N'57 Class History

Northfield Class of 1957
Looking Back

(This was written for our 50th)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  (Charles Dickens)

Most of us began our lives in 1939, a great year for Hollywood films, among them Gone with the Wind, Mister Smith Goes to Washington and The Wizard of Oz,  that presaged the influence the entertainment industry would have later in the century. It was also the year that Germany invaded Poland to initiate WWII, a phenomenon whose complexities are still unraveling in the Middle East as we meet for our 50th Reunion. We were born into a period of unprecedented worldwide social and technological change. On the one hand, our government had recently passed a series of Acts having to do with wages, housing, investment and Social Security that would separate our lives from those of earlier generations in ways no one fully anticipated. These momentous bills would set the middle class on its feet and change our economic relationship with our extended families. On the other hand, the same government created Japanese – American internment camps in 1941 as our battle with Japan began.  Race riots broke out throughout the ‘40s in cities across the US.  On the bright side, the 1944 GI Bill of Rights opened up opportunities to many people who could not otherwise have afforded a college education and created new spaces for others after the GIs finished school. On the dark side, the US initiated the Atomic Age by dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Post-war treaties divided responsibilities for Eastern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa among the Allied countries, and the newly created state of Israel entered into a long series of bitter wars with its neighbors. Although the US joined both the UN and NATO, it became the major Western player in that oxymoron, a “Cold” War. George Orwell published his warning against excessive governmental controls, 1984, when most of us were 10. In 1950, the computers, telecommunications systems and   surveillance tools that had been developed in the war became available for development by large corporations. The population explosion began; in the 50s, the US grew from 150 million to around 200 million, in a world that supported 2.5 billion people.

By the time our first classmates arrived in East Northfield and Gill in 1953, McCarthyism had wreaked havoc in many American lives, the Korean War was winding down, the Rosenbergs had been executed, the Shah of Iran had been returned to power by the CIA, DNA had been discovered and Queen Elizabeth II had been crowned in Britain. While we were at Northfield and Mount Hermon, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school desegregation in Brown vs. Board of Education and the South became a battleground. Rosa Parks’s decision to sit in the front of a bus initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Salk developed the polio vaccine; the Interstate Highway system was created; the Russians launched Sputnik; the US installed Diem as the leader of South Vietnam; and the first nuclear power plant went into service. Immersed as we were in our challenging studies, adolescence and popular culture, most of us were blissfully unaware of these events, which arguably introduced some of the most significant changes in American life since the Civil War.

The years of our late childhood through early adulthood in the 1970s were among the most prosperous in American history. Although the average annual salary of $3000 in 1950 didn’t allow much leeway for private schooling, Northfield and Mt. Hermon were able to provide financial assistance from wealthy donors. The mood of the country was by and large confident and expansionist. NASA was formed in 1958. Alaska and Hawaii joined the US in 1959. By 1960, almost 60% of American families owned their own homes. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, the year most of us graduated from college. Air travel to Europe and points east became affordable.  OPEC was formed.  The Vietnam War began as we were entering graduate school, getting our first jobs and/or having our first children.  At roughly the same time (1963) that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to open up profound national discussions of race and gender, Kennedy was assassinated, beginning a long line of national crises. Still, the federal government managed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, creed and physical difference for the first time in U.S. history; women gained reproductive rights in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision; the environment gained a Protection Agency; and the legal right to “equal opportunity” made it possible for middle class married women with children to have careers.

All of these developments and some of the disappointments that accompanied backlash during the ‘80s and ‘90s are reflected in the biographies collected here.  It is exciting to see how our classmates rode the historical roller-coaster during such a challenging period. And the evidence indicates that despite its traditional curriculum and small town demeanor, Northfield and Mt. Hermon prepared us very well.

The Northfield Class of ‘57:

Who are we now?

The unsigned and unattributed poem that opened our yearbook in 1957 proclaims boldly that “We seek to blaze new trails across/ A virgin land, unharrowed plains, / Or brave the mountainous terrains, / To raze all forests dark with doubt, And leave our footprints framed with light.”  The poem rejects the “broken ways” in favor of paths that are free of debris, and rejects the soldier’s  boot that “Trod carelessly upon a star / And crushed it beneath the heels of war” in favor of  a more respectful approach to our world. Although the poet realizes that our footsteps will fade in time, they will be “sublime” because they lead forth “from the Cross.” With hindsight, the poem seems conscious of the need for women to create new footprints (the visual theme of our book). At the same time, it confidently predicts our success because our steps originate from the right place.  In fact, the images of footprints lead into the Sage Chapel, which for many of us has served over time as the most poignant symbol of the Northfield campus, even if we embrace another religion or spiritual practice.  Apparently those who selected the poem and created the images realized how important the Northfield experience would be in our lives.  For many of the women who appear in this reunion yearbook, it was the “right place at the right time.”  Before we hear what classmates have said about those years, however, let’s look at what we had become by 2007.

