Category Archives: Student Life

The First Chinese Students at Williston

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist (Retired)

Note: This article includes certain images that are, by 21st century standards, objectionable. They were, or should have been, similarly repugnant 150 years ago. But they are important examples of what minorities, including Williston’s first group of Chinese students, had to endure at the time. Recent national controversies have served to remind us that if we do not confront and acknowledge our mistakes, then progress is impossible.

The Earliest International Students

Williston Seminary, founded in 1841, had an international student clientele from the very beginning of its history. Among the first students to enroll were brothers Warren and J. Evarts Chamberlain, from the Sandwich Islands, now Hawai’i. They, like many students from abroad, were the children of Christian missionaries, sent home for the very practical reason that there were no secondary schools available where their parents were stationed. In the first two decades missionary children also arrived from Turkey and Syria. In the 1860s we start to see scholars from Persia and from South Asia: India, Ceylon. But East Asia is not represented at all. And indeed, one might argue whether an American living abroad, even if born there, might truly be called an “international student.” Meanwhile, the great majority of students hailed from the Northeast.

The very first “real” international student, one Sumner Bridgman, arrived in the fall of 1844, from Saint-Pie, Quebec, Canada. Not especially exotic, to be sure, but in any event, he didn’t stay long. He was followed in 1845 by compatriot Mary Pomeroy of Compton, Quebec, who had the distinction of being not only Williston Seminary’s first female international student, but also the last. (See “A Perfect Paradise on Earth.”) The first European students were William Marcussohn, of Odessa, Russia, who arrived in the fall of 1847, and Francisco Leiro, from Corunna, Spain, in 1848. The names and origins of all Williston students are exhaustively recorded in the Annual Catalogue of Williston Seminary. Unfortunately, prior to 1873, individual student transcripts (if they ever existed) do not survive, so we rarely have much contemporary detail on the lives of many students at the time of their enrollment.

The population of “true” international students started to grow in 1869-70. In the next four years the school would welcome multiple students from Denmark, Turkey, and notably, Japan. Then, beginning in academic 1875-76 and culminating in 1880-81, eleven young men from China would enroll. They attended under the auspices of a remarkable program, the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM).

[Fig. 1] A page from the May, 1877 Annual Catalogue, recording some of the Chinese students. (Click any image to enlarge.)
A Note on Sources

The history of the Chinese Educational Mission has been treated in two excellent volumes, China’s First Hundred: Educational Mission Students in the United States, 1872-1881, by Thomas E. LaFargue (1942), and Edward J. M. Rhoads’ Stepping Forth Into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81 (2011). Professor Rhoads made extensive use of the Williston Northampton Archives in researching the latter. Full citations for both volumes are at the end of this post. Both books are highly recommended

[Fig. 2] A color lithograph of the campus that the CEM students would have known in the late 1870s. North, Middle, and South Halls are in the foreground; the gymnasium to the rear. The Town Hall and Shop Row are opposite these buildings; the Payson Congregational Church outside the right margin.
China and the West

19th century China was largely, and by design, a society isolated from the rest of the world. Modernization – of the government, the military establishment, the educational system – came slowly. Efforts were made to limit exposure to unwelcome ideas that contradicted or distracted from centuries-old Confucian principles. Until mid-century, China had only one major international port of entry, the southern city of Guangdong (Canton). The British had used it to gain access to and influence in the interior. In a particularly cynical effort to gain leverage, Britain, whose East India Company held a monopoly on Indian-grown opium, had encouraged the use of the drug in China to create a demand for it. Opium could then be traded for Chinese silks, porcelains, and other goods much in demand in the West. This had been going on since the 1780s, but it eventually led to the First Opium War of 1839-1842. Hopelessly outgunned, China was forced to make significant concessions to Britain. A second conflict, 1856-1860, which also involved France, was even more disastrous for China. Opium was virtually legalized, ten treaty ports were established along the coast, and China was forced to move her capital to Nanjing after the British occupied Beijing (Sizer, 33-40, 48). But finally, even in the most conservative government circles, it was becoming apparent that access to Western technology, both military and industrial, was essential. This eventually led to the establishment of the Chinese Educational Mission.

The evangelical spirit of the times served only to exacerbate the situation. With European traders and soldiers came a wave of missionaries. True, there had been a handful of Christian proselytes in China since the thirteen century, but their impact was slight. This time it was different; it seemed that “the conviction of Europeans that it was their Christian duty and the manifest destiny of the people of the Occident to bring to China the fruits of western civilization was accepted without question” (LaFargue 1). As shall be seen, this dynamic would effect the CEM students in both the restrictions placed upon them by their Chinese sponsors, and the expectations made of them by their American hosts.

