A Legacy of Women

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The following article, “A Legacy of Women,” originally appeared in the 2020 Bicentennial issue of Hamptonia. Read the full magazine online. 

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Women have always been an important part of New Hampton School. Since the founding of the school in 1821, women have attended, worked at, and supported the School with enthusiasm and grace. In the midst of The Great Depression, the school’s enrollment was continuing to shrink and had a physical plant in disrepair. Headmaster Frederick Smith made the decision to transform the New Hampton Literary Institution into an all-boys college preparatory program called The New Hampton School for boys in 1926. This transformation led to other schools in the local area and across New England following suit. For a period of 46 years, women did not attend New Hampton School.

Women returned to the institution in 1972 and have maintained a presence at the school ever since. The following pages highlight a few of the influential women who attended and supported New Hampton School throughout the last 200 years. There are many stories of influential women in the history of New Hampton School that we hope to share in the coming months and years–more than could grace the pages of the Hamptonia, showing the impressive reach of women throughout the years.

Martha Hazeltine ’27

Martha Hazeltine ’27

One of the last students to attend New Hampton Academy before it became New Hampton Academic and Theological Institution, Martha graduated in 1827, stayed at the school, and began teaching. She subsequently became head of the Female Department in 1829. In 1833 she formed the “Literary and Missionary Association” for young ladies to promote foreign mission trips and resigned in 1840 when she married Rev. Joseph Smith.

She left a resonating imprint on students with her passion for teaching, strong moral foundation, and vivacious personality. She introduced the concept of physical education and was one of the first philanthropists for the Female Seminary.

“She had the passion for acquiring knowledge, the knack of assimilating and retaining it which mark the genuine scholar. United to this was an unusual force of character, a well-developed ambition, and a clearly defined and exalted notion of the true mission of a teacher.”– Edwin Lewis, Memories of New Hampton.

 

Sarah Sleeper ’32

Sarah Sleeper ’32

Good friends with Martha Hazeltine and alumna of the class of 1832, Sarah Sleeper, upon graduation, became a teacher and, in 1839, the second principal of New Hampton Female Seminary. Sarah called students and graduates to not only promote the advancement of intellectual and moral faculties through The Young Ladies Association of the New Hampton Female Seminary for the Promotion of Literature and Missions but also encouraged more than simply personal enrichment and rather, “the elevation of our sex universally” by dedicating their life to the transformation of the United States.

“Were the ladies of our country to make appropriate efforts, the whole nation might be elevated in its physical and intellectual abilities, and its moral powers developed to an expansion and energy that would produce a more glorious revolution, than that which gave it existence.” [1]

Sarah helped to write Martha Hazeltine’s memoir entitled Memoir of the Late Martha Hazeltine Smith, published in 1843. In 1847, she departed New Hampton and sailed to Bangkok, where she wished for a school such as New Hampton and to spend the rest of her remaining years in missionary work.

Cornelia Bradley ’41

Cornelia ’41 and Emily Bradley ’46

The Bradley sisters, Cornelia and Emily, were two 19th century alumnae who forged highly successful careers as popular authors based on their years spent in the village of New Hampton. The sisters, from Hudson, NY, reached the school via their uncle, the Rev. J. Newton Brown, A.M. a professor at New Hampton Academical and Theological Institution from 1838-1845.

Their writing skills were honed at the school as both wrote and presented for the Young Ladies Literary and Missionary Association which was part of the Female Seminary. Emily’s classmates often challenged her to send her writings to publishers outside the school, and she took that challenge writing–first as herself and then under a penname under her sister’s warning because she was “too young to write.” Her pen name was Alice “Gordon” Lee.

The popular Neal’s Saturday Gazette was one of many publications she sent her writings to. Joseph C. Neal gave a rave review of her writing, and they instantly became pen pals. However, after her real identity was uncovered, Mr. Neal paid her a visit at her home in 1846 when he was so struck by her, he wrote to her after returning home and offered marriage. She would forever keep the name Alice, first as Alice Neal and then as Alice Haven. Cornelia outlived Alice and wrote her memoir in 1866.