Based on  the yearbook entries available at the time of this writing,  we can say  that almost all graduates of Northfield ’57 attended college, and almost all of those who attended graduated within four or five years—an enviable record in American higher education. About half of those who finished college went on to graduate school and earned the MA, MBA, MFA, MM, MS, MSW, or the equivalent in certification for advanced training. About a quarter also went on for a Ph.D. or its equivalent in Art History, Biology, English, Education, Egyptology, History, Landscape Architecture, Math, Music, Nursing, Pediatric Psychology, South Asian Studies and Spanish, to name a few specific fields of study. Many became teachers, nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and secretaries.  Several became ministers as churches began to open their pulpits to women. Others became artists or writers. Probably our most famous classmate, Nancy Graves (1939-93) was an internationally-known sculptor, painter and printmaker. Several have published books ranging from children’s fiction to poetry to architectural history to scholarship on Muslim women. Several entered the Peace Corps in its first years of existence; others directed Head Start programs. Some were among the first women to hold a job in their field. One classmate was working for Walt Disney World when the first guests came in the gates in 1971. Others developed their own businesses —restaurants, B&Bs, computer services, consulting firms, clinics and more. We also have in our midst some professional sailors and outdoor adventure leaders, a gemologist, an airline stewardess, and a sex therapist, not to mention someone who claims to have retained a Hippie lifEsteyle. By this writing, we had news of only one physician and no attorneys, perhaps because those fields did not welcome women until after we had established other trajectories.

Perhaps a third of us have had a career for 30-40 years, and another third for 20 years. Some have had several careers! Those who didn’t want or need paid jobs outside the home often have extraordinary records of service to their families or communities. Some have even entered into politics.

Most of us, but not all, married at least once, and we have more than the national average of lasting marriages but also plenty of divorces. The single life has proved better for some, and same-sex relationships have proved better for others. Our lives begin to reflect a changing concept of “family.” Most, but not all, have raised children—their own, adopted or step-children. Many have grandchildren from these relationships and report this as a crowning experience no matter what the source. Occasionally, however, the loss of a child or grandchild has been a source of terrible pain.  Some have also lost husbands or longtime companions to disease and death, and 15 of our classmates have died, primarily from cancer. While some report cancer in remission, heart disease, Parkinson’s severe arthritis, and MS, and a few have experienced near-fatal accidents, most of our cohort is still experiencing good health with the exception of joint and eye troubles. While many of us report having nursed aging parents, this activity does not loom as large in our collective biography as it would have in earlier decades due to the positive effects of Social Security and Medicare /Medicaid.

Although we came to NSG primarily from New England, New York and New Jersey as students, one person each actually came from Cuba, Japan, Idaho, Iowa, Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Quebec, Switzerland, Tennessee and Venezuela; two came from Ohio and three from Florida. Our backgrounds were more different than we guessed at the time, as is evident in this compelling story from Elizabeth Vaughan O’Gorman:

I was born in Iloilo, PI. My father was in Manila on a business trip when the Japanese bombed it on December 8th, 1941. . . . My mother, brother and I hid from the Japanese in the mountain jungles for more than six months until we were discovered. Given the order to come down from our hideout . . . or be killed, we descended and spent the next two and a half years in internment camps, mostly at Santo Tomas. We were rescued by the Americans literally hours before we were all to be slaughtered!

Whether our similarities were stressed in the name of assimilation or equality, many of us had no clue that one of our classmates had experienced such horror.

A quick review of our current U.S. addresses shows close to half of us living outside the Northeast, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Collectively, we have traveled to all parts of the globe, for education or fun or to be with family members—an obvious dividend of American prosperity during the last half of the 20th Century.  But a surprising number of us have also lived and worked in other countries (Chile, Egypt, England, Fiji, France, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia among them). If we had time to share these experiences in depth, we might be able to piece together a non-official view of world affairs that differs substantially from the one presented in the news of governmental actions.

