Life at Northfield

Tess Pemantel Dunhoff

By Tess Dunhoff

It’s been 50 years since we donned our sturdies and walked across three seasons of Northfield School in the early morning. From East Gould we had a longer hike than some to get to the classrooms with creaky wooden floors to sit in hard chairs where teachers challenged us to think.

Mid-morning, the march began to Sage Chapel where we would sing hymns together with Miss Wight at the organ and Mr. Meany orating sermons about being a good house guest on vacations, the misuse of “Elizabethan language” on campus, and too many other topics to count. Immediately after chapel we rushed to milk station in the basement of Stone Hall for a treat of graham crackers or such before the march to late morning classes began.

Lunch meant a family-style break in our dorms prepared by girls in pastel green, yellow or pink cotton smocks and white cotton caps with ties. We all ate together at assigned tables with a faculty member, served by an assigned tablemate. Before the meal began, a chorus of “Oh, the Lord is Good to Me” or “Johnny Appleseed” was sung by a room full of hungry students and staff. I distinctly remember Mrs. Bailey making sure no elbows were on the table under her observant eye.

After marching off to afternoon classes and hurrying back to our dorms, especially to check for mail, we had time to fill dorm halls with music and games, participate in an extracurricular activity or whatever else creative girls could come up with. We’d show up in the dining hall in proper dress to eat a delicious, or not so delicious family-style evening meal, then return, table by table to our dorm floors.

For a few hours, the dorm noise stopped, each student at her desk reading texts, writing essays, or discussing quietly a complicated issue. Doors were closed, so no one knew if there was any “monkey business” going on. We knew, especially when the cheers erupted after the Boston Red Sox won a game sophomore year, or the anger and sadness when a traumatic event in the news was heard on hidden radios prior to senior year. The late 60s were turbulent times. Just as soon as the doors opened, music began again. We loved our music! Folk, Soul, Rock and Classical tunes were played in different rooms at the same time.  Our dorm cops joined us in a last fun hour before lights went out.

The library was a meeting place for many, a working place for many more. The open areas of the Meadow, Siberia and Round Top, and the many walkways to destinations, including the Bookstore were always busy.

Then there were the weekends. Lucky gals got a chance to get off campus to shop or visit families, theirs or others. Others loaded buses to cross the river to Mt Hermon to cheer at games, attend sports meets, watch movies, or dance the night away. Well, that was until the night was called to an end and everyone was hustled back to Recitation Hall to get on the bus if solo, or madly exercise those hormones in a perpendicular position with the Hermie of our dreams before being rustled back onto the bus. Whatever did those bus drivers think of this?!

Ahh, I wouldn’t change a thing. I adored singing at Christmas Vespers and Sacred Concert with Al Raymond leading us, and I felt spoiled to have seen Joni Mitchell and Blood, Sweat and Tears in our Auditorium. The incredible talent in productions like Camelot and Carousel was amazing! I loved the horn sounded in the dining room at breakfast declaring Mountain Day, or the news that we could wear wool or corduroy pant to class when the temperature dropped below 20 degrees.  There was no adjustment for wind chill.  Even spending a week in the infirmary in isolation with the mumps was a reasonable experience.

My body is no longer strong from the walking, my feet are no longer the healthy body part I slipped into sturdies or clogs. My hair is no longer the long straight raven black mane I brushed each day. I wouldn’t even consider wearing one of the cut off jean skirts, the self-declared school uniform. That’s how we got through our formative years, with hundreds of sisters and mothers to build our hearts, teachers who exercised our brains, and staff members to teach us to use our hands to help others. I am a much better person for it. I am a Northfield Girl!

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