A Dorm of Her Own


Williston Northampton’s new residence hall honors Emily McFadon Vincent NSFG ’49

When the new girls’ dormitory now under construction opens to students this fall, it will be noteworthy not merely because it completes the residential quad and fulfills a key objective of the school’s strategic plan. It will also be the first residence hall named for a female benefactor, and the first for an alumna of Northampton School for Girls. Fittingly, the Emily McFadon Vincent House honors a woman who in her personal, professional, and philanthropic life broke her share of new ground as well.

A small-business owner and world traveler at a time when both were considerably more difficult for women, Vincent spent just one year at NSFG, arriving on campus for her senior year in the fall of 1948, after crossing the country on her own by train from her home in Tacoma, Washington. The school she had been previously attending made the mistake of telling young Emily she wasn’t college material, an assessment that “didn’t sit too well,” she confides, and so she sought out a more supportive environment. Told by her father not to speak to anyone in the train’s dining car, she says she did not eat for the entire three-day journey.
Fortunately, she found nourishment of another kind at NSFG. “It was just a wonderful year,” Vincent recalled recently from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she now lives with her husband, Bob, whom she married in 1983. “I had to work hard, which was no problem. And there was just this atmosphere at the school. Everything about it was positive.”

Bob Vincent adds that when Emily wasn’t having fun telling tall tales of the West to her credulous New England classmates, she was learning how to be an entrepreneur. She would buy candy in town, he explains, and sell it to the girls in the dorms. “That’s what I thought I was going to do,” Emily Vincent clarifies. “But I didn’t. I ate it. That’s how I gained 90 pounds!”

Vincent would soon demonstrate that she was indeed college material, going on to earn her bachelor’s degree in sociology-economics and English from Mills College in Oakland, California, and later attending the University of Edinburgh, where she studied psychiatric social work. The twin interests of concern for others and curiosity about the world would come to steer her personal and professional life. Over the next five decades, she served as a social services counselor in Seattle, a Red Cross worker in Australia, a district director for the Camp Fire Girls, and an agent in the American Automobile Association’s worldwide travel department. In addition to living in England, Scotland, and Australia, she traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa. On one trip in 1963, she recalls, she snuck into Israel in the dead of night because she lacked the proper paperwork.

All of Vincent’s interests came together in 1971 when she opened New Horizons Travel, the first travel agency in the then-undiscovered red-rock canyon town of Sedona, Arizona. She would run the business for the next 19 years. “I wanted to help people,” she explains. “I felt that I could really contribute something to the community. I learned that I could employ the same techniques in the travel business that I used in social work counseling, because you have to know what the problems are to plan trips for people. That was a very valuable tool.”

Vincent sold New Horizons in 1990, just in time to see her industry face dramatic disruption from online competition. She believes there is still a role for travel agents, however, “and that is in their knowledge of other areas of the world, the guidance and advice they can give to clients.”

Vincent traces her own passion for travel to her upbringing. An only child, she was raised by parents who enjoyed traveling—the family would cross the country to visit relatives in Connecticut—and they “instilled that interest in me,” she reports. As for her confidence to take risks and explore the world, she dismisses that as simply a quality of youth. “The thing about young people is you’re not afraid,” she says. “You don’t even think about some of these things. You just do them.”
In her later years, Vincent has been similarly bold in her philanthropy, serving as a longtime supporter and board member of Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, in Cottonwood, a treatment facility for women with chemical dependency and mental health issues. In 2007, Verde Valley named a new residential unit Emily’s House in her honor. She continues to support Mills College and, perhaps most remarkably, the Annie Wright Schools in Tacoma, the very institution that had misjudged her all those years ago. “It’s a much better school than it was when I was there,” she explains. Ten years ago, Annie Wright presented Vincent with an honorary high school diploma, making her the rare student with two high school degrees.

And, of course, she continues to support Williston. Over the years, she and Bob Vincent have endowed funds for professional development, instructorships, and scholarships. “I want to continue to help Williston Northampton, financially and in other appropriate ways,” she said in 2004, on the occasion of funding the Emily N. McFadon Vincent and Bob E. Vincent Scholarship. “I can see that today’s students are still very enthusiastic, willing, and involved. The faculty are outstanding, with the right mix of high academic standards and caring offered to students.”

As for the new dormitory, Vincent initially resisted the honor of having it bear her name, ultimately agreeing only when she was told how her actions might help others. “The recognition is not something that I seek,” she explains. “But it might inspire other people to be generous.”

Letters Home

Every day while at Northampton School, young Emily McFadon wrote to her parents across the country. Here, we share some of her words, from the school archives.