In retirement, we practice all sorts of physical regimes from yoga and T’ai Ch’i to hiking and kayaking, including the traditional sports of tennis, golf and skiing, despite our bionic joint replacements. (No one reports having continued to play lacrosse—that wonderful reminder of the early presence of Iroquoian people to our west.) Reading and gardening are favorites. Many speak of singing in church choirs or chorales, some of which have gone on tour. Music has clearly continued to be an important element in our lives even for those who did not continue to sing.

Several classmates have won awards from Northfield for service to the school or to a community, among them Frela Owl Beck, Alison Buck Cook, Brenda Browne French, Cynthia Chutter Kahn, Lee Holcombe Milliken, Sarah Drew Reeves, and Robin Foster Spaulding.   Several have been featured in the NMH magazine over the years. These include Norma Jean Darden for her upscale, downhome Southern catering service in New York City; Gail Minault’s book on Muslim women; and Sally Bogle Gable’s book about the Italian villa she and her husband have renovated...

And finally, a significant number of individuals in these pages express a desire to make a difference to the levels of peace, social justice and environmental protection in our society. This is variously expressed as an obligation to grandchildren or to a higher power, but it is clearly part of a quest that does not exactly follow the traditional pattern of heroic conquest.  Although some have pursued institutional or activist roles in service of specific changes, many have worked primarily through their relationships with members of their family and community. There is a strong sense of responsibility toward the care of self as a means to care for others in these pages.


“We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”  Toni Morrison, Sula

As is often the case, the events we thought we would remember, presented in the “Class History” of Highlights ‘57 as “Steps”—one for each year toward graduation—are not the ones that show up in this book. The interhall song contest in 1953-4,  the loss of the Deerfield game in 1954-55,  the planting of our maple tree and the death of Miss Morse in 1955-56, and the formals we wore for Class day and the “Chat” in 1956-57 play no role at all in our collective history as it is represented here. This writer had even forgotten that 1956 was the first year of a Thanksgiving vacation, and that Talcott Library received a new addition while we were on campus, although not that it was the year of Wilson Hall’s debut. 

One of the elements that stands out in our memories of Northfield is the sheer beauty of the place—the rolling hills and low mountains, the river and small ponds, the greenness of it all, and the peace it instilled in our minds and hearts. The landscape itself seems to have served as a compass for us, even though our complicated adult lives did not always allow us to return from afar to the place itself.  Barb Tuttle writes about “its gentle hills and the warmth of its inhabitants“as well as “the quiet beauty of its beloved chapel,” and adds “my most special memory from Northfield was the stillness, the beauty and abundance of nature’s glory, for reflection and for the infusion of quietude.”  Perhaps this is why the loss of our campus in the present merger of the two schools has hit our class so hard. We are the second 50th Reunion class that will not be able to stay on the Northfield campus, although we will be able to visit, and the Auditorium will be the site of a major gathering for all classes. We have carried a spiritual landscape with us to many other places, reproducing parts of it or its effects elsewhere. Fifty years later, Jean Luce Eaton remembers “going up to Round Top to think. There was serenity there that I couldn’t find anywhere else.”  It is a ritual she repeats every day on her deck.

Another set of memories concerns the teachers, especially the colorful Willie Freeman, whose occasional entry to his classroom through its window was legendary, and Al Raymond, whose firm leadership and calm spirit got us through any number of musical scrapes.

All of us agree about the excellence of the education we received from teachers who were dedicated both to their subjects and to the proposition that we all had the ability to learn what they taught, no matter how resistant we were. Brenda Browne writes: “Even now, as I wander from room to room wondering what I am doing, I can easily remember Beowulf and can still quote Chaucer in Middle English. [Read] the Bible as history. [See] Mlle. Liniger shuddering at my Yankee accent and poor French [as she] transform[ed] me into an advanced student.” Sarah Drew Reeves recalls with some embarrassment how we pooh-poohed the chapter on “cell poisons—alcohol and nicotine” in Miss Homet’s biology textbook, and smoked on the train home. But we learned to write, to think and to examine ideas. We attended some of the best colleges and universities in the country at the time (Cornell, Duke, Michigan and Northwestern in addition to the great women’s colleges), and we quickly discovered the advantages to be gained from having had good models for learning and having acquired good study habits.   