The Chinese Educational Mission
[Fig. 3] Yung Wing, from a portrait in Harper’s Weekly, May 18, 1878.

Yung Wing (1828-1912) shepherded the Chinese Educational Mission into being. Initially taught in a Christian mission school in Guangdong, he had accompanied one of his teachers to the United States and completed his education there, eventually graduating from Yale in 1854. He may well be the first Chinese national to obtain an American education (LaFargue, 18). While at Yale he had become convinced of the need for China to explore Western educational and technological models as alternatives to the traditional systems. Although he had taken American citizenship, he returned to China in 1854, and became a tea merchant and translator. Eventually he found himself in a position to lobby officials in the Imperial court about his idea for educating Chinese boys abroad (LaFargue 17-31). He became associated with a powerful official, Zeng Guofan (Tsêng Kuo-Fan). In 1864-65, on Zeng’s behalf, Yung went back to the United States to purchase machinery for a modern arsenal and shipyard. Zeng, who shared Yung’s passion for military, industrial, and educational reform, had substantial leverage in the Imperial court (LaFargue 24-28). Thus, in 1870, the Chinese Educational Mission was approved. Yung Wing was named one of the Governors.

[Fig. 4] Tan Yaoxun’s participation in an oratory contest. 1877.

The first task was to recruit a group of students whose parents were willing to permit them to travel abroad for several years. Ultimately, and despite a variety of challenges detailed by Rhoads and LaFargue (Rhoads 13-30; LaFargue 33-34), 120 boys, most in early adolescence and a majority from rural areas neighboring Guangdong in the South and Hangzhou in the East, were selected. Few came from the North, those only toward the end of the program. None came from the ruling Manchu families (LaFargue 34). The boys were gathered at a school in Shanghai for initial orientation and English study.

[Fig. 5] The Prize Speaking contest of 1879. which Tan Yaoxun won.

Management of the program in the United States would be by a Chinese Educational Commission (CEC), headquartered in Yung Wing’s old student hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. Yung and a Chinese scholar, Chun Lanbin, were named Commissioners. In 1871 they traveled to Hartford to make arrangements for the boys’ arrival. The students, most aged 12-14 (Rhoads 18), would come in four groups, 1872-1875. They were placed with host families in central Connecticut and Massachusetts, and divided their study time between local schools and the CEC. Following two or three years of preparatory education, each student would enroll in a public or private secondary school in the Connecticut Valley. From 1875 to 1881, eleven students from the first two groups would attend Williston Seminary. They were:

Chen Ronggui (Yung Kwei Chin), class of 1879s*, attended 1876-79
Cheng Daqi (Ta Chi Tsing), class of 1879c, attended 1876-77
Liu Jiazhao (Kia Chau Low), class of 1880c, attended 1876-80
Tan Yaoxun (Yew Fun Tan), class of 1879c, attended 1876-79
Fang Boliang (Pah Liang Fong), class of 1880c/1880s, attended 1876-80
Kuang Yonzhong (Yung Chung Kwang), class of 1879s, attended 1876-79
Wang Fengjie (Fung Kai Whang), class of 1879s, attended 1876-79
Zhang Xianghe (Cheong Cheung Woo), class of 1880s/1881c, attended 1877-79
Kuang Jingyang (King Yang Kwong), class of 1880s/1881s, attended 1877-80
Kuang Xianzhou (Ying Chow Kwong), class of 1880s/1881s, attended 1877-80
Yang Zhaonan (Siu Nam Yang), class of 1880s, attended 1877-79

(*The designations “s” and “c” following the class year denote Williston Seminary’s two curricular divisions, Scientific and Classical. Fang Boliang and Zhang Xianghe switched divisions during their times at Williston. Zhang Xianghe and the Kuang brothers appear to have transferred to later classes.)

[Fig. 6] Fang Boliang’s entry in Samuel Baxter Allis’s autograph book.
A Note on Names

For this article we have followed Professor Rhoads’ lead and rendered all Chinese names using the modern Pinyin system of Chinese transliteration, developed in the 1950s. It differed from the older and less consistent Wade-Giles system, used by Thomas LaFargue. In the 19th century there was no translation standard at all. In the list above, the names in parentheses are those that appear in the Annual Catalogue of Williston Seminary’s rosters. Chinese and Pinyin practice places the surmame first; Williston followed English convention and placed it last – most of the time. To add to the confusion, not only are LaFargue’s name renderings often different, but students’ names are spectacularly inconsistent from one catalogue to the next. Kuang Jingyang and Kuang Xianzhou appear as Kwang and Kwong in alternate years. Tan Yaoxun is rendered Yan Fun Tan and Yew Fun Tan in different volumes. Liu Jiazhou is listed three ways – Kia Chau Lew, Kia Chan Low, and Kia Chau Low, while Zhang Xianghe’s name seems miles away from Williston’s “Cheong Cheung Woo.” Happily, Rhoads has provided a table of accurate pairings (51-54).

Expectations
[Fig. 7] Kuang Yonzhong (Yung Chung Kwang), probably shortly before he entered Williston in 1876. Compare this with the debonair young graduate in Figure 12. (Thomas E. LaFargue Papers, Washington State University, Used by permission.)

CEM had very clear expectations for its young gentlemen. Once accepted into the program, they were considered to have passed the first level of civil service examinations, and were now government employees, even granted a stipend to cover clothing and travel expenses. They were to obtain American secondary educations and continue at American colleges, then return to China to share what they had learned. They were expected never to abandon their national cultural identites. This included not cutting their queues and appearing only in traditional robes (Rhoads 29-30, 148-150). The last injunction proved impractical. Not only did the boys often draw undue attention and ridicule upon themselves, but growing adolescents need new clothes. The dress code was modified so that students were required to wear Chinese clothing only when returning to CEM headquarters, or at official functions (Rhoads 149).

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The Williston Theater Turns 100

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

One of the highlights of May 2020 was to have been the Williston Theater’s much-anticipated presentation of Les Misérables. The COVID-19 crisis having closed the campus, it was not to be. It would have been an opportunity to publicly celebrate the centennial of The Williston Theater, which made its debut (as the Dramatic Club) in 1919-1920.

The very first Williston Dramatic Club production, December 1919. (Please click any image to enlarge it.)
Prehistory

To be clear, student theatricals were regular occurrences at Williston Seminary (as it was then called) prior to 1919. Teenagers have always been dramatic, and the “hey kids, let’s put on a show” instinct, often coupled with an urge to clown, is rarely far from the surface. Most of the student-produced shows of the time took on a rough-and-ready quality. Today we might call it skit comedy, and would probably be baffled by inside jokes and perhaps disappointed by the overall taste.

Skit comedy, 1881.

For a nominal fee, Williston students had the use of the auditorium and stage in the Town Hall, directly across Main Street from the campus. Although the building belonged to the town, it had been donated by Samuel Williston, and students made certain assumptions.

The mysterious rubber chest, a mere prop in the preceding poster, gets a script of its own.

In some instances, we might be more than disappointed at the tone of some of these efforts. “Appalling” is perhaps not too strong a word to describe student minstrel shows that featuring stereotypical characters and ethnic humor. Reflecting the times, the targets were most frequently African Americans and the Irish. Ironically, Williston was an integrated school by the 1870s. One can only speculate on how students of color might have responded.

Poster for a minstrel show, 1878.
The program for the preceding minstrel show. (Please click any image to enlarge it.)

Happily, some aspired to loftier dramatic pursuits. George Wardman, class of 1889, was one of a cadre of theater-mad students invited to participate in a faculty reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1888. Participants read multiple roles, and the female parts were undertaken by faculty spouses — Lady Macbeth by the Headmaster’s wife. The organizers were sufficiently pleased with themselves to attempt Hamlet a few weeks later. (Wardman preserved his invitation and cast list in a scrapbook full of other theatrical memorabilia; see An 1880s Williston Scrapbook.)

Professor Charles Buffum’s invitation to George Wardman.
The Macbeth cast list.
The Birth of the Drama Club

Student productions up prior to 1919 had enjoyed neither school sponsorship nor faculty supervision. All that changed with the 1917 arrival of Professor Laurence J. Smith, an English teacher and graduate of what was then known as Emerson College of Oratory. Smith set about convincing colleagues and students of the importance of “the promotion of the art of the theatre and the development of self-confidence and imagination through dramatic expression.” In October 1919, under Smith’s direction, a student cast took to the Town Hall stage with an evening of one-act plays. (The program is at the very top of this article.)

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A William Rittase Gallery (II)

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
A William Rittase classroom image from the 1940s, with teacher Earl N. Johnston. The dramatic lighting, from floods placed outside the margins of the image, is characteristic. (Please click images to enlarge.)

William Rittase (1894-1968) was an American photographer based in Philadelphia.   On several occasions from the mid-1930 to the early 1950s, he was hired by Williston Academy to create catalogue images. He also, on at least one occasion in the ‘forties, shot photos at Northampton School for Girls. Rittase’s artistic interests lay in industrial and railroad subjects, for which his work is prized by collectors today. Catalogue photography was undoubtedly meant to pay the bills. But in retrospect, Rittase’s catalogue photography frequently surpasses the medium for which it was intended.

Rittase’s images are sprinkled throughout this blog, but only once, in A William Rittase Sports Gallery, have we devoted a full post just to his work. Not long ago his grandson left a comment on that page. That led to the realization that we have a great many wonderful images that we haven’t shared. Thus, this article.

South Hall, on the Old Campus, with the Easthampton Congregational Church in the background. The cloud effect is another Rittase signature

His style lent a distinctive look to Williston’s and Northampton’s marketing materials. Rittase’s work is typically characterized by dramatic lighting and high contrast between light and shadow.   In outdoor photographs, billowing clouds are another signature.  Sometimes he obtained his singular chiaroscuro through artificial means, placing floodlights at unusual angles, occasionally casting striking shadows. Retired Williston photography instructor Bob Couch ’50 has observed that Rittase’s trademark clouds sometimes repeat themselves from one image to the next. (And Rittase worked half a century before anyone had imagined digital photo editing.)

Chemistry at Northampton School for Girls, around 1945. Rittase has darkened the room, except for a flood placed low behind the glassware.

Most of Rittase’s photographs survive in the Archives as mounted gallery prints, in which the images measure approximately 13.75″ x 10.” Over the years, many of these have faded or the dyes in the prints turned sepia. But because we have the published images, and because other Rittase work is available as a reference, we have a good sense of what the originals once looked like. A number of years ago, using modern scanning and digital editing, we undertook a project to try to reproduce the photographs in something approximating their original state.

A Rittase print in its present state.
The preceding photograph, digitally restored. The tower of the old gymnasium appears in the background.

Beyond their often sheer beauty, Rittase’s pictures present aspects of student life and the campus that have long since vanished. Here are some of his best — or most interesting images. Viewers are encouraged to look for some of the Rittase attributes described above.

Faculty and Students
Classics master Lincoln Grannis, 1944. In this case we can date the photo from the calendar on the wall.
English teacher Chuck Rouse in conference.
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Faculty Meetings — a Century Ago

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Sidney N. Morse on the steps of Middle Hall. (Please click any image to enlarge it.)

Sidney Nelson Morse taught English, and occasionally Latin and Greek, at Williston Seminary from 1890 until 1927.  A product of Williston, class of 1886, and Yale, 1890, he also served as Alumni Secretary, remaining in that role for several years beyond his “official” retirement.  From 1918 to 1927 he was Secretary to the Faculty.  His principal responsibility was to take the minutes of weekly faculty meetings.  These documents survive, in 48 exam bluebooks, scrawled in Morse’s sometimes challenging handwriting and often written in the distinctive blue pencil which, for reasons unknown, he favored.

While admittedly there is much repetition in the texts, gems emerge.  The minutes are, in fact, a detailed chronicle of Williston life from the perhaps necessarily narrow window of her teachers.  Here we present some excerpts from approximately a century ago, 1918-1921, which might resonate today.  (Editor’s annotations are in italics.)

November 22, 1918: “Suggested that a teacher be detailed to be in Northampton Sat. night and to come back in the last car to see that Williston boys are O.K., each teacher in turn.”  (In those days light rail service ran between Easthampton and Northampton.)

(The First World War had finally ended in November, 1918.  With the Armistice came a demand for more “normal” campus activities.)

March 14, 1919: “The matter of petition from the students to take 2 hrs. military drill a week in place of 4 was not acted upon except so far as to leave unchanged the present schedule in general until May 1, & any slight changes to be left at the discretion of Sergt. Graham.”  (Sergeant Alfred Linton Graham had served with the Canadian Army from 1914 until his discharge in January 1918.  Williston employed him as a military instructor during the 1918-19 school year.)

Alfred Graham, from the 1919 yearbook, The Log.  Dr. Galbraith dispensed with his services the following year.

This writer’s sense is that there is far too much of the following.  It should be noted, though, that such discussions of individual disciplinary matters among the full faculty continued until fairly recently.  Even after a century, it seems appropriate to abbreviate students’ names.

May 16, 1919: “Moved, that R___ M___ be kept on strict probation and denied all out-of-bounds privileges for the rest of the term; and if he be allowed to return next year, his return to, and continuance in, Williston shall be strictly conditioned (Unexcused absences beyond 20 for the year 1918-19).  Carried.”

“Moved, that J___ A___, for presenting forged excuses for absence from school exercises be put on strict probation as to conduct and attitude toward his work; and further, in case he returns to school next year, he shall pay in advance full tuition for each term.  Carried.” Continue reading