HANNAH CHASE KIMBALL – Issues A Challenge to Meriden

Hannah Chase Kimball always believed in education for young women.

Hannah Chase Kimball always believed in education for young women.                      

 

This “Sketch from Nature” by Sarah Melendy, class of 1853, depicts the “Kimball Mansion" now the Meriden Congregational Church parsonage.

This “Sketch from Nature” by Sarah Melendy, class of 1853, depicts the “Kimball Mansion” now the Meriden Congregational Church parsonage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are fortunate today that the first Kimball Union Academy General Catalogue, 1815-1880, compiled and published by Principal Richards, recorded the names and short biographies of all the women known, at that time, to have attended the Academy; a great deal of important Academy history of the first 35 years would have otherwise been lost to us. Other names are probably unknown as some of our earliest Annual Catalogues are missing or were never compiled and printed. These early students not only had to, as the Reverend Charles Richards, class of 1854, said, “stop short” of college, none of them received a Kimball Union diploma. That was soon to change through the efforts of Madam or Widow Kimball, as she was known to the villagers.

After her husband Daniel’s death in February 1817, Hannah lived on in their home across the green from the Academy for another thirty years always keeping a “careful eye” on the Academy and watching “over the interests of the school as long as she lived, with a lively and motherly interest.” During her long widowhood, she harbored a goal for young women beyond what the Academy founders had set in motion in 1813. In Charles Richards’ centenary speech at KUA’s celebrations in 1913, he recalled Hannah’s desire to establish a female seminary in Meriden, what he called, “her pet plan.”

To realize her goal, or plan, Hannah asked the Meriden townspeople to collectively equal her gift of $1,250 for her seminary; they agreed and soon the project was underway. Bricks and other material had been delivered to the chosen site, less than a quarter mile west of the Academy on nearby Duncan property when the KUA trustees and Principal Cyrus Richards met with Hannah and persuaded her that for the good of the two schools, they should be combined into one Academy under the same Trustees and Principal, with two equal, but separate, male and female departments. Charles Richards continued, “Those in charge of the school believed in it. They were convinced that women were capable of receiving as high an education as men, and were as much entitled to it, and were sure that the effect on each of studying the same subjects, in the same classes would be salutary and inspiring.”

Known as the Third Academy, the corner stone for the addition to the Second Academy (on the left), was placed on May 8, 1839.

Known as the Third Academy, the corner stone for the addition to the Second Academy (on the left), was placed on May 8, 1839.

Because the Second Academy was already too small for the increase in enrollment under the new leadership of Charles’ father, Principal Cyrus Richards (1835-1871), an agreement was reached to add an addition onto that building and so the cornerstone for what became known as the Third Academy building was laid on May 8, 1839. In the fall of 1840, according to Principal Richards, women entered Kimball Union on equal terms with men in a “distinct classical, literary and classical, and English courses of study, each requiring three years, beyond a given preparatory course.” Although Richards remained head principal, Miss Martha Mehitable Green was appointed the first principal of the Female Department, 1840-1843; seven more women followed as principals until around 1908 when the two departments became one with one principal, later called headmaster, who, so far, have always been men.

Miss Martha Mehitable Green, first principal of the Female Department.

Miss Martha Mehitable Green, first principal of the Female Department.

With her goal of equality in education for all students now in motion, Hannah of whom “tradition says … advised him [Daniel Kimball], in making the institution his residuary legatee,” and with no children of her own, bequeathed the remainder of her own estate to the Academy, “… as a permanent fund … towards the expense of instructing females exclusively … It being my expectation that all females of good moral character will be admitted to said institution and my desire is that all such may be equally entitled to the benefit of this donation without regard to their pecuniary circumstances or religious opinions …”

From a distance of 200 years although with little written to confirm it, I think it is safe to say that as the wife and then widow of a wealthy and influential man and as an opinionated and strong woman in her own right, if not for Madam Kimball and people who thought as she did, it may have been many, many years before young women entered Kimball Union or perhaps, not at all. Imagine the future of the Academy if Daniel and Hannah Kimball had decided, with others, that “Learning will spoil her loveliness … Too much education will rob her of her skill as cook and housemother …”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commencement Celebrations

Over the years, graduating classes or individual alumni have given back to the Academy in many different ways – some with class gifts that can be seen around campus; some by supporting the annual fund; donating to building funds; as a trustee, Alumni Council member or a volunteer on campus. Other gifts have been designated graduation awards or prizes. Although the greatest prize of all is earning a Kimball Union diploma, it is interesting to note how some of these awards we hear of each year came into being. They had to have begun with love either for an individual classmate or faculty member or for Kimball Union itself.

Henry Mann Silver, class of 1867, was a loyal alumnus. He donated KUA’s first gym in memory of his brother, Charles Lewis Silver, in 1914; previously the Academy exercised in the basement of Baxter Hall. Silver once wrote that Headmaster Tracy came to visit him in 1913 “… and told me in a few well-chosen words that the Academy was greatly in need of a gymnasium to aid in carrying on the work of the institution.” KUA meant a great deal to him as he also wrote, “What did Meriden do for me? What did I take away from Kimball Union? The foundation of a strong constitution and years of perfect health.” The plaque that he placed in the gym had these words, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” These words followed when he established three prizes of $25, $15 and $5 for the Henry Mann Silver Awards to be given at graduation for excellence of work in athletics combined with good scholarship, those who best exemplify the ideal of sound mind in a sound body.