 

Ina Bickford ’98 (right)

Ina Bickford ’98

Ina, daughter of New Hampton Literary and Biblical Institution class of 1869 alumnus Reverend Lewis Page Bickford and Emma Grace (Fox) Bickford and granddaughter of alumnae Susan Woodman Fox, resided across the street from the Gordon-Nash Library in what was known then–as is now– “The Pillars” with her parents and siblings. The Pillars served as a guest house for tourists, complete with meals when requested. Reverend Bickford worked as both janitor and librarian for over 20 years and was assisted by his daughters Grace and Ina as assistant librarians.

Ina graduated from the New Hampton Literary Institution in 1898 and subsequently taught there from 1899 to 1910. She replaced her sister Grace, who assisted her father, as assistant librarian at the Gordon-Nash Library in 1899 and succeeded her father as caretaker and librarian of the Gordon-Nash Library from 1917 to 1949, dedicating over 50 years to caring for the library. During her time as librarian, she taught herself library cataloging, offered the first instruction in library use for grammar and high-school students ever given in northern New Hampshire, fervently suggested a separate children’s library, and received a scholarship for having the highest per-capita book circulation in the state of New Hampshire. [3] She was also a founding member of the New Hampton Historical Society.

 

Pauline Swain Merrill ’21

Pauline Swain Merrill ’21

A native of New Hampton, Pauline was class valedictorian and class of 1921 graduate of New Hampton Literary Institution. She attended Northeastern University Law School, where she graduated cum laude in 1928 and became one of the first women lawyers in New Hampshire and only the second to be admitted to the Bar Association in Grafton County.

She practiced law with her father at the law office of Swain and Swain in Bristol, served as trustee of Gordon-Nash Library and New Hampton School, acted as legal authority for the town of New Hampton, clerk of the town school district, served as a member of the School Board, was a lifetime member of the Garden Club, and unofficial town historian. [3] Pauline also helped author the book A small gore of land: a history of the town of New Hampton, New Hampshire, from its beginnings through the early 1940s.

 

Kathleen Hiawatha Hilyer ’21

Kathleen Hiawatha Hilyer ’21

Kathleen Hiawatha Hilyer came north to the New Hampton campus in the fall of 1917. Her father, businessman, and attorney, Andrew F. Hilyer, and her stepmother, Amanda Gray Hilyer, were nationally recognized civil (and cultural) rights advocates in Washington, D.C. In Kathleen’s four years here, she was a strong contributor to the arts as well as academics and served as an editor of the Hamptonia in her senior year.

Her middle name, Hiawatha, was almost certainly a reflection of her parents’ support and patronage of the talented British composer, S. Coleridge Taylor, who created and performed a trio of cantatas, Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha, right before Kathleen was born. Graduating in 1921, she went on to Howard University and prepared for a long career teaching high school English in the Chicago public schools.

 

William Bryan “Billie” Geter ’25

William Bryan Geter ’25

William Bryan Geter from Jacksonville, FL, was one of the most talented alumnae to grace our classrooms, music rooms, and stage in the 20th century. “Billie,” as she was known to her friends, excelled in academics, music, and drama during her two-year tenure. In 1922 she was awarded the top academic prize for a female student along with honors in the Germanae Society.

Perhaps because enrollment was dropping precipitously, Billie transferred to Cushing Academy, where she became the first woman of color to graduate as Valedictorian in 1925. She went on to Boston University and Radcliffe, then the University of Paris, Middlebury College, and the University of Quebec. She began teaching French and coaching drama at Bethune-Cookman College, later joining the faculty at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she became Head of the French Department.

Until her tragic death in an automobile accident in 1962, she was incredibly active in dramatic productions, starring in major roles year-after-year. As noted in a recent history of the famed Atlanta University Summer Theater, when the group began in 1934, Billie, “then a young and beautiful French teacher at Spelman with a background in dramatics… became the prima donna of the company.”

