THE STATE NORMAL SCHOOL AT WESTFIELD.
MRS. ADELINE A. KNIGHT.
Seventy-two years ago Charles Brooks of Hingham became intensely interested in the system of teachers' seminaries in Prussia, and resolved to do something towards State normal schools in New England. Therefore, he prepared three lectures and gave public notice that he would explain the Prussian system anywhere in this State, provided that "under no circumstances was he to receive any compensation or travelling expenses." Invitations rushed in from every part of Massachusetts, and for two years he went up and down the State, besides keeping up a succession of articles in the newspapers. At the end of that time the House of Representatives invited him to give two of his lectures. The bill providing for the State Board of Education of Massachusetts became a law in April, 1837.
Of the eight men appointed, two were fron this county, — Emerson Davis of Westfield and Edmund Dwight, who was a resident of Boston. He belonged to the family of that name in Springfield, and had large manufacturing interests in Chicopee.
Mr. Dwight offered $10,000, provided the Legislature would appropriate an equal amount, to aid in establishing teachers' seminaries.
On the nineteenth of April, 1838, this offer was accepted. Much later in the year the State Board of Education fixed upon the plan of three normal schools, one in the northeastern, one in the southeastern, and one in the western part of the State, to be continued three years, as an experiment. Some towns offered to provide everything for carrying on a school, exclusive of the compensation for teachers. Many towns made generous offers. In the closing days of December the Legislature decided to locate one normal school at Lexington for women only, and a second at Barre for both sexes.
The normal school idea was now a reality. All wanted to do their best with it. All wanted to make the most of it. What was worth while?
The three characteristic features of the American normal school appeared from the beginning, — a thorough grounding in the subjects which the student is preparing to teach, a course of study of the science and art of education, and a practice school. The work has proved harder to handle than the men of that day thought. Many years were anxious, unsatisfactory, disappointing. Time slipped away in experiment, in. useless or misdirected efforts. But the three vital things have been proved worth while.
The school at Barre opened on the first Wednesday of September, 1839. Samuel P. Newman, professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin, was invited to become its first principal. The names of certain assistants of his became well known afterwards in localities far apart: S. C. Damon, afterwards seaman's chaplain at Honolulu; E. E. Bliss, afterwards a missionary at Marsovan; and Nicholas Tillinghast, later principal at Bridgewater.
Rooms in the town hall of Barre were fitted up for this school. A boarding hall was connected with it, where board was supplied at cost.
Seventy-five young men and 90 young women were connected with the school at Barre during its brief career.
In spite of good work done, an organized attack was made upon the institutions at Barre and at Lexington in the Legislature of 1840, on the ground that they had failed to supply any want. The objectors united in endorsing the old-fashioned academy, and in trusting to its course of study to turn out competent teachers. They urged that "every person who has himself undergone the process of instruction must acquire by that very process the art of instructing others; " and they finished with the remark that, " as our district schools are kept on an average for only three or four months of the year, perhaps it is not desirable that the business of keeping these schools should become a distinct profession."
One hundred and eighty-four representatives agreed perfectly. But a minority report, submitted four days later, appended a letter from Dr. S. G. Howe,1 who had studied carefully the daily work at Lexington. "If," he wrote, "instead of the 25 teachers who will go out from the normal school at Lexington there could go out over the length and breadth of Massachusetts 500 like them, to take charge of the rising generation, that generation would have more reason to bless us than if we should cover the whole State with railroads like a spider's web, and bring physical comfort to every man's door, and leave an overflowing treasury to divide its surplus among all the cities."
After the death of Principal Newman, in 1841, the school at Barre was suspended; and on Sept. 4, 1844, it was reopened in Westfield, in temporary charge of Rev. Dr. Emerson Davis. Dr. Davis was evidently one of those inndefatigable men who make themselves so necessary to their towns that their deaths mean more than does the passing of the usual citizen. The second member of the State Board of Education in the order of appointment, he served two years, and was reappointed in 1849, serving eight years. His was an active, influential career, aside from the long pastorate with which he is most prominently' identified.
