Each fall Archivist Rick Teller ’70 speaks to the assembled School on some aspect of Williston Northampton history. The event, popularly known as “the button speech,” only occasionally concerns buttons at all. But this year it did. These remarks were delivered on Friday, September 20, 2013.
Good morning. At solemn occasions … like hockey games … we sing about someone named “Sammy.” Our hearts yearn for him … for his campus and geriatric elm. But, you might well ask, about whom do we sing? Just who was “Sammy?”
Samuel Williston was born across the street, in a house located where the Homestead now stands. The house, where Mr. Swanson lives and which we now call “The Birthplace,” was moved across Park Street in 1843. It is much grander now than it was when Sam arrived.
That was in 1795. George Washington was President. Easthampton was a small farm village. Samuel’s father, Payson Williston, was the minister in Easthampton’s only church. Payson was a stern, old-fashioned New England preacher, with strong Calvinist leanings. We will get to Calvinism in a minute. The Reverend Mr. Williston’s salary was tiny, and he had a house full of children. He added to his income by planting a few acres of mediocre farmland. That farm is now the heart of our magnificent campus.
Williston Northampton’s Upper School hears an annual lecture on some aspect of school history. The event is popularly known as the “button speech,” even though most years no mention is made of Samuel and Emily Williston’s button-derived philanthropy at all. On January 30, 2013, Archivist Rick Teller ’70 spoke about diversity issues.
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Good morning. I’m here to talk about Diversity in Williston Northampton’s past. How did we get to where we are? Perhaps I should warn you: what you’re about to hear will not always be pretty. History, including our own, shouldn’t come with perfume or blinders.
It is hard to pin down when Williston first enrolled students of color. Student records simply no longer exist prior to the 1860’s. But it appears that African American students first began to attend Williston sometime in the 1870s. I can’t tell you who our earliest African American student was. The first I can name is Robert Bradford Williams, who arrived in the fall of 1877 and graduated in 1881. Williams was from Augusta, Georgia. He was a protégé of Miss Lucy Laney, who ran an Augusta school for black children, and who worked tirelessly to find places in Northern schools for students of promise. Miss Laney managed to get funding for Williams from the Reverend Joseph Twichell, a prominent Hartford clergyman and close friend of Mark Twain.
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.