The waning days of summer: faculty are preparing for meetings and fall classes while students are finishing their shopping and summer reading — or in a few instances, starting it. School opens in less than two weeks, with all the joy, angst, and tradition associated with the event. Once upon a time the tradition included a tea for new students, hosted by the Headmaster’s spouse and a phalanx of faculty wives. In 1966, a well-scrubbed and tightly necktied “newboy” myself (yes, it was one word then), I was present at this event. A woman of extraordinary warmth and empathy, Mrs. Stevens really did help to take the edge off of the noisy and sometimes impersonal first week of school. On the other hand, many of her guests had never tasted tea, and when offered cream or lemon, took both. Having lived in England the previous year, I knew better, but after 49 years I’ve never learned to like the stuff.
These days we have student arrival and orientation organized and personalized down to the last detail. It was not always so. There is certainly no suggestion of the gentility evoked by Mrs. Stevens’ tea-party in the following letter, by Charles Carroll Carpenter, class of 1856, to his father. Carpenter, of Bernardston, Mass., was a new student in the spring of 1854. (Original spelling and punctuation have been retained.)
Williston Seminary, No. 39
Easthampton, Ms. April 20 1854 . P.M.
The bell has rung for evening study hours, and I will improve the signal by penning a few hasty lines homeward.To speak of events, historically, I arrived safely at No. H. on Tuesday morning. On the way, met (in the cars) with a young fellow, like myself, Williston-bound; Leavitt, of Charlemont,1 son of Roger H. Leavitt, Esq. Had to wait in No. H. all day—crowds of students came up in the train—and several stages and teams were in readiness to convey them over.2 Ten of us got into a three seated wagon, with my distinguished townsman, Mr. Moore, for a driver. It was most terrific going—mud and melted snow formed a horrible coalition—Could hardly get out of a walk, a single step. We suffered the greatest trouble, however, in fear that other students would get ahead of us and engage the rooms; but after two hours we arrived—“put” for the “Sem.” The Chief Boss of the Institution, Mr. Marsh,3 is absent, on account of dangerous family sickness— and everything went hurly-burly. I engaged however of the pro tem. janitor, a room, for safety—and then went to President Hubbard’s.4 That official is very pleasant and courteous; and when I informed him that I had written to Mr. Warner,5 he called me by name, and said he had engaged me a room, and gave me other useful information. Then returned and found Pres. H. had bespoken me an excellent room, in the Brick Seminary—I obtained the keys to it, and at once, with young Leavitt, moved in “bag and baggage.”
The rooms are small—have one window—one bed and bedding—a table—a desk-like shelf, for books and writing, and a small stove.
There is a closet in the room, with hooks for clothes; a washstand and a bowl, pitcher and two pails; a looking glass and a woodbox, I believe completes the list of furniture supplied by the Institution. Have to pay about 2.75 each for the use of the room. We board at the Boarding House for $1.67 per week—then there are fuel, lights, etc.—Leavitt brot a lamp, which will be enough for us both.—I forgot my boot-brush—As I shall need that, I think you had better send it —As the “Faculty” don’t furnish towels, wish you would put in a couple—coarsest crush you can get if you please; or pretty coarse.—You can do them snugly up together, and send them by Express, I think. Guess Gillott will not ask me more than ninepence —direct to me at Express Office, Northampton—and I will walk over Wedns. afternoon and get it.—Perhaps send Monday or Tuesday—Believe Gillott goes down on P.M. train—not sure. Pay him—and I will make it right. Don’t think he’ll make chg. more than 18½ or 19—Slip in a some matches, if you please, and the silk that Mother cut out for a pen-wiper and which I forgot. They ask enormously for everything here—12½ for a box of 5 ct. matches—and at that rate—If there are a few of those carpet tacks left, put in a few—not particular. My trunk, it will be recollected, is the one without the handle.—Wrap three or four old newspapers tightly around them.
Our wood is greener than the imaginary dress of the milkmaid in the spelling book, and we have to use a good deal of paper.
About the school, cannot say much yet—did nothing yesterday but take names and classify — I shall take nothing but Latin and Greek—and go away back in both —I should take Algebra, but it conflicts with other recitations.—I am fearful I shall study too much, and therefore start lightly.
Am vastly grateful to all, particularly Mother, for trouble, toil, and labor in “getting me off.” —Love to all—Please write soon. I am in haste as must get in a lesson yet tonight. Have not seen Mr. Moore yet. Regards to inquisitors.6
Suppose me, to be, very rapidly, none the less Truly,
Yr. aff. son, C. C. Carpenter
1Either Henry Leavitt or Joseph Leavitt, both class of 1856, both from East Charlemont.
2[Added to left margin of first page:]There is a railroad in progress from No. H. through here. It goes near the old canal — where to, I know not.
3No one named Marsh was on the faculty. Could Carpenter have meant Principal Josiah Clark?
4Eli Hubbard, Associate Principal and teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy.
5Probably the Rev. Oliver Warner, teacher of English and “intellectual philosophy.”
6[In left margin of last page:] The snow’s all gone here, and mud fast drying up. You may also put in my Greek Testament. [In right margin:]Washing will probably cost me 50¢ per wk. Have made no particular inquiries.
If you’ve read this far, you might also enjoy “Rules for Bucks!”