"Personality prevails simply by being what it is," said Principal Greenough on one occasion. "It was said of Bias, the Greek, ' Himself is the treasure a whole life has gathered.' "Thus in a measure must it have been with Dr. Davis, who, in spite of the limitations of a village environment and moderate means, had the inspiration to live a life so full of keen sympathy for all good works that after his death a fellow worker who could never have been called an emotional man was constrained to say, "When he died, it seemed to us that one of the chief sources of our school life was gone"
Mrs. Flavia I. Robinson of Westfield has remarked, in reviewing her attendance in this early hour of the school: —
In looking backward to my student days, when the present system of educating the teachers of youth for the business of their profession was first inaugurated, I see that the subject was looked upon with distrust by many sensible persons, and with great indifference by others.
The name "normal" did not confer distinction. It was considered necessary to explain that the word "normal" meant a rule, regular, relating to rudiments or first principles; that the title "normal" was first used in accordance with the usage of Prussia in designating her schools for the special instruction of teachers.
The secretary of the State Board of Education believed in normal schools from the first, but the majority of people laughed at "theory," and said it would be fatal to good schools. Still, the influence of Mr. Mann's enthusiasm and sympathetic words was felt as he talked and wrote on the subject. Some one at the time said, "He had small ideas, dressed in big words." But to-day his power is acknowledged. The influence of his methods is felt not only in this vicinity but throughout the west.
Dr. Emerson Davis was active in the early councils of the Board, so much so that he was called the "Godfather of the State normal school." He was largely endowed with consecrated common sense, ever thoughtful of others.
The towns of Northampton and Greenfield desired the western school. Experience in the value of the academy had shown Westfield the desirability of locating it here, and offers and appropriations for this purpose were made. Objections were raised, one, among others, that Westfield is in a valley, and unhealthy in situation; but Rev. Dr. Davis proved by statistics that according to its population (between 4,000 and 5,000) there was less fever or consumption than in adjoining towns.
After a struggle, the members of the Board were convinced, and this town became the seat of one of its institutions. Opening in the academy building, this school was removed at the end of one term to rooms under the town hall; and it remained there until the normal hall - better known later as the old normal school — was completed and dedicated.
When the town hall was built, two rooms for a high school were placed underneath the hall. in the winter of 1845 these rooms were vacant. The north room was as gloomy a room as could be planned. The two front windows looked out on the piazza, the others on the white walls and green blinds of the Congregational Church. An unsightly stove near the teacher's desk furnished heat.
I see by the catalogue that in the winter of 1845 there were 34 pupils in this newly opened normal school. Dr. Davis was the principal. He came to the school at 11 A.M. He came walking in a direct line from the corner of the Methodist Church (which stood on the ground now occupied by the post-office building). As he neared the park, in those days enclosed by a white wooden fence, he followed it closely, then due southeast to the steps of the town hall. The gentlemen were apt to take out their watches and time him, to see how many minutes for the trip. On his arrival, with a genial smile and a cordial bow which extended to all of us, he passed in; but, as he commenced the work of the morning, the lesson was an unknown quantity. Sometimes he read from a book or newspaper something that had struck his fancy or had given him a thought, and he wished us to enjoy it with him. Again, it would be the news of the day. Remember, this was previous to the civil war, and we had no daily newspapers at breakfast time.
"Paradise Lost" was one of our text-books, used in connection with English grammar. Sometimes a question like this would be asked: "Why does the Mississippi flow into the Gulf of Mexico, instead of the Atlantic ? " And that would suggest a lesson on mountains and rivers. "What would you do with a stubborn child?" would lead to a lecture on school government. In the same manner he would find out the best methods to prevent tardiness, and instruct us on the importance of punctuality. He was an example on this subject, for his hour with us was like clockwork in commencing and closing.
On Sept. 3, 1846, the normal school building on Washington Street was dedicated. It was supposed to accommodate the normal school and common school of the central district, but the former soon absorbed the latter.
The south door was used by the ladies, the north by the gentlemen. Passing up a flight of stairs, we reached an upper hall with two windows. On the sides of the room were rows of hooks, from which depended in school hours plaid shawls of all colors and qualities. Placed over these were bonnets trimmed with ribbon;. and from most of the bonnets hung barege veils, either blue, geen or brown. We were careful of our complexions, and the autumn winds were rough, — hence the veils.
The view from the west and north windows was unobstructed by buildings as far as Pine Hill. There were no trees. Four students of that day, Grove H. Loomis, Charles Hutchins, Henry Mosely and Henry Miller, went to the woods and brought home the young trees that are now noble elm is, and during a Saturday afternoon they planted them
Underneath the normal hall was the model or experimental school. After attending the normal school one term, pupils were permitted to go into the recitation rooms to teach.
The first catalogue of the Westfield Normal School was issued in 1847. David S. Rowe was the principal, with two assistants. Dr. Davis had been transferred to the Board of Visitors.
Thirty-eight young men and 54 young women were enrolled. The course of study was a simple affair. The school year was divided into three equal terms of fourteen weeks each. There were three vacations: the fall vacation was of two weeks, commencing with Thanksgiving week; the spring vacation was three weeks; and the summer vacation five weeks.
Board was to be had in families, at $1.75 per week; something additional was expected in winter for lights and fuel.
School books were furnished from the library at a charge of 50 cents a term. The library contained 700 volumes, chiefly text-books and works on education. The quaint little "Word to Our Friends," which closes the final page of the catalogue, emphasizes that "our school is exclusively a teachers' seminary," and that "it is free to those qualified to enter it."
Mr. Rowme was already of distinction when called from Pittsfield, Mass., to the State Normal School. The story of his life is full of fine suggestions. During his college career at Bowdoin he had been the secretary of an anti-slavery society, of which John A. Andrew, afterwards the great war Governor, was president. Becoming, as years passed, a little distinguished politically, Mr. Rowe was nominated to Congress, and was formally notified by no less a person than John Greenleaf Whittier, whom one cannot easily fancy in the ranks of politicians. But the nomination was declined, in favor of Whittier himself; and Mr. Rowe chose definitely what he was to do in this world. In 1854 he was called from Westfield to the Irving Institute, Tarrytown, N. Y., over which he presided more than thirty years. In 1882 he made this memorandum: "Now, after the lapse of nearly fifty-one years spent in teaching, I can truly say I have never regretted my life's business."
The catalogue of 1853 displays what was accomplished during his administration. Three assistants now, and two special teachers, were instructing 160 students. Mileage for the aid of needy students is mentioned. The model school has risen from 75 to 130, between four and sixteen. The terms continue as before, but the spring vacation has been cut a week, and in summer the school is closed six weeks. The catalegue recognizes the Westfield Normal Association (Alumni Association), and its triennial jubilee in 1851 is noted interestingly. The name of Charles A. Richardson, so long the editor of the " Congregationalist," appears as a vice-president.
Board has risen to $2 per week, with " something additional" for fuel and lights. The use of school books is now $1 per term. The library has increased a little.
On the cover of the catalogue of 1853 a note, written in Mr. Rowe's fine, Italian hand, gives: —
Whole number of different scholars from the commencement of
the school in Westfield to January, 1854, . . . . 663|
Since Sept. 3, 1846, . . . . 547
Attended less than a term, . . . .62
Average attendance of the whole (601), nearly two and one-
Mr. Wells, who succeeded Mr. Rowe, had published a successful text-book ofEnglish grammar before his appointment to Westfield. He was efficient here along practical lines, rev ising and enriching the course of study, and bringing about the conferring of degrees upon such as completed it. The first formal graduation took place in 1855. The result was the inevitable one. Within two years the school so increased that a special appropriation came from Boston to improve the accommodations. Mr. Wells so felt the need, too, of frequent conferences, that to him the State Normal Association owed its existence.
His work in Westfield attracted much notice, and in 1856 he was offered the superintendency of the public schools of Chicago, — an offer which he felt constrained to accept.
In this way closed the first decade of the normal school at. Westfield, having enjoyed the great advantage of the sympathetic supervision of Rev. Dr. Mark Hopkins of Williamstown, who came upon the Board of Visitors in 1849, as well as the constant friendly interest of the "home visitor," —Dr. Emerson Davis.
