(Note: Annually, and occasionally more often, Williston Northampton students hear a presentation about our shared history.  Campus tradition has named this event “The Button Speech,” even though the subject matter rarely concerns Emily and Samuel Williston and the buttons.  Here is the 2011 Button Speech, presented with the caveat that it was intended to be read aloud to a captive audience of teenagers at an early hour.)

(Another note, June 24, 2017: A while ago it became necessary to take this post down for some minor editing.  This left the blog without a summary history of Northampton School for Girls.  Thus, the text has now been restored to the blog with only minor changes from 2011.)

A captive audience, at an early hour

Good morning. We are at a milestone in school history this fall. The Williston Northampton School is 40 years old.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “This year I actually paid attention at Convocation, and Mr. Hill definitely said it was our 171st year. And what’s all that 1841 stuff about?” And you are absolutely right. Except that was a school with a different name: Williston Seminary. Although it’s the same school. Kind of.

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Sharing Williston Northampton and Local History