Category Archives: Easthampton History

“A Perfect Paradise on Earth”

by Rick Teller '70, Archivist (Retired)

Early Coeducation at Williston Seminary

September 2021 will mark a true milestone in school history: exactly 50 years earlier, Northampton School for Girls and Williston Academy, newly merged, opened as the fully coeducational Williston-Northampton School. That story is told elsewhere (see Northampton School for Girls – and After). It wasn’t always an easy transition – a few years later, according to legend, the hyphen was legally dropped from the school’s name after a highly placed administrator, in an ill-timed jest, suggested it represented a minus sign. Times have changed, and we are preparing to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of coeducation at Williston Northampton.

Williston Seminary in 1845. (Click any image to enlarge it.)

Few, perhaps, are aware that in 1841, 130 years before the merger, Williston Seminary had opened as a coeducational school. Part of Samuel Williston’s motivation for founding the Seminary was that Easthampton had no high school. Poor eyesight had forced him to curtail his Andover education, and Williston, already on the road to becoming Easthampton’s principal municipal benefactor, must have wondered whether, had there been educational opportunities closer to home, things might have been different. Williston was also acquainted with the great Massachusetts educational reformer Horace Mann, a pioneering advocate for the education of women. (For biographical information on Samuel and Emily Williston, see “The Button Speech.”)

Samuel Williston in the 1840s (Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum)

There are suggestions, though, that from the beginning, Samuel had misgivings about coeducation. His original inspiration had been the great English public (i.e., private) schools, notably Rugby, all of them bastions of maleness. The bylaws of Williston Seminary, published in 1845 but in effect from incorporation, stated,

From Samuel Williston’s Constitution of Williston Seminary.

When classes first convened in December 1841, there were 192 scholars, 53 of them – 27% – young women. The Seminary’s literature made it clear that young women had access to all the curricular resources of the school. The Annual Catalogue of 1844 notes,

From the August, 1844 Annual Catalogue of Williston Seminary

So far, so good. But as the passage specifies that young ladies might attend the lectures in the sciences, it implies that the “same instruction as the other scholars” was taught separately by the “Lady of experience,” regardless of the subject matter. The “Lady” in question in the earliest years was one Miss Clarissa Stacy, listed in the Catalogues as “Teacher of the French Language.” In 1844 she was joined by Miss Sarah Brackett, who had the grand title of Preceptress. More often than not, over the next two decades of staff changes, the French teacher and the Preceptress were the same person. But only rarely did the Catalogue even acknowledge that individual as Preceptress, This was the case even in 1849-50, when Samuel Williston’s adopted daughter, Harriet Richards Williston held the job. Harriet, class of 1847, had no college education, having enrolled briefly at Mount Holyoke but withdrawn. Before becoming Preceptress, Harriet had also taught French, which she’d learned from Miss Stacy, from 1847-49.

Harriet Richards Williston Clark, much later in life, with some of her children.

In all but two instances we do not know the educational backgrounds of the nine women who served as Preceptress between 1844 and 1863. Besides Harriet, two others were recent alumnae of the Seminary. But it appears that the Preceptresses, occasionally assisted by another teacher, were responsible for every facet of the girls’ education outside the sciences, regardless of qualifications. This certainly calls into question how seriously the Seminary took its claim of “the same instruction.”

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Easthampton Illustrated, ca. 1890

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Photo no. 21, showing its original format. The prints, which range in size from 8 x 6″ to 9.5 x 7.75″, are printed on 14 x 11″ paper, contained in a brown cloth-covered portfolio. (Please click all images to enlarge.)

The Archives hold several sets of a portfolio entitled East Hampton Illustrated, containing 32 lithotype photographs of Easthampton.  Many are images of Williston Seminary and of buildings associated with Samuel Williston or his business partners; the balance are of other Easthampton landmarks, most of them industrial.

The set was published by the Linotype Printing Co., 114 Nassau St., New York, and is undated.  Most antiquarian booksellers date the portfolio ca. 1900, but all  of the photographs are older.  The catalog of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library in Williamstown, MA dates the collection ca. 1880.  Information in some of the photo captions, noted below, suggests that the album appeared after 1881 and no later than 1895.  Thus, we estimate the publication date as ca. 1890.

No. 1: View of Easthampton from Adams Street, Looking North

View of Easthampton from Adams Street, Looking NorthThe vantage point is near the intersection of Adams and Liberty Streets, more specifically looking northwest.  In the distance are the spires of the Payson (Easthampton Congregational) and Methodist Churches (a different structure than the present day former church housing the Young World Childcare Center), the Town Hall, and the Williston Seminary gymnasium.  The reach from the Nashawannuck spillway to the Lower Mill Pond is visible in the foreground.  The area today is heavily wooded.

Incidentally, for this article we have, perhaps, broken a rule.  The reproduced images have been adjusted to mitigate yellowing and fading, so that their appearance better approaches their original state – which, admittedly, we can only conjecture.  As always, you may click on the photographs to enlarge them.

No. 2: Williston Seminary

Williston Seminary

A view of the original Williston Seminary campus on Main Street.  Union Street is to the right; the split rail fence surrounds the Payson Church – the present-day Easthampton Congregational Church.  The three main campus buildings, from the foreground back, were, with an appalling lack of creativity, named South, Middle, and North Halls,  The gymnasium tower is visible behind South Hall, and one can make out the First Congregational Church (1836; see “The Congregational Church in Easthampton History”) in the distance, at the end of Main Street.

No. 3: General View of Williston Seminary

General View of Williston SeminaryThis unusual view from across Union Street, near the side entrance to the Payson Church, shows South, Middle, and North Halls, with the Principal’s House, still standing at the corner of Pleasant Street and recently renovated, in the right distance.  (Despite the name, from 1849 forward the Principals resided elsewhere.)  The Gymnasium, with its distinctive tower, is at right.  Close examination of the photo shows a baseball game in progress.

North, Middle, and South Halls, and the Gymnasium were demolished in or shortly after 1952, after Williston Academy consolidated operations on the present Park Street/Payson Avenue campus. Continue reading

Buy! Buy!!

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

The first Willistonian editors, 1881. (Click all images to enlarge)

Surely “cater to your customers” must be the most fundamental principle of marketing.  When Williston Seminary’s campus newspaper, The Willistonian, made its first appearance in March of 1881 (making it, 118 years later, the oldest continuously published secondary school paper in the United States), its student editors sought to finance their enterprise by selling advertising.   With a couple hundred teenage boys occupying the campus, local merchants sought to appeal to their wallets.  Logically then, we can open a window into an 1880s adolescent’s mind by examining how, away from home and parental supervision, he wanted to spend his (or his father’s) money — or how local merchants wanted him to spend it.

Early issues of The Willistonian came in an advertising wrapper.  The “front page” was actually inside.  Because the paper was also sold by local merchants, a portion of the advertising was aimed at the general public.  And industries like Glendale Elastic Fabrics — one of the late Samuel Williston’s enterprises — may have purchased space out of a sense of obligation to Samuel’s widow Emily, if not to the school.

The advertisements below are selected from the first three years of The Willistonian, 1881-1884.

The front cover of the April 16, 1881 Willistonian — actually an advertising wrapper.

“Opposite Williston Seminary” meant Shop Row, on Main Street.  C. S. Rust appealed to young men’s fashion sensibilities.

May 7, 1881

Shop Row, directly across from the campus, with the Methodist Church and Town Hall. Most of these buildings remain.

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The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new. (Click all images to enlarge.)

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading