Among the great themes in private school life, dorm room decoration is, perhaps, insufficiently recognized as one of the Great Traditions.
But consider the first image below, taken in North Hall in 1903. All the elements of modern-day student interior decoration are present. The overall theme might be described as “Eclecticism, and Too Much Of It.” There is an emphasis on advertising and clipped photographs, especially portraits of unattainable celebrities of opposite gender.
Perhaps the impression of young gentlemen sitting up straight and reading in their jackets and ties doesn’t seem quite real, but it is somewhat mitigated by paper that didn’t quite hit the wastebasket.
One of the pleasures of working in the Archives is that sometimes a question will lead to a whole new line of inquiry. Or, to put it more simply, one will open a file and an idea for a blog post will jump out. Recently, research on behalf of a member of the Class of 1940 led to this photograph, from the first in a long tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta performances. On May 5, 1939, the Glee Clubs of Williston Academy and Northampton School for Girls performed Trial by Jury on a makeshift stage in the basketball court. Chuck Rouse, Ruth Dunham, and Frederick “Binky” Hyde were co-directors; Howard G. Boardman provided scenery and lights.
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.)
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.
It’s prom night — another senior class milestone. At Williston Northampton, informal tradition has our students dressed and milling around the quad an hour or more before they need to leave for the event. Being seen is essential. I know one parent who is driving considerable distance just to view her son in a tux. Some of us middle aged types are content simply to marvel at how well our kids clean up.
The date of the first Williston Seminary senior promenade is unknown, but the tradition goes back at least to 1902. No decorated gymnasium or road trip to the Log Cabin in those days — the Easthampton Town Hall, right across the street from the Old Campus, had a ballroom. Northampton School for Girls held their first prom at the Hotel Northampton in 1939.
A colleague recently wondered whether, for all that it is a rite of passage for thousands of high school students, most people have happy memories of their senior proms. I have no opinion. In my senior year, 1970, the Williston Academy prom was canceled because of a student strike. (That’s a topic for another post.) The 1947 cartoon at left suggests that memories may be mixed. But I recall a Reunion Weekend conversation a few years ago. I’d identified a returning alumnus with his date in a prom photograph and showed it to him. “Wow,” he said. For a moment, there was a distant look in his eyes. “I wish I could remember her name.”
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