Although some wish in retrospect that the teachers had been less stern, more attuned to adolescent development, others tell wonderful stories of their humanity—such as this one from Joan Kendall Hyer:

One morning as we waited for Miss King to begin her lecture, she stepped to the side of the lectern and said she wanted to tell us the dream she’d had the night before. She’d been running down a hill. Suddenly she slipped and fell flat on her back. When she came to, a chipmunk was sitting on her middle-most middle. Just like that, the seat of the soul became a seat for a chipmunk. And who would expect that stern-looking woman with her hair in a bun and her theology degrees to share such a marvelous dream?

Likewise Nickey Friederich Brown remembers “skinny-dipping in the reservoir with classmates in Miss Brownell’s Latin IV. Did she actively encourage us? And did we tell her afterwards? I don’t remember. But I do recall an unnamed participant saying, ‘If Miss Brownell comes, I’ll tell her I’m Venus rising from the sea’.”  And Marti Welsh Goldstone says,

Last week as I reached for my Harbrace Handbook of English with its intact Northfield book cover, I realized that all those grammar lessons stuck. Perhaps Mr. Freeman understood my learning style after all, when following a tense, tearful conference about an essay I’d written, he pulled out his tenor recorder and soothed me with music. I even broke into a smile when puffs of smoke emerged from the bottom.

Carolyn Shields Fabricant praises Doris Palmer’s English class for laying the “foundation for a method of research and writing [the Harvard Outline] which later proved adaptable to any subject.” She has saved her 40-page paper these 50 years, and now confesses that “in order to finish it on time, and not be caught by the Hall cops, I set up a makeshift desk in the basement ‘cold room’ where the kitchen vegetables were stored, so I could type at night after the lights were out. Even Miss Weston couldn’t hear me tap-tapping down there, surrounded by shelves of potatoes and carrots and onions.”

Christmas Vespers, Sacred Concert, Mountain Day, Winter Carnival, and daily chapel form the core of many memories, as do ritual foods such as Bishop’s Bread, the mid-morning break for chapel and milk, Silent Time, Quiet Time and Funny Time, and Dummy.

For many of us, Northfield’s most distinctive feature was Dummy. Here are some phrases that describe our experiences: “digging eyes out of potatoes, cleaning johns until my shoes squeaked, [and not being able to] stop whistling while vacuuming”; gaining 15 pounds on dessert prep; being assigned to scrubbing big pots over and over because of being one of the tall girls; preparing huge quantities for the larger dorms and sometimes ruining a whole batch of something by using the wrong measuring cup. Joy Goddard Knightly tells the most resonant story, however:

I was taking sweet potato and apple out of the oven for dinner and I realized I was going to drop it. I tried to swing the pan up onto the counter. It hit the counter leg and went everywhere! I stood there in horror with tears running down my face. Some of the girls were laughing. Miss Crownenshield said, “Joy, you go pour the milk. Those of you who think this is so funny can come clean it up...”

As Pat Grummon says, “we were taught to work hard, not only academically but practically.”  A recently published poem titled “Spots” intimates another dimension of meaning:


 I learned to clean toilets in boarding school, where each girl took turns

 at domestic work, or dummy we called it, even as we were being taught

to clean smart, save our souls. But five decades of expert

blotting and rubbing have produced this unforeseen conviction:

 some spots, like blood, should never come out.

(Estella Lauter, Sweeping Beauty, U. Iowa Press, p.82) 

By far the most frequently mentioned memories of Northfield, however, center on friends and the “second nature” we developed there, which Jane Rilance calls “radical hospitality.” She explains: “Upon arrival at NSG it was discovered that I had not one stuffed animal for my bed, and within one hour, there were three new friends and three stuffed animals.” Judy Wagner McKernon recalls that a “fresh-faced friendliness pervaded the campus.”  At a recent leadership weekend for reunion planning, Ginger Roe Lang regaled us with stories of after-hours pranks in Weston, and Joy Barker Bliss writes about mixing liquor from perfume bottles with coke—apparently the closest we came to the drugs of later decades. Although not all memories are pleasant, (Joy also recalls burning the skin off her palms doing the “fire-rope test” on the first day of school), the cumulative effect of hospitality at Northfield appears to have been extremely positive.  Wendy Hsu writes “for me, a refugee from communism, [Northfield] meant I was finally in a safe place. . . . my English must have been accented and full of grammatical errors yet no one ever made fun of me and everyone made me feel a part of the class.” Some members of our class, Wendy among them, have maintained strong friendships through cross-country moves, marriages, and three generations. Judy Clifford, Freda Owl Beck, Debby Chater Richman, Marcia Damon Carpenter and Joyce Moore Arthur have gathered every five years or so in CT, AZ, ME and Mexico. Pat Collins French reports that she and Diane Baker Neyland have been best friends for 50 years. “Many times we have said, We are Northfield girls—we can do it”!

