Tag Archives: Teaching

Oldest Living Graduate Remembers (1941)

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Dwight W. Learned, class of 1866 (Wikipedia Commons)

Dwight Whitney Learned (1848-1943), a native of Canturbury, Connecticut, graduated Williston Seminary in 1866 and Yale, B.A. 1870, Ph.D. 1873.  He was a grand-nephew of Samuel Williston, his grandmother having been Samuel’s sister Sarah; that may have explained his choice of Williston to prepare for college.  Following Yale, he taught Greek and mathematics at Thayer College in Kidder, Missouri, for two years, where he was ordained in the Congregational ministry.  In 1875, under the banner of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he went to Japan, where for 53 years he was professor of church history and theology at Doshisha University in Kyoto.  He published extensively in both Japanese and English, and contributed to a Japanese translation of the New Testament.  Upon his retirement in 1928, he was honored by the Emperor.  He settled in Claremont, California, where he continued to preach and write.

In 1941, as the centennial of Williston’s founding approached, Learned sent a typed memoir to centennial organizer Herbert B. Howe, class of 1905.  As he points out, aged 92, he must have been among the oldest living alumni.  Learned’s pages are reproduced here, with only a few annotations.  They are an interesting window into student life during and after the Civil War, and even touch on the Confederate surrender and Lincoln’s assassination.  It must also be noted that Learned’s recollections of Williston academic life, while amusing, are not altogether complimentary.  (To enlarge any image, please click on it.)

No image is known of the campus as Learned saw it in 1864. In this 1856 engraving, Middle Hall (“Old Sem”) is at center. The original White Seminary building, to its right, burned in 1857 and was replaced by South Hall. The gymnasium, with its distinctive tower, rose well behind these buildings. Of the two churches, the Payson Church (Easthampton Congregational) remains today. Samuel Williston was about to remove the First Church, at left, to make way for North Hall.

Principal Marshall Henshaw

Marshall Henshaw served as Principal from 1863-1876.   Both respected and feared by his students, of him Joseph Sawyer once wrote that “a botched translation was highway murder.”  Williston Seminary had been coeducational until 1864, when Samuel Williston constructed a new public high school for Easthampton.  The faculty mentioned by Learned, Amherst graduates all, were young men when they taught at Williston: Francis A. Walker became an eminent economist; Henry Goodell ’58 the founding President of Massachusetts Agricultural College;  Charles M. Lamson ’60 and Thomas Smith important figures on the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.  Classicist Henry Mather Tyler ’61 taught at Knox and Smith Colleges, and wrote an important history of the latter; while Marquis F. Dickinson ’58 became a distinguished attorney and, coincidentally, Samuel Williston’s son-in-law.

It is surprising to learn that in days of cleaner air and lower buildings, one could see Amherst college, eleven miles distant, from an upper story in Easthampton.  Williston students attended services at the Payson Church, next to the campus.

Adelphi was the Seminary’s debating and literary society.  Its rival, Gamma Sigma, had not yet been founded.

If, presumably, Learned is evoking the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, then he has misremembered the date, April 9, 1865 – although General Grant had indeed written Robert E. Lee on the seventh, offering to discuss terms of surrender.

Happy New Year from the Williston Northampton Archives!



by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Archives Acquire a Fascinating Record of Science Teaching
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather's biology notebook.  (Click all images to enlarge.)
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather’s biology notebook. (Click all images to enlarge.)

It was one of those phone calls that vastly improves one’s week.  “My name is Will Wyatt – I’m a dentist in Texas.  I have what appear to be a notebook from a Williston biology class, dated 1890.  Would you like it for the Archives?  If so, I’d be happy to donate it.”

Would I like it?  That would have been an understatement.  Among the more important things we collect are examples of academic work: what was studied, and how it was taught, going back to our beginnings 175 years ago.  We actively seek current student work, as well as that from the past.  Consider: all the other things we save and cherish – theater photos, box scores, school newspapers, and dozens of other categories, most of them well-represented in this blog, wouldn’t even exist without the academic program.  It provides a context for everything else in our daily lives at a busy school.  Academics are the most important thing we do at Williston.

Mather's title page.  While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called "purple ditto."  The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869.  Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had on as early as 1877.
Mather’s title page. While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called “purple ditto.” The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869. Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had one as early as 1877.

So yes, we were thrilled to accept Dr. Wyatt’s generosity – the more so given the age of the item.  It is relatively easy to lay hands on student papers from 2015.  Anything from the 19th century is another story entirely.  And as shall be seen, this particular item is very special.

The document is a set of teaching notes for an 1890 Williston Seminary biology course taught by William Tyler Mather (1864-1937).  Mather, Williston class of 1882, went on to Amherst College, graduating in 1886.  He taught at Leicester Academy, 1886-1887 then, like many Williston and Amherst alumni, returned to Williston to teach (1887-1893).  During this time he also completed a master’s degree at Amherst (1891).  In 1894 he entered Johns Hopkins University, earning a Ph.D. in physics in 1897.  In 1898 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, Austin, where he remained the rest of his life.  (This would tend to partially explain how a set of teaching notes found their way from Easthampton to “a very eclectic used book store” in San Antonio, where Will Wyatt purchased them in the 1980s.)


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Hélène Cantarella – “Noblesse Oblige”

For a generation of Northampton School for Girls alumnae, the name of Hélène Paquin Cantarella (1904-2000) is one with which to conjure.  Merely to write that she taught Senior English from 1958 to 1969 is to understate her influence.  There is virtual unanimity among her former students that she was the most demanding teacher they ever had (her summer reading syllabus alone exceeded 30 titles), that her conversation, in and out of the classroom, was constantly challenging, that she urged and inspired her students to levels of production and insight of which they had never imagined themselves capable.

Perhaps her students caught only a glimpse of a life fully lived: she was prominent in the Italian anti-fascist movement during the War; taught at Smith College, where she founded the film program; was a prolific, nationally recognized literary critic and translator.

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The Impossible Mr. Tibbets

There was a time, only a generation or two back, when private schools were expected to have a few Great Eccentrics on their faculties.  In an era when people much more frequently kept the same job for a lifetime, and when residential faculty were discouraged from marrying, schools became, in a sense, havens for a few talented individuals who, for whatever reason, could not or would not easily thrive in outside society.  Williston Seminary was no exception.  Even so, for an unholy combination of inspired teaching and rampant misanthropy, one name stands out.

George Parsons Tibbets taught Mathematics at Williston Seminary from 1890-1926.  Over six feet tall, “a great body topped with a strong face and crowned with a flaming thatch of red hair,” he was “a marked man in any crowd.”  (Holyoke Transcript, April 7, 1926) And that was before one discovered that he had no talent for, or perhaps interest in, what most people considered normal social skills.  Even his best friend and faculty colleague of 36 years, Sidney Nelson Morse, noted – in Tibbets’ eulogy, no less — that he was “at times insistently importunate, imperious, and impertinent.”  “His attitude was a perpetual challenge to all whom he met.”  Tibbets tended to get straight to the point with what he called the “basal virtues” of his argument: “Conversation with him was seldom a smooth and halcyon sea of conventional phrases – there were wrinkles in it, made by the fusillade of his pelting comments.”  (S. N. Morse, Eulogy, corrected typescript and Williston Bulletin, November 1926.)

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