Today, Concord Academy is known as a top-flight boarding school whose alumni include Caroline Kennedy and Drew Faust. Much of the school’s reputation was built under the administration of Elizabeth Blodgett Hall, who served as headmistress from 1949 to 1963, and whose tenure was marked by her addresses containing advice for the student body.
Hall’s talks so impressed the board of trustees that they encouraged her to publish them, which she did in Through the Crowded Ways (1959) and Ladies: 1962 and Other Talks at Concord Academy (1962). Ladies: 1962 is particularly interesting because it features an address by the Pulitzer Prize–winning American poet Archibald MacLeish and drawings by the Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator Tasha Tudor, whose daughter Efner attended Concord Academy.
Hall’s papers, given to the Schlesinger Library by her children in 2008 and 2009, contain a copy of Ladies: 1962 and two folders of correspondence relating to its publication.
Among the correspondence are two letters from Tasha Tudor: the first expressing her willingness to provide illustrations for Ladies: 1962, and the second stating her pleasure with how her pen-and-ink illustrations were reproduced and requesting additional copies of the publication. Both letters boast classically whimsical Tudor drawings featuring her beloved corgis.
Other letters include those praising the publication from parents and school administrators and requests for additional copies. Among the latter is a letter from Archibald MacLeish expressing his desire to send one to the writer Iris Origo.
Much of the correspondence is concerned with publication aspects of the project. Included with those letters are original pen-and-ink drawings by Tudor, including three that weren’t used in the final publication, and the original copies of requests for advice from students which served as the inspiration for many of Hall’s talks and were reproduced in Ladies: 1962.
Hall’s talks offer a glimpse into girls’ lives before the sexual revolution and the women’s liberation movement. They depict a world where premarital sex isn’t the acknowledged norm, women are more likely to be housewives and mothers than members of the workforce, and the influence they have in society is more likely to be exerted through their influence on their husbands than through their own actions. While the societal changes that have taken place between 1962 and 2013 make much of Hall’s advice seem dated and irrelevant, her calls for her students to fight for what they believe in, respect others’ viewpoints, and to remain true to themselves are timeless.
As we embark on the new year, it seems fitting to recall Hall’s closing thoughts from her first Vespers address, “There Can Be No Substance without Form,” given on September 18, 1960:
We need, therefore, even if we have no formal religious affiliation, to come together with our fellow human beings, our friends and those with whom we disagree, to acknowledge formally our common concern for good and pursue it. In our daily lives, by what we do and what we say, we confirm or deny our caring . . . from day to day . . . from moment to moment. From time to time we need to do more. We need to say so, in clear and unmistakable terms, that others may be strengthened and that we ourselves may better understand.