Key Figures in Lesley's First One Hundred Years Retell University Milestones in their Own Words
Since Lesley's inception in 1909, countless dedicated faculty, staff and alumni have grown and expanded Edith Lesley's vision of an institution that embodied the ideals of American education. As a part of our Centennial Celebration, leading educators and distinguished alumni share their account of key events in the school's history and detail how their experiences at Lesley have impacted their lives.
Thirty-three year Lesley veteran, James (Jim) Slattery held several positions during his tenure, including Director of the Library, Campus Planner, and Professor of Social Science. Jim discusses his very first days at Lesley in the early 1960s, working to build the library's collection.
I immediately started to try to encourage just general reading. I bought a bunch of new books and got a bunch of new books. I got them cataloged by the cataloger and I got them out on display, best sellers and novels and classics and things like that and put up a sign saying, "books for cocktail conversation." And (coughs) within two days the president called me into his office and said that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees had wondered into the library and he was a teetotaler (laughs). This was Livingston Stebbins a fine old man (laughs)…and he had just built the building the library was in a couple of years before and he was just enraged (laughs). So I had to take down the sign (laugh). And it was that sort of place. It was very old fashioned even for the time. It was 1962 before the sixties really begin. And students were not allowed to wear jeans… not allowed to wear shorts. Well, they could wear shorts on hot days on campus but if they went off campus they had to wear a raincoat over their shorts (laughs).
Elementary School teacher Marjorie Servis Truesdell, '29 talks with Lesley Historian and Associate Professor Cynthia F. Brown about how the Lesley school was located in Founder Edith Lesley Wolfard's home at 29 Everett Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Marjorie Servis Truesdell (MST): It was a very small school at that time.Cynthia Brown (CB): Sure. Yeah.MST: Really small. In fact, it…it was just that one building [29 Everett Street]. That was it.CB: Yeah.MST:
And…and…and…and her [Edith Lesley Wolfard's] home. You could go from
right in through as you can now…from her home into the classroom…CB: Into the…right…that doorway is the same doorway I think…pretty much.MST: Yup, it goes right through from the house to the [classroom]. That was all there was of the school. It was very tiny.
On May 9, 1979, Lesley's proposed Center for Economic Education for the Nation's Children was recognized by President Jimmy Carter in the White House. Mrs. Stratton, a Lesley trustee at the time, remembers what happened in the Oval Room.
Hollis Gerrish was one of the Trustees who was very prominent. He was a peanut manufacturer here in Cambridge. We were invited down to the White House to meet President Carter. And we all went down and it was great fun walking into the Oval Office and looking quickly to see as much as you could in a few minutes. And we all stood in line - the whole Board - and one by one went up to shake Mr. Carter's hand. And when Hollis Gerrish got there he laid a package of peanuts in the President's hand. And the President, Carter, opened his hand and looked at the peanuts and laughed and laughed. And we all thought it was a great joke. That was a fun afternoon.
Professor June Fox, Former Dean of the Graduate School Division of Education and Special Education, remembers the tight bond she felt with her Lesley colleagues.
Now what we had in my division - not mine ours - we loved each other. We worked together with such cooperation and such encouragement and such caring for each other and such devotion and such skill and such amiability. We worked together like the best greased machine that anyone ever greased. But we weren't a machine. We were caring colleagues with capital letters.
Although her tenure was brief, Carole Slattery collected some fabulous memories of her time as the Librarian of the Lesley-Ellis School. Lesley College began its association with the Lesley-Ellis School in 1948 and it quickly became important in introducing to Lesley's curriculum real-world working conditions for students. It also provided an opportunity for faculty and other scholars to research early childhood education. The Lesley-Ellis School was a co-educational day school with small classes serving students from nursery school to the sixth grade.
There was another little boy came in [to the library] and wanted something on the country of Sikkim and I had…was hunting around because Sikkam is a little Indian principality in…tucked in by Nepal and Tibet and it was very small. I could find a little bit of reference in some books for him and I said well its very small. I don't really have very much. And he said, "Yes, I know. My aunt is the queen." I just looked it up to see what had happened to Sikkim and unfortunately she didn't get to be queen for too long because they voted out the monarchy in 1975. And I told you the music teacher who was there a lot of the time. She was an old Bostonian lady. Very strict and upright and opinionated. I think she was probably a good music teacher but her music was not what you would call modern. And I remembered saying that I liked Pete Seeger and she scoffed at that and said he was a terrible communist. It was not (laughs) not her style of music.
Longtime education professor Mary Mindess initiated Lesley's Kindergarten Conference, a fall conference attended by New England early childhood educators for more than 40 years. Professor Mindess remembers one particular conference in the early 1960s.
The second [New England Kindergarten] conference we decided we'd have an expanded day so we met the first day up at the Continental Hotel, which is not there any more, in the morning. And then we had separate break out groups so we could accommodate more people and then we went over to Sander's Theater in the afternoon. And I think that was 1963, the day that President Kennedy died. President Kennedy was shot during the lunch time at that conference. So Alice Kelleher…we had to decide what to do…but Alice Kelleher got up…she was a very good speaker and she really knew kids and she said, "I have to tell you the very sad news. President Kennedy's been shot." And every body went "ohhh." You know. And she said, "Some of you may feel that you need to go home with your families or you may feel that's the right thing for you to do. And if so we understand." At any rate, she said, "But we decided that we're going to go ahead with the speech so if you choose to stay, I'm going to talk about the dangerous vacuums in today's programs." That was what she called it…vacuums…dangerous vacuums. And she said that she thinks that's what Jackie Kennedy…she seemed to know Jackie. "That's what Jackie Kennedy would have wanted." And she gave this most moving speech about how young children need relationships.
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Barbara Barron Schilling '50LC, '78G
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Every past and present student, faculty member, and administrator has played a role in shaping Lesley's storied history. Share your Lesley experience and see it posted on our site!
Lesley University gives heartfelt thanks to the Centennial Committees for making the celebration of our first 100 years a spectacular success.
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