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- STORY OF WELLESLEY - 20/33 -
of appearance surpasses even the great Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The entrance hall is decorated with magnificent palms, with valuable paintings, and choice statuary. The walls in all the corridors are covered with fine engravings; there are carpets everywhere and elegant pieces of furniture; there is gas, steam heat, and a big elevator; everything, down to the bathrooms, is princely."
Professor Muller adds, "Of course, she was 'kind enough' to accept the position offered, although it was not especially lucrative. 'But what is a high salary,' she exclaims, 'in comparison to the ease and enthusiasm with which I can here plow a new field of work! That, and the honor attached to the position, are worth more to me than thousands of dollars. I am to be a regular grosses Tier now myself,--what fun, after having been a beast of burden so long!'"
From the first, Wellesley recognized her quality, and wisely gave it freedom. In addition to her work in German, we owe to her the beginnings of the Department of Education, through her lectures on Pedagogy.
Speaking of her power, Professor Muller says: "Truly, as a teacher, especially a teacher of youth, Fraulein Wenckebach was unexcelled. There was that relieving and inspiring, that broadening and yet deepening quality in her work, that ease and grace and joy, that mark the work of the elect only,--of those rare souls among us who are 'near the shaping hand of the Creator.'" And Fraulein Wenckebach herself said of her profession: "Every teacher, every educator, should above all be a guide. Not one of those who, like signposts, stretch their wooden arms with pedantic insistence in a given direction, but one, rather, who, after the manner of the heavenly bodies, diffusing warmth and light and cheer, draws the young soul irresistibly to leave its dark jungles of prejudice and ignorance for the promised land of wisdom and freedom." And her students testify enthusiastically to her unusual success. One of them writes:
"To Fraulein Wenckebach as a teacher, I owe more than to any other teacher I ever had. I cannot remember that she reproved any student or that she ever directly urged us to do our best. She made no efforts to make her lectures attractive by witticisms, anecdotes, or entertaining illustrations. Yet her students worked with eager faithfulness, and I, personally, have never been so absorbed and inspired by any lectures as by hers. The secret of her power was not merely that she was master of the art of teaching and knew how to arouse interest and awaken the mind to independent thought and inquiry, but that her own earnestness and high purpose touched our lives and made anything less than the highest possible degree of effort and attainment seem not worth while."--"We girls used to say to each other that if we ever taught we should want to be to our students what she was to us, and if they could feel as we felt toward her and her work we should want no more. She demanded the best of us, without demanding, and what she gave us was beyond measure.--It was courses like hers that made us feel that college work was the best part of college life."
These are the things that teachers care most to hear, and in the nineteen years of her service at Wellesley, there were many students eager to tell her what she had been to them. She writes in 1886: "What a privilege to pour into the receptive mind of young American girls the fullness of all that is precious about the German spirit; and how enthusiastically they receive all I can give them!"
In the late eighties and early nineties there came to the college a notable group of younger women, destined to play an important part in Wellesley's life and to increase her academic reputation: Mary Whiton Calkins, Margarethe Muller, Adeline B. Hawes, the able head of the Department of Latin, Katharine M. Edwards, of the Department of Greek, Sophie de Chantal Hart, of the Department of English Composition, Vida D. Scudder, Margaret Sherwood, and Sophie Jewett, of the Department of English Literature. In the autumn of 1909, Sophie Jewett died, and never has the college been stirred to more intimate and personal grief. So many poets, so many scholars, are not lovable; but this scholar-poet quickened every heart to love her. To live in her house, to sit at her table, to listen to her "cadenced voice" in the classrooms, were privileges which those who shared them will never forget. Her colleague, Professor Scudder, speaking at the memorial service in the College Chapel, said:
"We shall long rejoice to dwell on the ministry of love that was hers to exercise in so rare a measure, through her unerring and reverent discernment of all finest aspects of beauty; on her sensitive allegiance to truth; on the fine reticence of her imaginative passion; on that heavenly sympathy and selflessness of hers, a selflessness so deep that it bore no trace of effort or resolute purpose, but was simply the natural instinct of the soul....
"Let us give thanks, then, for all her noble and delicate powers; for her all-controlling Christianity; for her subtle rectitude of intellectual and spiritual vision; for her swift ardor for all high causes and great dreams; for that unbounded tenderness toward youth, that firm and steady standard of scholarship, that central hunger for truth, which gave high quality to her teaching, and which during twenty years have been at the service of Wellesley College and of the Department of English Literature."