The class of 1895 had their photograph taken on the steps of the first Dexter Richards Hall (1892-1935) with Principal Cummings, front row, center. I believe it was when the class gathered to celebrate their 50th Reunion in 1945 that they instituted a prize to be given each year to a senior as the first one was given in 1946.

The class of 1895 had their photograph taken on the steps of the first Dexter Richards Hall (1892-1935) with Principal Cummings, front row, center. I believe it was when the class gathered to celebrate their 50th Reunion in 1945 that they instituted a prize to be given each year to a senior as the first one was given in 1946.

This touching photograph, c. 1910, of Headmaster Tracy with his young son, greeting family gathered outside the Stone Church at Commencement, is representative of the many responsibilities of KUA’s faculty as home and school become one.

This touching photograph, c. 1910, of Headmaster Tracy with his young son, greeting family gathered outside the Stone Church at Commencement, is representative of the many responsibilities of KUA’s faculty as home and school become one.

Charles Alden Tracy’s ancestors settled in Cornish, NH, in 1793; their homestead remains in the family as home to Headmaster Tracy’s granddaughter Anne. Tracy graduated as valedictorian in 1893 and returned as headmaster in 1905 through 1935; he brought the Academy through many hard times including World War I and the Depression. In 1990, the Academy established a senior award in his honor.

The Royal Burnham Townsend Award was given by Mr. and Mrs. Townsend of Chelsea, VT in memory of their son, Class of 1911, who died while a student here. A memorial window in Baxter Hall was also given by his family and its inscription “Remember the Lilies of the Field,” also commemorates this young man.

This photograph, c. 1920, was taken at a Commencement held at the Howard Emerson Merrill Amphitheatre on Chellis Road. The Class of 1920 endowed a prize that was first given eight years after they graduated in 1928. The original prize was $5.00.

This photograph, c. 1920, was taken at a Commencement held at the Howard Emerson Merrill Amphitheatre on Chellis Road. The Class of 1920 endowed a prize that was first given eight years after they graduated in 1928. The original prize was $5.00.

In this 1937 Commencement photograph, KUA’s herd of cows can be seen grazing on the Potato Patch. Senior C. Parker Jones, is at the podium given by the Class of 1902 and one that is used to this day for all assemblies including Commencement.

In this 1937 Commencement photograph, KUA’s herd of cows can be seen grazing on the Potato Patch. Senior C. Parker Jones, is at the podium given by the Class of 1902 and one that is used to this day for all assemblies including Commencement.

After college, Jones served as a captain in the 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland and Central Europe in World War II. For his valor, he received the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and other citations. In 1952, Jones returned to KUA as an English teacher. Over the years, he pursued his love of the outdoors working with the Outing Club and with Ira Townsend as they cleared land and built the Townsend Ski Hill near French’s Ledges. Jones House was owned and rebuilt by him from a tumble-down building into a cozy home for his family and was bought by the Academy many years later. The Joneses retired after 28 years in 1980; his wife Kay had worked for many years as Headmaster Carver’s executive assistant. In 1973 the senior class honored him with the Faculty Cup which had been inaugurated in 1967 by the Student Council. The cup is engraved with these words:

1967

STUDENT COUNCIL CUP

IN HONOR OF THAT FACULTY MEMBER WHO

BEST EXEMPLIFIES THE VIRTUES OF

WISDOM, DEDICATION AND HUMILITY.

UTINAM QUISQUE HOMO

HAS VIRTUTES LAUDET

Wayland and Bertha Porter at their retirement celebration in 1965. honor.

Wayland and Bertha Porter at their retirement celebration in 1965.
honor.

The Porters worked at KUA from 1935 until 1965. Wayland, known affectionately as “Pappy” because of his love of the outdoors and his inventive ways, was responsible for many projects including leading the Outing Club over three years in building a log cabin on top of what became the Townsend Ski Hill. They cut down the trees on another part of campus, prepared the logs, transported them to the top of the hill and built the cabin from 1938 to 1941. Porter was also the force behind the skiers’ rope tow on the Potato Patch; he famously powered the tow with the engine from Headmaster Brewster’s old Pierce Arrow car. Bertha worked in the library and was involved in all the school activities including being a sports fan, a hostess at teas, a chaperone at dances and a multitude of other events. When they retired in 1966, the faculty established a senior award in their honor.

Tom and Elva Mikula greet parents and students after a Commencement held outdoors on the Stone Church green

Tom and Elva Mikula greet parents and students after a Commencement held outdoors on the Stone Church green

The Mikulas were here from 1974 until 1989. Besides guiding the Academy through its return to co-education during their first year here, a number of the facilities, including Flickinger Arts Center and Whittemore Ahtletic Center, and student programs, such as Cullman Scholars, that are now enjoyed by the Academy came about under their leadership. Before becoming KUA’s Director of Building and Grounds at KUA, Elva taught in the Plainfield School. The Mikula Award was established in 1987 by Allan F. Munro, Class of 1955, former Chairman of the Board, and Trustee Emeritus in honor of Mr. Mikula.

Headmaster Mikula passed away this spring; a Celebration of Life in his honor will be held during Reunion Weekend 2014 at the Service of Remembrance at 2 pm on June 7 at the Meriden Congregational Church.

Here ends my third year of sharing KUA’s long and rich history with you through From the Archives … . I look forward to bringing you more kUA facts and stories in the autumn. I want to wish all of the seniors a sunny and happy Commencement on Saturday and lots of good luck in college and beyond. Remember not to forget, as the men and women of the 19th century would have said, “… good old KUA” and keep in touch!

Jane Carver Fielder H 2013

Kimball Union Archivis

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