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.
Horace Edward Thorner (1909-1981) taught English at Williston Academy from 1943 to 1970, and served as the school’s Librarian. For ten years prior to coming to Williston, he was a practicing psychologist. Such bald biographical data insufficiently describes a multifaceted scholar, collector of and dealer in rare books, antiques, and atrocious puns, coach of the Williston Chess Team, and, simply, a fine teacher.
A prolific author, Thorner’s writings include verse translations of Homer’s Iliad and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a play, The Man Who Shot God, many works of criticism and history, and several volumes of poetry. He is unique among our faculty for having been an elected fellow of both the Royal Society of London and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
In 1965-66 Thorner, on sabbatical from Williston, traveled around the world. To supplement, or perhaps supersede, his camera, he carried a notebook in which he recorded his impressions in verse. These he collected in The Round World Squared (Hawthorne Publications, 1979). In the introduction he commented, “Each of the poems was written on the spot at the time, proving nothing more, perhaps, than that a man like me does well to keep on moving.”
Guest blogger Peter Valine has taught history and social science at Williston Northampton since 1998, and was appointed Dean of the Faculty in 2010. He presented the following at the opening-of-school faculty meeting on August 30, 2012.
Thinking about how to start the year, I wanted an opening that was inspirational — something to fuel and direct the positive energy of this moment. I wanted an opening that would engage us — and hold our interest. I wanted an opening with an underlying message — that gave context and meaning to our gathering together at the beginning of the year. In thinking about how to accomplish these aims (inspiration, engagement, and an underlying message), I came to the realization that I needed to tell a story.
I’ll be honest, I wanted to start the year with an Olympic story — a Williston Olympian who through purpose, passion, and integrity rose to the ranks of an Olympic medal winner — but my research revealed that the Olympic legacy of Williston athletes is actually quite modest. So I went to the Archives for inspiration, and was led to the life of Charles Fred. White, whose story serves my purposes perhaps even better than a Williston athlete who gained Olympic fame and glory.
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.
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