by Barbara Dutton Dretzin
Note Added: We have a lack of clarity about when Broad Meadows first opened. Several of us think it may have been after the Christmas break of Dec ’41/Jan ’42. And that the oldest group from the main school (the Deltas) had one term there before the combined class entered in September of 1942. Klaus and David Seymour recall moving in beds, etc. but can’t recall moving in themselves. Hopefully time and some better memory will clear it up.
When I first entered Manumit in 1939, only the elementary grades were offered. Then, in the Fall of 1942, the next two grades were added. This upper school was housed in what had been the main house of an estate on route 22, called Broad Meadows, roughly a mile from the main school. A handsome greek revival style building of white clapboard, it stood in a semi-rural setting surrounded by fields and pasture.
The following are my own recollections and, being stretched over more than half a century, are more a reminiscence than a history of Broad Meadows. I hope others will contact Aulay (www. email@example.com) and/or join the email blizzad to make additions and corrections.
When the upper school opened I was in roughly the ninth grade – any Manumitter will know what I mean by ‘roughly.’ My class combined with the oldest group – give or take a few – from the previous year to become part of a remarkable, controversial educational experiment.
At the time coeducation itself was new wave among boarding schools, and at Manumit the sexes were in separate dorms and, with the exception of the Main House, in separate buildings. At Broad Meadows, however, boys and girls slept upstairs in rooms that were separated by only a hallway. The upstairs also included two bathrooms – not coed, and some staff bedrooms . Classes were held downstairs in a long, high-ceilinged room with tall windows that looked out on one side toward a large lawn that fronted on the highway. Presiding over the lawn were a couple or so handsome old trees. On the other side I recall only forsythia bushes. Across the hall from the classroom were a large staff room, the main staircase, the dining room, kitchen and several large (sometimes raided) pantries. The decor was spartan-neutral-dowdy.
Joining with the Deltas – the upper classmen who had not graduated the previous year – put us on an equal footing with beings previously and awesomely exalted above us. We were not destined to ever become Delta’s ourselves, because now we were Broad Meadowites (or ers), a deprivation that made some of us feel we had missed a major rite of passage.
I was at Broad Meadows for two years (‘42 -’44), less the first term of the second year which I spent in in a public school in Bronxville (NY). There I felt utterly lost, and stupid as well, because my language and math skills weren’t up to grade standard. (On the other hand I got a A on a book report in which the teacher overlooked the spelling and punctuation errors – creative thinking being Manumit’s strong bent, not technicalities.) Coming back to Manumit for the second term was like being thrown a life preserver. I was given a warm welcome by my old classmates – a wonderful antidote to the condition of near anonymity I’d suffered in public school. The first change I noticed was that all the boys I used to tower over now towered over me, or at least looked at me from eye level. (I think the Mill might have burned down that fall/winter while I was still in Bronxville; a shock, but being focused at Broad Meadows, I have amazingly little recollection of the event and aftermath effect on the school – if indeed that’s the year it happened.)
Staff included our main teacher, Billy Fincke, and two counselors, one for boys, the other for girls, who also doubled or tripled as teachers, and a cook, Margaret Coleman. Margaret fed us well. She was Hungarian and an accomplished pianist, possibly a refugee as were several other Manumit staff, and included crepe (without the suzette) on the menu as often as once a month – a stunning departure from the plain cooking (a euphemism) at the main school. Of course she was cooking for only twenty or so people rather than eighty or ninety, giving her more flexibility.
How interesting that the first topic I give detailed coverage would be food. We were always hungry. In the lower school, I remember standing outside the kitchen window begging bread and drippings from that cook. One of my early crimes was stealing (with the help of a person I won’t mention here) a two quart jar of peach jam from the Broad Meadow’s pantry. Our punishment was to be put in charge of the student store. One of the high points of every week was a visit by a bakery van loaded with breads, pastries, cakes and cookies on which we squandered our allowances and stuffed ourselves.
