Tag Archives: Hélène Cantarella

Summer Reading

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

June — the seniors have graduated, the underclassmen have finished assessments (which are what we at kinder-gentler Williston used to call “exams”), and a lazy green quiet has settled onto the campus.  Our parting shot to our returning students: “Goodbye, and don’t forget your summer reading!”  It has been so for nearly a century.

I have a confession.  Back in the summer of 1966, prior to my entering Williston Academy’s 9th grade, I was handed a list of perhaps half a dozen books.  Now, I loved to read, almost at the expense of any other summer activity.  And there was good material on the list, most especially Walter Edmonds’ Drums Along the Mohawk, which was an exciting story, although in retrospect, I don’t recall its subsequent mention even once in David Stevens’ English 9.  But also on the list: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  Now imagine yourself in 1966, as a 13-year-old boy who has recently discovered the works of Ian Fleming and is anxious to get back to them (albeit under the covers with a flashlight), but is faced with endless pages of prose about living in the woods and planting beans.  I tried.  I really did.  But I couldn’t do it.  And in the ensuing 51 years, I’ve tried several more times but, apparently scarred by my adolescent experience, I still find Walden barely readable.  I think of Thoreau as the guy who put the “trance” in “transcendentalism.”

A summer reading requirement at Williston appears to date from the 1920s.  No syllabi have surfaced from that early date.  However, we have a list from 1941, which is worth reproducing in its entirety.   (Please click images to enlarge).

Once one gets past the still-valid point about a “foundation for effective expression,” as well as whiff of testosterone, one notes that the requirement – a minimum of three books – isn’t especially onerous, despite a suggestion (“hearty cooperation”) that one attempt “as many as possible.”  Where something doesn’t appeal, students are encouraged to move on.  And nowhere is there even a hint of a test or paper in the fall.It is interesting to note what is, and isn’t, here.  So many of these authors have fallen utterly out of fashion, never mind out of the canon, that some names are unrecognizable even to a pre-elderly librarian.   And with few exceptions, almost everything is by American or English authors, the overwhelming majority of them male, and only one identifiable as an author of color. Continue reading

Hélène Cantarella – “Noblesse Oblige”

For a generation of Northampton School for Girls alumnae, the name of Hélène Paquin Cantarella (1904-2000) is one with which to conjure.  Merely to write that she taught Senior English from 1958 to 1969 is to understate her influence.  There is virtual unanimity among her former students that she was the most demanding teacher they ever had (her summer reading syllabus alone exceeded 30 titles), that her conversation, in and out of the classroom, was constantly challenging, that she urged and inspired her students to levels of production and insight of which they had never imagined themselves capable.

Perhaps her students caught only a glimpse of a life fully lived: she was prominent in the Italian anti-fascist movement during the War; taught at Smith College, where she founded the film program; was a prolific, nationally recognized literary critic and translator.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading