The following is an excerpt of remarks Head of School Katherine Bradley made at Dana Hall’s Opening Convocation.
In 1875, Wellesley College admitted its first class. Mr. Henry Durant had the idea, radical at the time, that women could be educated, and be educated at the college level, so he founded Wellesley College. He wrote in one of his sermons, “The Higher Education of Women is one of the great world battle-cries for freedom; for right against might.” You have to remember that at the time, women were almost entirely dependent on men – either their fathers or husbands – for everything in their lives, and that they were at the mercy of the men in their lives.
Soon after Wellesley College was established, Mr. Durant realized that many of the young women entering the College had not had an education strong enough to prepare them for the rigors of a college that was equivalent to the men’s colleges. He therefore decided to open a preparatory school for Wellesley. Mr. Charles Dana donated a building to the cause, the first building of Dana Hall School. Mr. Durant asked two sisters, Julia and Sarah Eastman, to lead the school. Thus, 138 years ago, in 1881, Dana Hall School opened its doors with 18 students.
At the time, girls schools were almost all finishing schools, that is, they prepared girls to be good wives and hostesses. Dana Hall, on the other hand, was established as a “fitting school,” a college preparatory school with a curriculum similar to the all-boys prep schools. This was a controversial move at the time. As Social Studies teacher Eric Goodson points out, people were so biased against girls being educated that a Harvard physician was able to promote a thesis – one that many were convinced by – that education would draw energy to women’s intellectual development away from their physical development, and that women would, as a result, become infertile.
Fortunately for all of us, Mr. Durant and the Eastman sisters believed that women could both be educated and be mothers.
This year’s students, the 139th group of girls to begin a school year here, belong to a tradition that has always valued girls’ strength and capability.
At the same time, as I will reiterate at the end of the year, a school is, ultimately, only the people in it, so while we are a part of the Dana Hall School that goes back to 1881, we are also uniquely the 2019-20 Dana Hall. So absorb this moment, think about classmates and teachers, and to think about the contributions you are going to make to Dana Hall this year.
I close with the words of Swiss philosopher Henri-Frederick Amiel:
“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”