The two Broad Meadows years are partly merged in my mind. One year we read and discussed Wendell Wilkie’s, One World, a proposal for world brotherhood and peace and part of our introduction to current events and politics. We studied ancient Greece and did the play by Euripides, Trojan Women . That, I’m sure, was the second year, my sophomore year, because the class generously gave me the role of Helen of Troy as a sort of welcome. We also studied anthropology using Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. The play we created turned on the role of adolescence in America as opposed to Samoa where supposedly such a dreadful apprenticeship for life did not exist. There was creative writing, and of course wherever Billy was, there was poetry. There must have been music and art, too, though I don’t recall sessions of either.
We had many if not all classes together, regardless of age or grade. Sports mainly consisted of coed touch football on the front lawn. An additional sport for the boys was to climb a tree to watch the girls sun bathe on the roof. We had squads for household chores like dishes, cleaning bathrooms etc. We played hearts and bridge a lot, too. We danced to records every Saturday night; Glenn Miler, Frank Sinatra. The Lindy Hop was the dance; Lillian was the coolest dancer.
Most of our activities were confined to Broad Meadows and our own group, though we may have gone over to the main campus for Sunday night assembly – such an important part of Manumit life. That is where we went the few times we ‘snuck out’ to go ‘necking’. The hay barn was the preferred place. Though all in all, given our nighttime opportunities, we were a surprisingly chaste group. I recall only twice sneaking into the boys’ room by invitation; three of us girls climbing into three beds. The first boy I pulled (invitations were issued anonymously) was so repellent to me, I sat doggedly at the foot of his bed until the others were ready to leave. The second time I rated Jimmy Gahagen, the Great Kisser, who passed the time instructing me in the art of kissing (just lips). Both times were a great disappointment, since I had a crush on Craig Johns who had invited someone else.
When we gave our plays, everyone from the other campus came to be our audience, as we most likely went to be theirs. The war was on and gas rationed, so to see a movie we walked all the way to Pawling. (Milage, someone?).
Classes, learning, were always interesting and absorbing; it never occurred to me to cut class – unless it was a sunny spring day and the ice was off the brook. One of our teachers in my second year was Paul Goodman, who wrote Growing Up Absurd. He was a stellar teacher, so inspiring we used to have the kind of after class bull sessions usually reserved for college. Philosophy, sociology, comparative history and culture … we found it all very exciting. Unfortunately, he was accused of abusing his position by going too far with one or two of the boys in promoting the Greek ideal of homosexual relationships, and was fired. He later wrote a bitter book called Parents Day, a thinly veiled slam at Manumit.
Like every other incarnation of Manumit, with the possible exception of Manumit’s last dying years, it was a creative, nurturing, caring place.
A string of other names occur to me which I’ll put here, though perhaps they belong as a separate list. Again, except for Billy who was there both years, I’m not sure about who was there when: Creigh Collins (later Stern) – girls counselor; Rob and Meg Barstow – Rob taught, and was boys counselor, Meg may have been girls’ counselor; Hugh (Something); Ray Campbell -an artist.
Student names I recall: Joanne Lindlof, Gretchen (Gay) Smart, Joyce Skeyhill Crosby, Hannah Landau, Trudy Hess, Joan Fishman, Beth Toder, Joan Stevenson, Lillian Coleman,Margaret’s daughter; Mary Allen (Mallen) Carpe, Eleanor Klotz, Gwil (Gwiffy) Brown, David (Sy) Seymour, James (Jimmy) Gahagen, Jackie Evans, Craig Johns, Cornelious (Cornie) John George Clark (that’s one name), Robert (Bob) Dean, Steven Wolf, Dale Rowe, Nicholas (kolya)von Hoffman, David Ashe, grandson of Sholem Ashe; Joe and Larry Untermeyer, twin sons of the anthologist-poet;, Jon Skoonmaker. And a cousin of Gwil’s, Emil, whose last name I forget.
P.S. After reading this, Mallen Carpe Desantis added her recollection that Craig once climbed the tree outside the girls dorm one night and while clinging to a branch shouted to his buddies ”Mallen – completely!”, She also added that she never learned a thing in the two years she was there.