This very giving of herself to the claims of the college hampered, to a certain extent, her poetic creativeness; the volumes that she has left are as few as they are precious, every one "a pearl." Speaking of these poems, Miss Scudder says: "And in her own verse,--do we not catch to a strange degree, hushed echoes of heavenly music? These lyrics are not wholly of the earth: they vibrate subtly with what I can only call the sense of the Eternal. How beautiful, how consoling, that her last book should have been that translation, such as only one who was at once true poet and true scholar could have made, of the sweetest medieval elegy 'The Pearl'!" And Miss Bates, in her preface to the posthumous volume of "Folk-Ballads of Southern Europe", illumines for us the scholarship which went into these close and sympathetic translations:
"For the Roumanian ballads, although she pored over the originals, she had to depend, in the main, upon French translation, which was usually available, too, for the Gascon and Breton. Italian, which she knew well, guided her through obscure dialects of Italy and Sicily, but Castilian, Portuguese, and Catalan she puzzled out for herself with such natural insight that the experts to whom these translations have been submitted found hardly a word to change. 'After all,' as she herself wrote, 'ballads are simple things, and require, as a rule, but a limited vocabulary, though a peculiarly idiomatic one.'"
Not the least poetic of her books, although it is written in prose, is the delicate interpretation of St. Francis, written for children and called "God's Troubadour."
"Erect, serene, she came and went On her high task of beauty bent. For us who knew, nor can forget, The echoes of her laughter yet Make sudden music in the halls." ["In Memoriam: Sophie Jewett." A poem by Margaret Sherwood, Wellesley College News, May 1, 1913.]
In 1913, Madame Colin, who had served the college as head of the Department of French since 1905, died during the spring recess after a three days' illness. Madame Colin had studied at the University of Paris and the Sorbonne, and her ideals for her department were high.
Among Wellesley's own alumnae, only a very few who were officers of the college during the first forty years have died. Of these are Caroline Frances Pierce, of the class of 1891, who was librarian from 1903 to 1910. To her wise planning we owe the conveniences and comforts in the new library building which she did not live to see completed.
In 1914, the Department of Greek suffered a deep loss in Professor Annie Sybil Montague, of the class of 1879. Besides being a member of the first graduating class, Miss Montague was one of the first to receive the degree of M.A. from Wellesley. In 1882, the college conferred this degree for the first time, and Miss Montague was one of the two candidates who presented themselves. One of her old students, Annie Kimball Tuell, of the class of 1896, herself an instructor in the Department of English Literature, writes:
I think Miss Montague would wish that another of her pupils, one who worked with her for an unusually long time, should say--what can most simply and most warmly and most gratefully be said--that she was a good teacher. So l want to say it formally for myself and for all the others and for all the years. For I suppose that if we were doomed to go before our girls for a last judgment, the best and the least of us would care just for the simple bit of testimony that we knew our business and attended to it. And of all the good people who made college days so rich for me, there is none of whom I could say this more entirely than of Miss Montague.
Often as I have caught sight of her in the jostling crowd of the second floor, I have felt a lively regret that she was known to so few of the girls, and that her excellent ability to give zest to drill and to stablish fluttering wits in order, could not have a fuller and freer exercise. In the old days we valued what she had to give, and in the usual silent, thankless way, elected her courses as long as there were courses to elect; but we have had to teach many years since to know how special that gift of hers was. Just as closer acquaintance with herself proved her breadth of mind and sympathy not quite understood before, so more intelligent knowledge of her methods showed them to be broader and more fundamental than we had quite comprehended. With her handling, rules and sub-rules ceased to jostle and confuse one another, but grouped themselves in a simpler harmony which we thought a very beautiful discovery, and grammar took on a reasonable unity which seemed a marvel. So we took our laborious days with cheer and enjoyed the energy, for we quite understood that our work would lead to something.
But if there could be an interchange of grace and I could take a gift from Miss Montague's personality, l would rather have what she in a matter-of-fact way would take for granted, but what is harder for us who are beginners here to come by,--I mean her altogether fine and blameless relation to her girls outside the classroom. She was a presence always heartily responsive, but never unwary, without the slightest reflection of her personality upon us, with never a word too much of praise or blame, of too much intimacy or of too much reserve. She was a figure of familiar friendliness, ready with sympathy and
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