by Joe Sheppard
With a little help from his friends.
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal and as an assistant to the faculty advisor of the student newspaper - Spectrum. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
Dick Jeffers sighs as he settles into his vintage swivel chair behind a vintage desk in his eponymous Heritage Center. His cohort, Paul Husted ’64, seated opposite him in matching luxe, nods in empathy. The room, in the Ansin Building, wouldn’t yet interest the producers of “Hoarders,” but it might in a couple of years.
“People just bring stuff and leave it,” Dick half-laments, standing beside a shelf full of studio-size reels of half-inch Ampex audio tape, apparently containing musical and sound-effects cues for several theatre productions—not LA’s. Where did they come from? Heads shake in tandem.
Clutter aside (though they are making progress), Dick and Paul are ideal guardians of Lawrence’s long heritage. Paul has an amazing mind for detail, as he demonstrated time and again during our recent conversations. And anyone acquainted with Dick knows that besides being an historian, he’s a collector. “I’ve always kept stuff,” he says. There’s that word again.
It has always amazed me that LA, old as it is, is only now, in the early twenty-first century, awakening to its own rich and colorful history. Pivotal to this new interest has been the establishment, in 2004, of the Whipple Archives, housed in the Jeffers Heritage Center in the Ansin building. At last the Academy has a place for everything from founders’ papers to yearbooks to one of the last surviving LA blazers.
The idea for an archive, according to Dick, was born in the early 1960s, when he and Bev lived in Bigelow Hall with Alan Whipple, then a bachelor, as the upstairs dorm master. Alan loved to talk about the school’s history, which fascinated Dick.
“I knew nothing about Lawrence Academy before I got here,” he said during a recent chat. “Things started clicking in my head when Alan mentioned that John Hancock had signed LA’s charter.”
From that moment on, as the Archive’s shelves as well as his own study at home will attest, he collected everything the school published: newspapers, alumni journals, yearbooks—“anything that came out.”
He learned the hard way never to lend his treasures to anyone, after a large collection of The Elms, the school paper for fifty years mid-century, disappeared with a colleague who had expressed an interest in reading them.
Fast-forward a few years to the early 1990s, when the Academy was preparing for its bicentennial celebration. Dick was on the committee that hired Doug Frank ’68 to write a new history of the school, a project that Alan Whipple had started but that was cut short by his sudden death in 1988. Suddenly the nascent archives had “a lot of stuff:” Monika Whipple gave all of her husband’s papers and research materials to Doug Frank and the committee. Dick, by then working in the alumni office, started researching alumni online and creating files.
“The school needs something,” he thought to himself, and he went about creating it. The archives lived a nomadic existence for several years, with Dick, Paul Husted and Larry Jaquith ’63 physically moving the files from one building to another. The wandering stopped when Ansin was built.
The Heritage Center operates on a modest budget, and has raised additional funds on its own for special projects such as the preservation of Dr. Samuel Green’s broadsides. Some of the collection has been digitized and can be viewed elsewhere on the LA website. There’s much to be done, however, and Dick and Paul can always use help.
“There are so many things that Paul and I can’t do because of time and physical constraints,” Dick explains. “For example, there is a glaring need for people to go through photographs.”
If you want to help, give Dick or Paul a call at 978-448-1596. They’re usually there on Tuesdays, but you can leave a message any time. And if you have any LA memorabilia hanging around, bring it in!
More next time, when we’ll dig around in the archives a bit. Meanwhile, if you’re in Groton on a Tuesday, stop by. There’s lots of stuff to see. And you might just be put to work!
on Monday April 27 at 07:39AM
Even though I lived in her house for five years and have loved its funky Victorian grandeur for a lot longer than that, I never knew much about Yssabella Waters, the Groton native who had willed her family home to Lawrence back in the 1930s. For that matter, I doubt that more than a couple of people now associated with LA have heard anything about her beyond the urban legends of a slightly batty old woman who never left her house and who died under mysterious circumstances.
