Tag Archives: Archibald Victor Galbraith

“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

So Help Me, Alan Quatermain

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist
A formal meeting of Sigma 'Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)
A formal meeting of Sigma ‘Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)

The 1870s and ’80s saw the rise of several secret societies or fraternities at Williston Seminary.  Initially there were four: Iota Zeta, L.L.D., Pi Beta Pi, and F.C.  A fifth, Phi Rho Alpha, appeared somewhat later, although its existence was sometimes not acknowledged by the four “legitimate” societies.  History knows relatively little about them; as secret organizations, they kept their petty confidences, and worse, to themselves.  So we have no idea what the initials stood for, not even for the two societies that didn’t affect Greek names.  We do know that their membership was selective; that at least some of their alumni remained loyal to the clubs, often at the expense of loyalty to the school, and that they posed as “service” organizations: in 1916, for example, their leaders formed the first Student Council.

None of the preceding can be said of a sixth fraternity, Sigma Eta Delta.

In fact, the Greek letters ΣΗΔ were a rendering of the society’s real name, the South Hall Devils.  (Since classical Greek doesn’t accommodate the “H” sound, it was the preference of the membership to spell “Eta” with an apostrophe: Sigma ‘Eta Delta.)  The group was formed in the winter of 1889, mostly to poke fun at the elite, thus much-resented, fraternities.  Membership was open to any resident of South Hall, the dormitory with the least desirable and least expensive rooms — thus a dorm shunned by any self-respecting (and they were nothing if not that) frat boy.

South Hall, ca. 1890.
South Hall, ca. 1890.

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Williston Boys at Home (1932)

wbahcover1932.  The national economic depression was at its worst.  President Herbert Hoover, forced to defend his record, was about to receive the worst electoral whipping ever at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal for the American People.  But even FDR’s most rabid supporters knew that recovery would take years.  And the people who managed tuition-dependent private schools weren’t sure they had years.  Williston Academy’s Headmaster Archibald Galbraith (served 1919-1949) was no exception.

To be sure, Williston was in somewhat better shape than some of its competitors.  The 1920s had been reasonably good years for fund-raising.  When the 1929 crash came, much of the school’s assets were liquid, since Williston was midway through a major construction project.  So we were less affected by the implosion of the investment market.  The construction of the Recreation Center (see previous post) proceeded on schedule, and the building was opened in 1930.  But endowment was nearly nonexistent, and the pool of academically eligible students whose families could afford boarding school was shrinking.

wbahtitleOne answer was more aggressive marketing.  Gone were the days when a combination of alumni networking and discreet ads in a few prestigious magazines was sufficient to create a viable group of applicants for admission.  Galbraith needed to cast his net wider, to appeal to families that perhaps had never considered private schools.  Among the products of this re-thinking was a 1932 pictorial pamphlet entitled “Williston Boys at Home.”

The booklet is nearly devoid of text, in contrast to the dry, text-heavy and pictureless Annual Catalogue of the time.  It manages to avoid nearly any mention of Williston’s crumbling Old Campus, although more than half the students lived there and all classes met there — in fact, whether through oversight or design, there is no reference to the academic program at all.  This Williston is a place of hockey and dancing, theatricals and swimmin’ holes.  Times are good.  Williston boys are indeed at home.

(“Williston Boys at Home” was generously donated to the Archives in 2008 by Gordon Cronin of Taurus Books, Northampton, MA.)

The sole evocation of the "Old Campus" in the entire booklet.
The sole evocation of the “Old Campus” in the entire booklet.

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The Campus That Never Was

Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)

At schools and colleges like Williston Northampton, one eye is necessarily on the future.  Difficult as it is to predict the educational needs of the nation and the world a decade or a half-century hence, it is essential to try.  As Williston itself very nearly learned in the 19th century, complacency is what closes private schools.  It took a Headmaster of exceptional vision and perseverance, Joseph Henry Sawyer (who joined the faculty in 1866 and served as Head from 1896-1919) to break us of the habit of constantly looking backwards.

Details of Sawyer’s campaign for “The New Williston” are for another post.  But briefly, it called for the development of the Williston Homestead property – our present campus – as the eventual replacement for the cramped and increasingly obsolete Old Campus in downtown Easthampton.  There was a complete re-thinking of the role of the school and faculty in its students’ lives, from a kind of laissez-faire paternalism to active collaboration in academic, athletic, and social activity.  To pay for all this, Sawyer sought new funding sources, notably through the then-controversial idea that a Williston education was only the beginning of an alumnus’s lifelong relationship with, and responsibility to, the school.

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