Tag Archives: Phillips Stevens


by Richard Teller '70, Archivist

As the summer of 1953 was ending, the United States was extricating itself from the Korean War.  An armistice agreement had been signed at Panmumjom on July 27, ending active hostilities on the Peninsula but doing nothing to abate the Cold War nor to dampen anti-communist fervor at home.  Indeed, what is now remembered as the Second Red Scare (1947-1954) continued to dominate the political news.  But in quiet little Easthampton it was, perhaps, relatively easy to ignore the issue as a phenomenon centered in Washington, Hollywood, and New York.  Then, just as school was about to begin, Headmaster Phillips Stevens received the following letter:

burke letter
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The Campus That Never Was

Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer around 1910. (Click all images to enlarge.)

At schools and colleges like Williston Northampton, one eye is necessarily on the future.  Difficult as it is to predict the educational needs of the nation and the world a decade or a half-century hence, it is essential to try.  As Williston itself very nearly learned in the 19th century, complacency is what closes private schools.  It took a Headmaster of exceptional vision and perseverance, Joseph Henry Sawyer (who joined the faculty in 1866 and served as Head from 1896-1919) to break us of the habit of constantly looking backwards.

Details of Sawyer’s campaign for “The New Williston” are for another post.  But briefly, it called for the development of the Williston Homestead property – our present campus – as the eventual replacement for the cramped and increasingly obsolete Old Campus in downtown Easthampton.  There was a complete re-thinking of the role of the school and faculty in its students’ lives, from a kind of laissez-faire paternalism to active collaboration in academic, athletic, and social activity.  To pay for all this, Sawyer sought new funding sources, notably through the then-controversial idea that a Williston education was only the beginning of an alumnus’s lifelong relationship with, and responsibility to, the school.

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Northampton School for Girls — and After

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.)

A captive audience, at an early hour

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.

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