The Class of 1965, turning tradition on its head

In April, Dana Hall welcomed the class of 1965 back to campus for Reunion and She Sails Weekend. Fifty years ago, they graduated from Dana Hall, and the air was crackling with excitement as Silver Sisters came together, some of them for the first time in five decades. Meeting the alumnae were current Dana Juniors, who were to interview the former graduates about their time at Dana. Greetings were exchanged as young and old lined their hands side by side, comparing class rings, sharing Dana Hall charm bracelets, and realizing that they shared the same class colors of black and gold.

charm braceletThe alumnae seemed eager to recall memories and speak to current students about their Dana Hall experiences. Their congenial personalities were warm and welcoming, and they offered no shortage of quick wit and interesting stories of the past. The alumnae had many different impressions of Dana; however, one common theme that each alumnae spoke about was the long-lasting friendships that Dana fostered, which this reunion was a testament to. Many alumnae also asserted that Dana left them with a foundation of feminist values, providing them with the confidence that they could accomplish anything that they set out to do. “The Dana Hall Class of 1965 is a diverse group of women who navigated the late 1960s with intelligence, determination and optimism,” states Corinne Daniel, Director of Alumnae Relations.

According to the former students, Dana Hall’s reputation in the 60’s was as one of the most academically difficult prep schools in the country. Many students started their Dana education at ‘Dana Junior,’ which consisted of grades seventh through ninth. Alumna Jean d’Atri Hendry described Dana Junior as “awful and strict.” Jane Fisk Briggs said that even though students attended Dana Junior, they still had to re-apply to attend the Dana Hall high school, grades ten through twelve, after graduating from Dana Junior.

Alum A croppedThe alumnae smiled as they recalled the atmosphere at school, saying that the academics were “onerous.” Dana was described as a place of intense academic rigor; studying occurred for hours on end. Briggs stated that the education she gained, however, “made college a four-year waste,” because she had already learned everything at Dana. However, Dana was also described as a safe haven, a place where confidence was fostered and character was built. Despite the demanding academia, Jennifer Atherton sighs, “It was kind of simple in those days. It was just…. It was the teaching. The teachers and the subjects, and the other students.”

The alumnae agreed that, 50 years ago, Dana Hall and the town of Wellesley were strict and conservative. Candy Warshaver Glazer said they could not chew gum on Dana campus, not even on the streets of Wellesley. “Everything on campus was extremely regulated…. [If you broke the rules] you could get expelled.” Briggs stated, “you didn’t question anything.” However, if you were on the honor roll, which Briggs was on, then you had much more leeway. You were exempt from mandatory study hall, which was a big deal.

Boarding students were confined to the restrictive campus rules on weekends. Boarders were permitted to go to town once in a while but had to be back before 4pm. A highlight of their weekend was a trip to Baileys, an ice cream shop located near the front gate of Wellesley College. Glazer smiles as she remembers getting hot fudge sundaes at Baileys for only 25 cents.

One alumna said that as far as social interactions with boys, they had one or two dances throughout the year. The alumnae vividly remember the year they boycotted their senior prom, in rebellion against the administration, who would not let them drive to the dance with their dates.

Alum C croppedThe class of 1965 turned tradition and convention on their head. Briggs recalls the May Day Celebration to be the highlight of her senior year, because it would in fact be the last May Day tradition ever celebrated at Dana. May Day was a tradition where seniors would wear white dresses and floral wreaths and dance around the May Day pole in an intricate fashion. The celebration was described essentially as a beauty pageant, where a student was voted to be the May Day Queen. Their class, however, irritated with the superficial message behind the May Day tradition, decided to collectively vote for “an ordinary girl” to be elected Queen. This upset the administration, who thereafter canceled the event.

Ms. Daniels says that the “Class of 1965 is special, as all our classes are; however they, and other classes from the `60s, stand out because of the particular time in which they attended Dana Hall.” The class graduated in 1965 and emerged from the sanctuary of the Dana Hall “bubble,” and at the same time, the late 60s erupted into chaos as U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War reached its height, civil rights struggles seized headlines, and the counterculture movement drastically changed the way many idealistic students perceived the world. “The `60’s was a period of great social change in America and students across the country found their voices to protest against what they believed were injustices,” says Ms. Daniels. This would be a huge change for the recent graduates.

Alum B croppedHowever, many alumnae contend that it was the feminist values that Dana Hall had instilled in them, which fostered a strong confidence in their own abilities. Atherton states, “the greatest treasure I took from this place was my excellent education.” Teachers at Dana Hall did not shy away from criticism of their students while fostering a supportive atmosphere of intense academic improvement, never once saying that anything could not be done. The class of 1965 came out of Dana Hall feeling ready to take on the world — and knowing that they were in every aspect equal to men.

Photo credit: Alumnae photos by Effie Li; charm bracelet photo by Kaya Reingold.

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