Was there progress, and, if so, what were its moments?
It had been organized on the theory that "Knowledge which suffices for a good citizen is not enough to make a good teacher; that a teacher should know more of what he undertakes to teach than the citizen knows, in order that citizens may know as much as they ought to know; " and that the distinction between academic and professional work is unsound. So it held from its beginning that the breadth of view which the teacher needs because he is a teacher is as much entitled to be called professional as the study of teaching.
Still, until, in 1856, John W. Dickinson became principal, the school was unidentified with any particular theory. Its distinction was in its insistence upon reverence for the philosophy of education. An observer ofnormal schools long ago pointed out the fact that conscientious belief in this philosophy transforms; and that the most valuable teaching of any of the early schools was along the line of discipline. Little by little the normal school was seen to be significant in modified views of (a) the necessity of corporal punishment and (b) the merits of the premium and emulation system. Jn place of the latter, the normal school aided its students to develop their reserve power sufficiently to dispense with such motives, through increased ability to rouse interest in the things studied. Country teachers accustomed themselves to the thought of the spiritual forces, - and endeavored to have the skill to use those sharp-edged tools.
The year 1856 was important for Westfield. John W. Dickinson was appointed principal, and Joseph G. Scott was graduated at the close of the summer term.
Years since, in discussing the practice school and the effect of the constant change of inexperienced teachers on the children) an eminent educator commented: "It is both good and bad, but not seriously harmful. It makes them quick, thoughtful and intelligent, but deficient in exactness. Drill must always be the weak point in a practice school. Such a school can be kept in order only by a liberal supply of strong, experienced teachers, whose influence and example are felt by both children and pupil teachers."
In 1856 the training school connected with the normal school was discontinued.
From the first day of the administration of Mr. Dickinson the school swayed towards a marked increase of professional training. He took the methods of Pestalozzi, and bent them to all subjects taught in the common schools, reducing the teaching of all branches to the analytic, objective form, and requiring the learner to use his own power in working out his own problems. Instead of work in a training school, pupils taught lessons previously assigned to their classmates, as if they were children for whom the lesson was prepared. A constant training in the art of teaching in normal classes was afforded in this way. Of course such a system requires very close and varied preparation oil the part of a supervising teacher. Collections of objects, illustrative apparatus and books of reference were needed as never before. Mr. Dickinson set about forming collections, stimulating his faculty to construct apparatus, and enlarging the resources of the library.
Assistants who could understand him and carry forward his plans in a strong way would be, necessarily, faithful and able people. Mr. Dickinson was extremely fortunate here, particularly in Mr. Scott (added to the faculty in 1861) and in Mr. Greenough (the assistant principal). In fact, Principal Dickinson signalized himself by this power of keeping his assistants with him continuously.
Not many years passed before the earnest work of Westfield made a stir in this State, — an interest somewhat apart, often, from a comprehension of Mr. Dickinson's heroic attempt to reduce Pestalozzi to practice, but a feeling which admired and desired to aid, appreciation akin though less in degree to what the school at Oswego afterwards roused, and of the sort which Pestalozzi himself craved and deserved more than he ever obtained at Yverdun. Dr. Sheldon came from Oswego to study the success of Mr. Dickinson's plans. And. Dr. Lowell Mason, who was the first American musician to apply the methods of Pestalozzi to music, was often a teacher at the normal for short periods, whenever lie could give time to this part of the State.
The first enlargement of the normal building occurred in 1860.
A general public desire for another training school resulted in the "School of Observation," which was opened in 1867.
The offer of an advanced course, treating all high school studies in the Pestalozzian manner, was an expensive but brilliant addition to the resources of the rapidly growing establishment; and it developed into something so popular and valuable that another enlargement of the facilities of the school was imperative in 1869.
The old idea of the boarding hall at Barre stirred again in these years, and led to the opening of Normal Hall on Washington Street in 1874. The normal school was now a flourishing and necessary institution.
The danger of rigid adherence to certain methods is formalism; and joined to formalism there may be easily an intensity of endeavor which may lead to the gra S ping and selfish spirit. Worry, discontent, self-seeking, — these are the things which are apt to go with a high-pressure system which ignores unconsciou sly the human element.
Five years after Mr. Dickinson began his work in Westfield, Joseph G. Scott became one of the faculty.
It appears that during the very period of tlie brilliant success of strictly objective teaching Mr. Scott's kindling enthusiasm and broad outlook were doing more for his students than any methods, no matter how perfectly conceived or patiently put in practice. During summers at Penikese Island lie caught the spirit of Agass iz, — another illustration of the fact that teachers inspire; and Agassiz himself became so interested in the science teaching of Mr. Scott in Westfield as to offer the school the use of his own cabinets.
Those who recall Mr. Scott emphasize that he was seldom in a hurry. He had time. He did not feel interruptions. As a part of his gift, such a nature teaches that being interrupted is not time lost, — not lost, because there is time enough. A personality of this sort is of inestimable value in our narrowed, hurrying lives, — especially so during the formative period of careers.
At the end of twenty years (1876) Mr. Dickinson laid down a line of work which had made this school famous, and Mr. Scott was appointed to his position. The connection of the normal school with the " School of Observation " was severed in 1879.
It was the observation of one who knew him in his youth that Mr. Scott was ambitious. Long before he became the highest official at Westfield this ambition of his must have been blunted, for it is on record that he would have preferred keeping his place among the faculty The same authority says, heartily: "The school was his life; he lifted it out of the ordinary by the manner of his instruction."
He published little or nothing He always worked somewhat in the shadow. The slight information we have of him indicates almost a contempt for a personal triumph, in his keenness for enduring results. Such men radiate success, however, wherever they live and work. After the death of Mr. Scott Mr. Dickinson stated, with the emphasis of entire satisfaction, that "In his teaching he illustrated the objective method in its most literal sense." So much for our side of his labors! At the triennial of 1904 the spontaneous display of feeling roused by any and every allusion to Mr. Scott illustrated abundantly how much he had been to those who met him in his class room.
The methods which had conferred on Westfield a unique and permanent fame were continued with entire effectiveness during the administration of Mr. Greenough, who succeeded Mr. Scott in 1886. The beautiful school building, opened in 1892, owes the greater part of the admiration bestowed on it on all sides lavishly to Mr. Greenough's wise and persistent supervision, given at a time when the demands of the school were seen to be amply sufficient for the energies of a person less devoted. In the new building the training school appeared again, this time including a kindergarten, and with all departments planned to be fully under the control of the normal school. Mr. Greenough retired in 1896.
The incoming principal, Mr. Chapin, made some changes; but these, although radical, were strengthening. In 1898 the four-years (advanced) course was eliminated; and effort has ever since been concentrated upon training for grade work alone. As Mr. Chapin's strong administration attracted attention, the increase in the number of trainers made the accommodations of the training school a problem; and its necessary extension brought about a fine gift from the State of the Model Training School on the site of the old normal building on Washington Street. It was opened for use in 1900.A little laer a generous appropriation was tendered for a new dormitory; but, as Mr. Chapin resigned in 1901, the task of carrying out the plans of the legislation fell to his successor, our present principal. Mr. Brodeur gave careful attention to the consturction of the new building in all its details; and in 1903 he had the pleasure of opening the handsome and costly dormitory, Dickinson Hall, Adjacent to the campus.
A generation since, the classes graduated were comparatively sparse in numbers, but in every class were those who now are dear memories or else most valued friends of such as studies in their company. Charles A. Richardson of the Boston "Congregationalist" was perhaps as distinguished as any of the men and women "of yesterday" who wnet forth from the normal school at Westfield; while the modest little alumni association which came into being sixty years ago is now imposing in prestige, with triennials presided over by the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.
Thus has this great school progressed from its humble settlement in Westfield in 1844.
1 Samuel Gridley Howe, Nov. 10, 1801 - Jan. 9, 1876. A philanthropist. Became superintendent of the Perkins Institution for the Blind at south Boston in 1832, and was United States Commissioner to Santo Domingo in 1871. Published "Historical Sketches of the Greek Revolution."