On Women’s Education by Ellie B. Rothman

Editor’s note: Former faculty member Ellie B. Rothman, Director Emerita of the Ada Comstock Scholars Program at Smith College, was the keynote speaker during the Northampton School for Girls’ 90th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 17.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you all here this morning, for what looks like an interesting series of talks and opportunities to talk with your fellow alumnae from a spread of classes. Jeff Pilgrim and Penny Molyneaux (and perhaps a few others) are to be congratulated on putting it all together. I want to make sure that you all realize, appearances perhaps to the contrary, that I was not around at the time that NSFG was founded.

It’s a happy occasion, and I’m delighted to have been asked to speak to you. I’m going to try to say something meaningful about women’s education, though to do so in 15 minutes is daunting, to say the least.

First, I have a question: How many of you attended a women’s college? ….. We’ll come back to that.

I plan to tell you a bit about my own experience, leaving some time for questions so that I can respond to what you really want to know.

I’m not going to say anything about why Miss Whitaker and Miss Bement decided to found a school for girls in Northampton, MA in 1924. Perhaps Rick Teller will talk about that this afternoon. You all are probably pretty glad that they appreciated the importance of women’s EDC or you wouldn’t be here to celebrate your alma mater.

Continue reading

Introduction of Author George Colt by Madeleine Blais P’00, ’04

Editor’s note: The Writer’s Workshop series was founded by celebrated authors and Williston parents Madeleine Blais P’00, ’04 and Elinor Lipman P’00 in 1998 as an advanced class for aspiring student writers. As part of the course, which focuses on intense writing and literary criticism, four well-established writers visit campus to give public lectures and offer hands-on instruction with students. The following is the into Ms. Blais gave for author George Colt before his talk on Oct. 7.

Photo by Joanna Chattman
Photo by Joanna Chattman

It is an honor to welcome the second writer in the 17th year of our Writer’s Workshop Series here at Williston. As many of you know this series was first dreamed up by a fellow writer parent, novelist at Elinor Lipman, and myself. We wanted to do something special for the school and for the students at Williston, but we wanted it to relate to what we love doing in our own lives, writing and supporting other writers. Now this does not mean we didn’t engage in the usual parent volunteer work—how I remember my days as donut mom at the hockey rink—but this idea seemed a better reflection of some aspect of ourselves. When we made the proposal to Denny Griggs, a lovely man at the end of his directorship of the school, he was 100 percent supportive from the get-go, most importantly acceding to our most brazen request that an academic course accompany this series, a workshop for young writers.

As far as I know this is the only course of its kind taught at any independent school in the nation. Plenty of schools teach writing and plenty of schools host guest authors from time to time, but it is rare indeed to build a writing course around a public talk by a visiting writer followed by a visit to the classroom so students who have read his or her work can have a spirited exchange.

Tonight’s author, George Colt, is yet another luminary in our all-star lineup.

Continue reading

Button Speech: Northampton School at 90

Editor’s note: This annual speech by Williston Archivist Rick Teller ’70 takes its name from the manufacturing business school founders Samuel and Emily Williston (although buttons themselves are not usually the focus). This year, Mr. Teller spoke during Upper School assembly on October 1, 2014.

Good morning. We call this the button speech. For those of you who are new to us, it is an annual presentation concerning some aspect of Williston Northampton history. For those of you who are not new, there is absolutely no truth to the story that it’s the same every year. Let me add that the only reference to buttons that you will hear this morning has already happened.

OK, a caveat. A few of you seniors heard a portion of today’s talk back in freshman year. I suspect that fewer of you remember, so I’m not especially worried. And it seems important this year to talk about Northampton School for Girls, since this fall is the 90th anniversary of their founding.

Northampton School for Girls is the “Northampton” in our name. They merged with Williston Academy in 1971. Their history, their legacy is an integral part of who we, meaning you, are, here in 2014.

So let’s go back to 1920. Northampton School history really begins with the Capen School for Girls. Capen was a small but highly regarded school located next to Smith College in Northampton. (In fact, those of you who attended the Smith College Campus School are intimately familiar with the former Capen property.)

The Capen School did not survive the death of Miss Bessie Capen, its headmistress and owner — talk about a private school! Capen was one of a great many girls’ academies that have since vanished from the educational map. Early in the 20th century girls could not make the assumptions about education and careers that you do now. If a woman attended college at all, she might go to a state normal school, and prepare for a career as a schoolteacher. Most private colleges were male enclaves, but there were a number of fine women’s colleges, either associated with men’s schools, like Radcliffe or Barnard, or independent colleges: Wellesley, Smith, Vassar, Mount Holyoke — whose mission was to provide women an education equal in rigor to that offered to men at Yale and Amherst. An ambitious young woman might attend one of these colleges, although there was certainly no guarantee, or even encouragement, that she continue a professional life after college.

Continue reading