A gerontologist reflects on “one of the best times of my life”
Maria “Mimi” Dwight Vesconte ’52 was on the cheerleading squad in her public school, but when her parents decided to send her to NSFG, the small school barely had enough students to fill the sports teams—let alone cheer from the side. The change was instrumental; Maria says it was “one of the best times of my life.” Now 80 years old, she is a gerontologist working as a consultant in the Redwoods of California in a house she designed. Her social research on the elderly has taken her around the world, including China, India and Singapore.
What teacher had the most impact on you?
I was dyslexic, and nobody knew that in those days. I loved English, which was easy because I spoke it. I started on third base. But I had a fabulous teacher in Ada Judd Green. She pushed me to do creative writing. She took a personal interest in us as human beings. I think certainly Mrs. Green was an inspiration to a lot of us. She was down to earth. And would have us into her home and personal life.
What sort of student were you at NSFG?
We sincerely believed that putting raisins and cider into the back of our closets would turn them into alcohol and we could get drunk. All we did was get sick. There used to be jugs of cider exploding in the dorms. I loved learning. It really turned me on to learning and exploring ideas. I really loved boys and I was boy crazy. Somewhere my kids found an old report card that said, “Mimi is a good student but she seems inordinately interested in boys.” In fact, in biology—we all had to take it—we were all waiting to get to the human reproductive system. We never did. We got to frogs. And then the class ended.
What was the fashion trend of the day?
Looking back, we probably looked like hell but we thought we looked quite glamorous. We had skirts down to our ankles practically, and heavy white socks and sneakers wrapped up in white bandage tape. And cardigan sweaters that we wore backwards. If you showed that you had breasts, you somehow managed to hide that by wearing a slip, a blouse, and a sweater. You were asexual looking. We could not wear trousers, only on Saturday afternoons and never downtown. We couldn’t smoke and we couldn’t chew gum in public. You couldn’t wear makeup. No one was a priss about getting all dolled up. I still don’t wear makeup, which is kind of too bad because I could use it now.
What did you do when you went into Northampton?
You had to go to church every Sunday. We went to the movies on Saturdays. That was a big deal. We’d go to the Academy of Music or the Calvin. We went to a lot of classical concerts at Smith. We got $2 a week allowance, so we couldn’t go shopping that much. Movies cost a quarter, and you had to put at least a quarter in the church bucket. It didn’t leave you a lot of money. One or two of us went to Joe’s Pizza, and you could buy beer and bring it back. We’d have enough money for three beers, and there would be 12 of us. It was very daring.
How did you meet boys?
Williston was sort of the last choice. You usually wanted to go
to Deerfield. We wrote a lot of letters. We had mixers and we had dancing school my freshman year. I went to meet the boys. I didn’t care about much else. We could have dates and sit in the parlor at Montgomery. We could go to the gym, and there were no chaperones, so that was the place to go. Or we could walk on the dike with boys. Eventually we got the student council to agree that we could sit down with boys on the dike, but we couldn’t put our elbows on the grass, which meant you had to be upright. It wasn’t just one elbow, you couldn’t have any elbows.
You helped start the Angelus tradition. What was the inspiration?
It was during the Korean War. A lot of people I knew were in the service. It was very sobering among all this frivolity. We had our own little world. I just thought that we should connect to the broader world. I went to an Episcopal retreat, and they had an Angelus bell. And you just stopped what you were doing and were quiet. It was very moving. The silence took you to someplace else. I loved it. Stop everything and what you’re doing is very superficial and stop and look at the greater picture. That’s where it started, and we managed to pull it off at NSFG.