During an era so full of new opportunities and challenges for women, the sense of responsibility and the genuine affection we felt for each other seem to have made a critical difference in what we could do with our lives.

 No straight lines make up my life, and all my roads have bends;
 There are no clear-cut beginnings, and so far no dead-ends
                                              Betsy Howlett, from “All My Life’s a Circle”

The ’57 reunion committee and yearbook staff asked contributors to write about their most valuable legacy from Northfield and also what we hope to leave behind. Not surprisingly, we responded in many different ways. Doris Goebel McGonagle says, “The most valuable legacy I have from Northfield is a love of learning and a sense of myself.” Love of singing is certainly another theme in our responses to these questions, along with the sense that music accomplishes several positive goals at once.  Others speak about the habit of being thankful for each day that was gained in the rituals of Quiet Time, Silent Time and House Prayers.

Pat Hull Pease expresses what many biographies show when she says, the “Northfield philosophy of giving back followed me, sometimes vexingly, all of my life.”  Donna Immen put it this way: “We do not live in a vacuum, and we do have an effect on one another. Manners do count; civility does matter; and kindness will turn away wrath.” And Alison Buck Cook’s husband writes, “I believe Northfield had not some small influence on her persistence to carry on in the face of adversity. Not always successful and not always without error, but always to persist with enormous energy.”

Our statements about legacies tend to move out from the centered self to other people and to the natural world and back in a circle, collecting energy as well as solace on the way. Sally Bogle Gable calls this a process of making “one gigantic tapestry, weaving me into the jumbled matrix of humanity, making me (I hope) a more sympathetic and more understanding spouse, parent and friend.”  Betsy Howlett says, “I find the circle of life still spinning, still calling me to grow and deepen.” Life at Northfield was an important part of that circle.

Several classmates talk about another circle: that of the Head, Heart and Hand. Barb Tuttle writes, “If we could use these in service of building bridges of knowledge, fairness and mutuality rather than in competition, power and greed, what wouldn’t we accomplish for this battered world? What couldn’t we face in this time of mounting crises?”  The encouragement to integrate knowledge, compassion and action seems to have led Peg Wilson, for example, to become involved in the project of developing a community college campus for young people in Kentucky’s Cumberland Mountains. Similarly, something like this idea must have been behind Cynthia Chutter Kahn’s effort to start a children’s museum, a day care program and a summer literacy program in Denver. Ellie Ingram Gavin exhorts us to “Conquer fear with knowledge” and to join “watch-dog groups for the aging nuclear reactors upwind of us, or of our loved ones, or our NMH.”  Thus she gives us information to “speak truth to power.”

More than one person mentions our class motto from a relatively obscure book of the Bible as an influence: “And what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). Collectively, we evince a strong desire for peace, but not without justice. And we learned that justice without mercy is inhuman. Likewise, justice without humility is tragic. We inherited a complex idea that our current government seems unable to understand, to say nothing of implementing it, and this is a source of disappointment and frustration. Still, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, for the sake of the environment we share with all forms of life, we continue even in retirement to do what we can to realize its wisdom.

Independence, equality, optimism, respect for other cultures and our universe, belief in the capacity to change and in the power of the human spirit to bring about positive change,  “the strength to face the future, whatever it holds,”  and the conviction that what we say and do as individuals matters—all of these values were present at Northfield. Elinor Toaz Neuhauser calls them a “treasure trove.”  We are pretty determined to pass them on and “leave this world a tiny bit better for having been part of it.”

How did Northfield accomplish so much for us in such a short time? We may never fully know the answer to this question. Joyce Moore Arthur offers one explanation: although her mother had told her that anything was possible and encouraged her to open her eyes to everything around her, her world was small; Northfield offered a “microcosm” of the larger world and modeled an effective way of relating to it. Nancy Hartman Rodman offers a metaphor of “adoption.” She and Rob (MH ’57) adopted a child, and now they find that “adoption has become contagious in our family, and the result is a United Nations in miniature.”  Perhaps the Northfield secret to effective education for living was something so simple as its “radical hospitality” that drew us into a new circle larger than ourselves. Try putting that into the language of strategic planning!

Whatever it was, we are grateful for it. Now let the revelry begin!