Celebrating the Women of Northwood
The Stewart family was a significant presence in the early years of coeducation at Northwood. Patti Stewart (better known as Lady) ably ran our dining services for two decades, assisted by her mother. Lady’s three children (Melinda, Jeff, and Cheryl) were outstanding students, attending Wellesley, Williams, and Smith after their Northwood careers. Melinda was one of our first women in 1971, part of a group of figure skaters that took advantage of the world class coaching then in Placid. Jeff is now a doctor; Cheryl, a Unitarian minister. Melinda’s many accomplishments as well as her memories of Northwood are detailed in her response to the questionnaire that follows:
Why did you choose to attend Northwood in 1971?
I wanted two things: To have the opportunity to do more academic work and to be able to skate year-round. I came from a public high school in Tulsa. My classes were huge (35-60 students), and offerings were limited. Although I had been in a gifted program at school, I was bored and frustrated. My family had been in Oklahoma for many generations (prior to its becoming a state); nevertheless, I couldn’t bear to stay there.
What are your most distinct memories of that year?
1) It was hard being in a place so different. I missed home. It was incredibly cold. I had come from an environment where no one danced or smoked. I had gone to church five times a week, and almost everyone I knew did too. We had to wear dresses to school, and I knew almost no one who wasn’t a Baptist. It was a big transition, and I did get lost in it for several years. 2) I loved the relationships I had with my teachers. I was particularly fond of John Scott and Mike Hannon. I loved that Harry Fife was such a character and that he was willing to teach me alone at 7 AM. I loved that Dave Hicks was willing to let me do 2 ½ years of French in one year, and that Jon Prime and Jon Zabriskie did it with me. I loved that the school had a policy that if you could find five kids who wanted to learn something, they would find a teacher for you. That was how I took Music History (organized by Bob Biles), which led me to a lifetime of studying and performing various kinds of music. 3) I met some great people. Adults and kids. I am still close to several NWS classmates.
What did the school do well that year?
It was great that we lived in town that year, even though many of us longed to be in the dorms. I think we needed the extra support and safety of that placement. I know that I did. The teachers were welcoming, and Freddy (Mr. Friedlander, the headmaster) was great. He went out of his way to check in with us. Sports were a challenge, although many of us came to NWS because of sports. It wasn’t really possible to field a girls’ team in anything during our off seasons (most of us were skiers or figure skaters). Girls didn’t play hockey then. We were mostly in rec sports or drama. I appreciated being able to go on NOC outings, which involved pressing some female teachers into reluctant service in the next years.
What could we have done better?
Many of the boys were pretty uncomfortable with our being there. Some of the seniors would sit in the vestibule near the front door and cat-call and/or grope the girls passing through. It was pretty typical of the American culture of that time. I am sure that this wouldn’t be tolerated in any school now. I do remember that my sister (who started in 73) hauled off and punched one of them in the face when she was a quite small 8th grader. I credit her with putting an end to the behavior. She, in fact, did not get in trouble, but the boy did. Buying sanitary supplies was tough. The boys and Madore always had some obnoxious comments.
What has happened in your life after Northwood?
I went to Wellesley and graduated with degrees in English and Classics. I worked in the theatre and television for several years after that, then went to Smith College for Social Work. I worked in addiction treatment and academic medicine at Harvard Medical College and Wellesley College for many years. I got married in 1988 to the brother of a friend from Wellesley, and we have two kids. Charles, 32, lives in Tokyo and is a physicist. Lily is 25 and lives with us in Groton, Mass. She is a writer and translator, currently in school. In 2000, I started an educational program in Massachusetts for gifted children. It is still in business, and I still teach Latin there. Many of the principles that I used in designing the special program were inspired by my experiences at NWS. After leaving that program (both my kids graduated from there), I began working at Groton School as the director of counseling. There I ran a department of 7-10 and oversaw all the counseling, health education, and Diversity and Inclusion policy development. I retired from Groton after 11 years and now work in private practice as a therapist and consultant, serving mostly those who are both academically gifted and have learning or mental health challenges. I plan to retire (again) in 2022.
In the course of my time working, I have done a lot of papers and presentations. One project was featured in Ms. Magazine in 1988. I also had the opportunity to present, along with a group of students, a theater-based substance abuse program to the U.S. Department of Education. I have written and directed three short Health Ed. Films, written a curriculum for the U.S. Department of Education, and served as the assistant project director for the lighting and sound involved in the Pope’s visit to Boston in 1979. I still have some more things to write and books to read. I hope to get to that after I retire.