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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Marshall Dickinson Whately Prep p. 6

Whately Prep
Day 272
Chestnut Plain Road, Whately, MA dee

"I never see The Street under its double row of trees but I bless the man who planted them. Nor go the River Road with Sugarloaf ahead, but a thrill runs up my back to see it there."Fred Bardwell 1883 - 1968

Marshall Dickinson, founder of Whately Prep, was a man of great imagination when it came to educating young minds; he was supremely unimaginative in his vision for the footprint of the school.  Whately Preparatory School for Honorable Young Men and Women was founded in 1851.  Deerfield Academy was already well-established as the premier boarding school in the region.  Dickinson, a Princeton man, was a native of Amherst, MA.  He returned to the Connecticut River Valley to teach at Deerfield.  Dickinson, his wife, Hester and their family, lived modestly on Deerfield Academy’s campus as house parents.  Whatever money he could muster, he used to purchase adjoining parcels of land that was once inhabited by the Norwottuck Indians.  After a decade at Deerfield Academy, Dickinson attracted a following. His philosophy was one of discipline, honor and piety.  He was successful in recruiting a few very wealthy families to lend their support to the new school.  Dickinson believed that a value-driven, spiritual foundation with a strong physical outlet was necessary for a balanced education.  Reportedly, he was known for frequently imploring his students to “Think man, think!”   While there were a few girls on campus, there were no more than a smattering. Teacher’s daughters and local girls who passed the rigorous entrance requirements were granted an education.  Most thought it unseemly and did not apply.  Dickinson required that students from all walks of life contribute to community life - both on and off the campus -- by doing chores. In addition, all students were mandated to attend daily chapel meetings. It was Dickinson’s rigid adherence to the creed that “all men are created equal” that set him apart from other educators of that era.  He accepted “half-breeds,” saying that young men of all color and nations should study history, latin, mathematics, science and english.  If applicants passed his rigorous entrance requirements, they received an education with room and board.  
Dickinson set up and protected a generous scholarship program using funds from several anonymous donors.  Dickinson paid as much attention to the mortar and bricks as he did the curriculum.  It was in this vision that his detractors claim he was lackluster. The school's campus was nothing more than a familiar model of a typical New England town.  Town Hall was the Administration Building.  The Chapel was a replica of the one found on Chestnut Plain Road in Whately.  Classes were taught in The Schoolhouse.  Students were billeted and fed in one of four dorms that were built like typical New England homes.  All the buildings were situated around a central pastoral area known as The Common.  
Unfortunately, Dickinson was ridiculed for trying to inculcate an unnatural alliance between distinct breeds of men; behind his back, Whately Prep was called “Dickinson’s little experiment in the woods.”  However, the carefully chosen cross slice of humanity that shared fibers of intelligence, honor and a strong work ethic paid off; Whately Preparatory School gradually gained acceptance.  It took decades for the men and women who Dickinson took under his wing to find their places in government, industry and society.  However, leaders will rise.  As they did, their common thread was evident.  The change-makers, the trend-setters, the visionaries of the 1870’s to the 1900’s were more often than not graduates of Dickinson’s “little experiment.”  

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