 

Jinga Moore

Norma Jean “Jinga” Smith Moore

Norma Jean Smith Moore, known as Jinga throughout her life, grew up in New Hampton when her parents, Former Headmaster Fred and Grace Smith, led New Hampton School from 1926 through 1959. While Jinga did not attend New Hampton School, she did return in 1946 after marrying T. Holmes “Bud” Moore in 1944 when Bud, an alumnus of New Hampton School, returned as a member of the faculty. Bud became the Headmaster of New Hampton School in 1959, and so, she took on the role of headmaster’s wife. A role that entailed, during that time, playing hostess to dinners, school events, and meetings.

As women’s roles shifted, Jinga became a Spanish and Latin teacher, a coach, and a dorm parent. Jinga went beyond her role as headmaster’s wife, coach, or faculty member and was an ever-present role model and mentor to many students who passed through New Hampton School. Her loyalty to the school was most admirable even after her tenure.

“I am in awe of her lifetime of service to her students and our community, and the incredible impact she had on so many people during her extraordinary life.” – Joe Williams, 23rd Head of School 

Virginia McMaster

Virginia McMaster

A vital part of student life at New Hampton School, Virginia was the school nurse for more than 25 years. Prior to joining New Hampton School, Virginia joined the U.S. Army in 1941 when the United States entered World War II as a nurse in General Patton’s Army and served in North Africa. She was with forces that established a beachhead at Anzio, Italy, and eventually took Rome. Virginia was also with U.S. forces during the last German offensive, the “Battle of the Bulge,” where there were more than 100,000 U.S. casualties.

Joining New Hampton School in 1955, she played an important role in the daily lives of students and, during a particularly trying year, brilliantly orchestrated a plan when nearly the entire school became ill with an avian-borne influenza. She stayed at New Hampton School until she retired in 1981.

 

Carol Brooks

Carol Brooks

Former faculty member Carol Brooks was a pioneer for contemporary science education and brought the first environmental science course to life in the mid-70s. A large component of the class was fieldwork and land-use research.

Carol was the first female dorm parent for Berry Hall in 1974, the founder of New Hampton School Earth Day celebrations, was instrumental in the continuation of environmental science classes, and offered wilderness and international trips that provided fond memories for many.

Prior to New Hampton School, she served in the Peace Corps in Borneo and transitioned to work as in-house counsel for National Title Insurance companies after passing the NH Bar exam in 1983.

 

Jennifer Shackett Berry ’83

Jennifer Shackett Berry ’83

The start of a 40-year presence at New Hampton School, Jen began her tenure at New Hampton School in the fall of 1979 as a freshman. She was a fierce competitor in soccer, tennis, basketball, and softball during her tenure, and after graduating from Colby College, she returned to New Hampton School as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and, eventually, Director of College Counseling.

Jen was a recipient of the Faculty Medal, Hazeltine-Merrill Lifetime Achievement Award, Norma Jean Smith Moore Award, O’Hara Teaching Prize, and the Total Human Development Award–some more than once–showing her significant influence on the lives of thousands of New Hampton School students. Even after her recent retirement in 2019, she continues to be involved with the school and its bicentennial celebration.

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There are many more women who we will come to realize have had a greater impact on New Hampton School than we recognized at the time. It is often difficult in the moment to comprehend the influence a person has until much time has passed. In 200 years, there will be women we know by name who will grace the pages of the Hamptonia and be recognized for their grand contributions to the school and its community.

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  1. Image for VICTORIA BUSTAMANTE
    VICTORIA BUSTAMANTE

    How can I get in touch with Carol Brooks? She was a big influence in my life and I would love to email her. Victoria Borroughs-Bustamante

    1. Image for Tracey Sirles
      Tracey Sirles

      Good morning, I have forwarded your question to our alumni office for follow-up. Thank you!

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