Five Questions for Diane Spence ’68


Maddy Scott ’16 and former trustee Diane Yelle Spence ’68 may have graduated a half century apart, but when they met at Reunion last spring, they quickly discovered much in common—from a passion for their schools to similar career choices. Spence, a Smith College graduate, worked as fundraiser for educational institutions, including several independent schools. Scott, a senior at Westfield State, was recently hired as Williston’s Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement. Here, Scott asks Spence about her experiences at Northampton School for Girls and how it compares to today.


Maddy Scott: What was it like being a high school girl in the late sixties?

Diane Spence: Well, dress codes were a big thing! We didn’t have uniforms, but wearing dresses or skirts was encouraged as “ladylike.” But that started to change, as mini-skirts were coming in. You were not supposed to wear anything more than 2 inches above your kneecap. I remember one teacher saying—which no one would ever say now!—“You know, the more you expose your thighs to cold weather the fatter they get!” As young women, we talked about how we felt at odds with society’s norms. We were asking ourselves: Should we go to college? Should we be helping people? Should we travel? We were exploring the idea of not doing what was expected of us.

MS: Were your teachers at NSFG supportive of that?

DS: Most were naturally focused on teaching and less so on our concerns and questions. But one who did was Ken Heath, our French teacher. We didn’t have a lot of male teachers, and he was younger, with curly longish hair, so he seemed really different to us. He understood that we were questioning and let us have interesting conversations in French about what was going on in the late sixties. Another senior English teacher often challenged our opinions, but she understood the need for young people to question. I suspect she herself had questions about the war and what the country was getting into.

MS: Were you at Smith when Gloria Steinem was there?

DS: She graduated before I did,
but of course we were so happy
to claim her. I was working there when the first woman president of
Smith was hired. Smith gave me a sense of feminist thinking and wondering what questions need
to be asked.

MS: What NSFG values do you think live on at Williston today?

DS: The most important one is that students and faculty share a love of learning. At NSFG, I evolved from being someone who went to school to go to school, to someone who was truly excited about learning. That was due to my teachers and the passion they had for teaching and learning. From talking with teachers and students here today, I can see that same “love of learning” is flourishing.

MS: Oh, absolutely, it is! When I used to give Admission tours as a student, families would ask what my favorite part of Williston
was. I would always say it’s how the faculty are so caring.

DS: That’s so important. As a student, you have a relationship with your parents, and you’ve known them all your life, but you may not see eye to eye with them. Having new mentors who care about what you have to say and encourage your progress allows you to see yourself in a different light. They really fostered my sense of self and confidence in going out into the world beyond
high school.

For more stories about Williston Northampton School alumni, click here.