Fortunately for history, one person in the Lawrence community knows a good deal about Yssabella Gertrude Waters: Sue McKenna, the capable and caring director of the Health Center. We fell into a dinnertime conversation about her a while ago, and a few days later I spent a fascinating hour or two with Sue as she talked about this remarkable woman and shared her collection of Waters-related documents with me for this column.
Yssabella, whom her family called Belle, was born in 1862 to Charles H. and Mary Jane Farnsworth Waters. Mr. Waters was a wealthy and successful businessman who was general manager and eventually president of the Clinton Wirecloth Company, at one time the largest manufacturer of woven-wire products in the world. His wife, Mary Jane, was descended from Asa Farnsworth Lawrence, who was preceptor (headmaster) of Lawrence Academy from 1824 to 1826.
Details of Belle’s childhood and youth are relatively few. She married a Fred Artemas Brooks in 1886, but within a few years they were living apart and they eventually divorced. Mr. Brooks ended his days, as far as we know, at an old men’s home in Worcester.
Belle was active in charitable work from an early age. As a young woman she spent several years teaching school in poor neighborhoods and doing church work in impoverished areas in Massachusetts, as well as in St. Louis, where she worked for the Unity and Ethical Society. In addition to visiting the poor she taught classes in sewing, household management and literature. Appalled by her pupils’ squalid living conditions and the lack of proper health care, she entered the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University in 1895, at the age of 33, by which time she and Mr. Brooks were no longer together. After graduation in 1897 she went to work at the non-profit Henry Street Settlement in New York City, which provided shelter and a cultural center for the very poor, mostly immigrants . She didn’t stay there long, however, for, as the Spanish-American War was ending, the Army sent out a call for nurses to deal with the burgeoning number of typhoid fever cases. Her Army assignments took her from Jacksonville, Florida, to Savannah, Georgia, where she was made superintendent of nurses, and thence to Havana, where she also served as superintendent. It’s interesting to note that in Miss Waters’ day, although contracted by the Army, nurses were not members of the military and as such received no recognition for their vital services. However, in August of 1898, the same month that the Spanish-American War ended, the Surgeon General established the Nurse Corps Division to coordinate nursing efforts—the first step towards the founding of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901.
After the war, Yssabella (I suspect she would have outgrown “Belle” at this point) returned to New York and Henry Street, where she would serve without pay for 22 years. In 1902, Settlement founder Lillian Wald asked her to join colleague Lina Rogers to become the second school nurse in New York City. As Sue McKenna explained it, “They covered four schools—working in the schools in the mornings and visiting homes in the afternoons. This practice not only excluded sick children from school, thereby preventing the spread of disease; it also cut down on absenteeism by getting well kids back to school. The two were so successful in this undertaking that the protocols they developed were adopted by the Board of Health and by 1903, twenty-five nurses were covering 100 schools!” A few years into her Henry Street career, Belle co-founded the National Organization of Public Health Nurses , helping to formalize and gain recognition for this new branch of her profession. In 1909 she wrote “Visiting Nursing in the United States,” the first nationwide directory of nursing organizations.
Yssabella Waters and her colleagues were pioneers, the first nurses to work as independent practitioners, moving from hospital-based practice directed by doctors to caring for the sick in their own homes and schools—an outgrowth of the theories developed by Florence Nightingale that, as Sue puts it, “focused on a more holistic view of health care.” In a very real sense, it is because of the Henry Street nurses that schools like Lawrence have full-time nurses on staff.
Retiring to her home in Groton in 1921, Miss Waters became active in the Unitarian Church next to campus and did a great deal of work at the Groton Historical Society with its founder, Georgianna Boutwell, whose historic family home on Main Street still houses the Society’s headquarters. Respected and well thought-of in town, she died at home in 1938, leaving her papers and much of her personal property to the Historical Society. Unfortunately, little of her legacy remains there, for reasons unknown.
Yssabella Waters was buried in the Farnsworth family plot at the Groton cemetery, where, each Memorial Day, a flag is placed on her grave along with the other veterans’. “At last,” smiles Sue McKenna, “she has some recognition.”
1. The Settlement, which “opens doors of opportunity to enrich lives and enhance human progress..."
2. The term “public health nursing” was first coined by Lillian Wald.
on Tuesday February 24
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