My father graduated from Reed College in December 1941. His passions in his three previous years at Dartmouth College had been creative writing, the social sciences, and biology. His thesis at Reed was in curriculum development and was most impressive for the quality of its typing as he could have written it just from earlier conversations with his father who was prominent in Progressive Education from 1915 when he became director of a private prep school in Colorado Springs, CO and started taking some of his students on summer long horse back trips along the continental divide from Colorado Springs to Santa Fe, NM. From the back of such a horse, students could absorb geography lessons as they surveyed the watersheds to their right and left that drained to the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. In pioneering days these river systems determined the location of settlements before roads connected them. The second of these summer horseback trips doubled as a honeymoon and my father was conceived on that trip – perhaps the last thing his parents did together since the mother-in-law moved in to assist with my father’s birth and didn’t return home until her death 20 years later in 1938. From the time the mother-in-law moved in, my grandfather moved emotionally out and concentrated on educating other peoples’ children and was much loved by his faculty and students. As the love child and the oldest, my grandfather’s hopes were placed on my future father, while the next two children born aligned with their mother and grandmother that dominated the domestic household.
In 1922, my grandfather was hired to direct Antioch College’s department of teacher education and doubled as principal of Antioch School which served as a teaching laboratory for Antioch College education majors. Arthur E. Morgan, was both president of Antioch College, and the first President of the Progressive Education Association, so of course my grandfather was on the executive board of the PEA from its first quarterly publications in 1923-24. With the exception of my public school years (1st, 6-8th grade), I attended private schools. The private progressive coed boarding prep school I attended (1959-1963) was founded by a woman in 1935, whose second teaching job had been at a school founded in 1919 by a Harvard classmate of my grandfather’s. I had been a faculty child (ages 3-6) at this same school before returning as a boarding student.
My grandfather’s educational philosophy is well captured in this quote on the current web page of the k-12 coed progressive day school he was hired to found in 1929
Study of the individual child, and effort to satisfy his or her needs; Freedom to develop naturally, which does not mean license to invade other people’s rights; Attention to play and physical development for every child; The utilization of children’s interests for educational ends; A large place for beauty in nature, in art, in music; Friendly relationship between pupils and teachers, with teachers functioning as guides rather than taskmasters; Such cooperation between school and home as will make the two, supplementing each other, provide for the whole development of the child.”
In 1926 my paternal grandparents purchase a summer home in Weston, Vermont. During my father’s youth, my grandfather was active in community development projects including converting a church into a summer playhouse whose performers include youth of the town. My father’s brother met his first wife when they were both acting in this theatre.
By my generation, this theatre had a professional director and no local actors and the audience was mostly tourists. With the exception of a study group my grandfather led in response to the Suez Crisis, the first winter of his retirement, he had little social interaction with the local population and seemed to be concentrating on organizing his professional papers in his study or reading in HIS living room chair which we were not allowed to use.
My three girl cousins, one boy cousin, and I spent our summers with our respective parents with these grandparents. Initially in the 6 bedroom, 2 bath farm house, and then as this became cramped, our families moved out into tent platforms or summer cabins. We continued to eat meals as an extended family. This suited the early developmental needs of my generation. We collectively had 263 acres to explore and a family membership in the private lake just up the road, and my mother’s sister, a gym teacher that never married, came each summer to take me and my cousins swimming daily. On rainy days there was a barn with a workbench and woodworking tools. My oldest girl cousin directed us in plays for which we built sets and sewed costumes. The building and sewing was a good deal more interesting than memorizing lines. It was a lot more interesting pretending we were Native Americans and setting up camp sites in the woods that included building shelters. For a number of summers we had a real Native American girl to swim with who was employed waiting on tables at the private lake club house. Her economic status changed suddenly when oil was found on property some of her family owned and after which she no longer came to Vermont in the summer to work.
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My early life was inspired in some largely hidden ways by my paternal grandfather’s prominence in the early development of progressive education in the USA. The connections are only clear since I inherited my father’s college letters to his own father and I was able to locate three college women he had dated and interview them as well as an elderly former student who had walked to my grandfather’s house and ridden with my grandfather, and my father and his siblings the rest of the way to the school he had been hired to found and direct in 1929 and which they attended.
Ralph E. Boothby (1890-1964). His first ancestors came from England with a half generational first stop in Ireland and arrived in present day Maine in 1720 where they were subsistance farmers. Following the Civil War, a different line of the first two American Boothby brothers headed west. Ralph’s parents moved from Maine to a suburb of Boston where his father was a either a tailor or an early worker on an assembly line making ready to wear clothing. Ralph attended public school where he showed an aptitude for dead languages like Latin and Greek. Some teacher persuaded him to apply to Harvard and he was accepted in 1907. He was unable to attend until 1908 following a year of employment and a scholarship from a descendent of a wealthy family who had much earlier attended the same public school and offered a scholarship for a graduate of that same public school.
Nothing in the transcripts of my grandfather’s four years at Harvard indicate why he became a teacher and then director of private schools, but he and a number of his classmates did. Graduating in 1912, he was immediately hired by a Harvard alumnus to teach at a private prep school in Colorado Springs, CO. By 1915 he was director of that school and the next summer led a horseback trip of students from Colorado Springs to Santa Fe, NM and back along the continental divide. Sitting on a horse and looking east and west, you would see watersheds that drained into the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Before roads, these rivers defined settlement patterns.
Ralph Boothby had a John Dewey mustache and married a childhood friend in 1917 who had had a summer of graduate work under Dewey at Columbia Teachers College. Their honeymoon was the second student horseback trip Ralph led which my father was conceived on. That may have been the first and last thing they cooperated on. Nine months later, the mother-in-law moved in to assist with the birth and never returned to her husband. My grandmother reverted from wife to her mother’s daughter. Ralph emotionally moved out of the household to devote his life to raising other people’s children in the schools he directed. His children interacted with him as his students, with him favouring my father to the detriment and envy of my father’s younger brother and still younger sister that followed.
Ralph had graduated from Harvard at a time when robber barons could and did finance the founding of brand new private schools for their children. Every professional opportunity he had was offered by a decision maker who was either a Harvard alumni or had consulted a Harvard Alumni.