September 22, 1948
I think I am going to like it here in the East. And now I have no quandaries about traveling alone on a train! I shall write you when I am settled at school.

September 23, 1948
We ate at the Wiggins Tavern which was very crowded, then we came to school. It really is beautiful. I am in Hathaway House, third floor, nice light room. My roommate’s name is Nancy Angell, a very nice girl. I am taking English 4, French 3, practical art, which consists of concerts at Smith, and American history. No chemistry needed!

September 26, 1948
I don’t see how I am ever going to get through his school year, much less get into college. I know this school makes you work so in college the work isn’t so hard, but French is way over my head! I can’t understand what the teacher is saying or anything! In reference to the hard work we do here, I found out that Northampton grades 4 pts. harder than Smith College. I will try my best…

October 5, 1948
Monday we went on a trip to a lookout and the view was beautiful! One could see N.H.…Everyone here is so interested in baseball except me. I don’t care whether the Braves or the Indians win! Oh, well, everyone to her own taste.

October 20, 1948
Last night we heard the national orchestra of France. It was the best concert I have heard yet! People cheered and applauded for 15 min. after the concert was over. I bought a beautiful red sweater for only $7.50! As our class colors are red and white, I thought red would be good.

November 1, 1948
We are having a history test tomorrow and I am petrified! I have studied in every conceivable way for it! If I don’t pass it, I will die!

November 4, 1948
We are having a “field day” with Miss Burnham’s School, and I’m a substitute for the hockey team goalie! Very important job! I am petrified!

November 20, 1948
Last night after I arrived, “E” offered me a Martini cocktail, which I tried and which I disliked heartily!

December 1, 1948
Next Saturday is the Christmas Bazaar (I’m cleanup); Monday night is the Christmas pageant. Then exams, then home!! We have two term papers to do during Christmas vacation! Darn it!

December 9, 1948
I still like all the girls and am having fun! I do so many things with so many people at so many times, it’s hard to mention them in letters.

January 21, 1949
Mrs. Judd told me I did very well in the English exams. I am now in “Scribblers,” the English club in which we really learn to write.

January 24, 1949
I hope Miss Whitaker’s letter was favorable. Our assignments are rapidly piling up! Everyone back here is just crazy about “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” remember that record I bought? Day and night we hear it.

January 28, 1949
Yesterday we skied. Never have I had so much fun! My aluminum skis are the best investment I ever made! When everyone else was having trouble on the sticky snow, I was sailing down very nicely!

February 5, 1949
Yesterday we saw “Words and Music,” a superlative movie. If you have a chance, see it, ’cause it really is good! “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” a dance sequence starring Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen was the best dancing I have ever seen! We went tobogganing last night in the moonlight. I like it better than skiing, ’cause I can do it better!

February 10, 1949
Yesterday Mike (Marikea) DeJong and I went toboggan jumping; we built two jumps and practically killed ourselves! I’m through with that for a while…Am having a history test tomorrow so wish me luck!

February 17, 1949
Mother, thank you for the nuts and candy in addition to the wonderful cookies! Everybody in the house enjoyed both. Today Mrs. Conkling, a rather famous poet, spoke to us. She made many things clear about poetry and its meaning.

March 1, 1949
The weather is terrible. We had 1 foot and ½ of snow last night! Last weekend I went home with Sally Davis and had much fun. Sat. Night we went to a U. of Mass vs. Norwich U. basketball game which was so poor it was funny. The rest of the weekend we just laughed, ate, slept.

March 13, 1949
The Prom weekend was very successful! Thursday night, I learned that David had come down with the German measles so—no date. Everyone started working for blind dates, and Anne Babbitt got her brother’s roommate to come. His name is S. Richard “Ox” Vera—6”2”, 225 lbs. Tremendous boy! He was nice and we had lots of fun. I also received two corsages, one from David and one from “Ox.” David’s was two camellias. Dick’s was a 2-gardenia wrist corsage. Never have I had so much fun!

March 16, 1949
It has been heavenly here. You can see for miles. If my writing sounds odd, it’s because Mrs. Judd (English) makes me write short, pithy sentences. So it goes.

March 18, 1949
Sunday, I am going to Sally Davis’ for dinner. Miss Bement said if there were boys there, she wasn’t going to let me go! Of course, Sally’s brother will be there, but I didn’t tell Miss Bement that. Also, she had to know what we were going to be doing every minute! It won’t be long ’til summer and 3 weeks from tomorrow!
Mother, should I buy the Washington ticket in advance? Write soon,
Lots of love, Em.