Tag Archives: Annual Catalogue

Entrance Exam

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Principal Joseph W. Fairbanks (served 1878-1884)

1879.  Williston Seminary, transitioning not altogether painlessly into the post-Samuel Williston era, had a new Principal, Joseph Whitcomb Fairbanks.  Fairbanks was finishing up his first year, having replaced the unfortunate James Morris Whiton, who had failed to finish his second.  Innovation was not Fairbanks’ strong suit,  His greatest talent lay in getting along, a skill that had escaped his predecessor.  (Yes, class, we’re setting you up for a future story!)

But in that first year, he had an idea: printing the Williston entrance examination in the Annual Catalogue.  It had not been done before.  For a variety of good reasons, including the possibility of scaring away potential candidates, it would not be repeated.  But 138 years later, it opens a window on what the entering Junior (i.e., 9th grade) or Junior Middler (10th grade) was expected to know.

Note that this is a “specimen” exam.  The actual test would have had different questions.  But try them!  Would you have been admitted to Williston in 1879?  (Please click images to enlarge.)

From the Annual Catalogue of Williston Seminary, February 1879

One confesses that many of these questions seem written to be annoying, demanding multiple conversions of equivalent measures or, in the geography section, asking for a deal of trivial knowledge.  To travel from Vienna to London by water requires cruising down the Danube some 1,000 miles in the wrong direction, east to the Black Sea.  And so on.  But how did you do?  (You weren’t expecting an answer key, were you?) Continue reading

Thou shalt not . . .

A new school year is upon us, with all the annual rituals that accompany it: friends to be made, rooms decorated, class schedules to figure out.  An essential opening-of-school tradition is our attempt to instill into all our students’ consciousnesses the concept of “A Certain Minimally Consistent Standard of Behavior,” also known as “The Rules.”  Yes, friends, this is when Alma Mater actually asserts her rights in loco parentis.

When I began to compile this essay, it occurred to me that it was a great topic for alumni input.  A brief and wildly unscientific sampling of Facebook friends elicited many responses, some of which are reproduced here.  But Amy Goodwillie Lipkin ’77 noted, “what I thought was ridiculous in my mind as a 16-year-old, I may not see as ridiculous now as an adult.”  It’s a good point, one with which most parents or deans, if not every teenager, might concur.  On the other hand, alumni recollections suggest that sometimes, even after many years, passions, or at least the memories of outrage, run high.  It is also a reminder of the essential conflict between common sense and regulatory detail.  Even today, the idea of having, say, a simple conceptual dress code of “neat, clean, and appropriate” is utterly impractical in a community of approximately 700 students and adults, who will voice as many opinions over exactly what that means.

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