Written by Madeleine Marr ’17 for our student newspaper The Hourglass.
The Baldwin Residence acts as a constant reminder of our School’s historic past; the School has been educating young women since 1888, and to many it seems as though the atmosphere has stayed the same ever since. However, Sue Howson Pillsbury (Class of 1953) would state otherwise.
“How simple life was!” reflected Mrs. Pillsbury about the differences between Baldwin now and when she matriculated. She began attending Baldwin fulltime in 1943, when she was in third grade. Her family’s educational choices reflected a pattern that is still true today. Many of her female relatives had attended Baldwin, while her brothers attended The Haverford School. After graduation, Mrs. Pillsbury attended Wellesley College.
Her memory of her time at Baldwin is impressively sharp – she recalled in our interview the many rules that were enforced during her tenure, including a ban on pierced ears, thick belts and “tie shoes.” There was mandatory swimming once a week, and the classes were more structured. She remembers that her teachers, while helpful, “weren’t close.” The students all stood when a teacher entered the classroom, revealing what exactly Mrs. Pillsbury meant when she recalled that the teachers and students “weren’t buddy buddy.” Overall, Baldwin in the 1940s and ‘50s differed in that “there weren’t the choices there are now . . . it was more structured.”
While Baldwin was much more regimented, Mrs. Pillsbury’s recollections of the surrounding culture while she was attending Baldwin suggest a more uncomplicated era. One astonishing example she gave was of contacting her grandmother. “I would talk to the operator… and to call my grandmother, I would say ‘972.’ And this was for anywhere on the Main Line!” Over the decade, the number gradually increased in digits, but the fact that so few numbers were even necessary at this time truly reveals, as Mrs. Pillsbury puts it, “how simple life was.”
Another defining feature of Mrs. Pillsbury’s Baldwin experience was World War II. She explained to me that Baldwin students were all fingerprinted so that students could be identified if the school were to be bombed. Practice air raid drills were performed in the Residence during this time as well. However, the War permeated daily life in less dramatic ways. During and even some time after the War, oil and gas were rationed. Mrs. Pillsbury walked a mile to the train station every day in order to get to school because “a mile was not worth using the car.” She can remember sitting in the car for upwards of three hours while her mother stood in line at the grocery store to buy the meat she was allowed.
The social scene of Baldwin in the mid-century was far different from that of 2017. Mrs. Pillsbury could not recall one person who owned their own car; instead, they asked for use of “the car” for the day. If she were to visit a classmate outside of school, she would go over for the afternoon to someone’s house, instead of to the movies or out to eat. Mrs. Pillsbury did mention one hamburger joint she would occasionally visit, where she could get a burger for fifteen cents. The lack of a car curtailed how social Baldwin students could be, as you “couldn’t just hop into the car. You had your transportation planned.” At home, there was no television or electronic gadgets, except for the family’s radio or phonograph. As Mr. Pillsbury helpfully interjected during our phone interview, “From today’s standards it seems primitive, but then it seemed cutting edge!”
Although so many traditions have been lost and added, the tradition of a spring dance has only been modified since Mrs. Pillsbury’s tenure. Instead of the present-day Prom, the junior class hosted the May Dance. Mrs. Pillsbury actually brought her husband as her date to her senior May Dance. They had met on October 11, 1952 (a Saturday) at Baldwin’s Autumn Fair. That Tuesday, he called to ask her to a movie. Mrs. Pillsbury laughingly explained to me that she “had no idea who was going to show up at the door!” The two eventually got to know each other, and “by Christmas, that was it.” They will soon be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this year.
Sue Pillsbury’s memories of Baldwin from so long ago truly demonstrate that our School, while it may sometimes feel like a reason for stress and anxiety, is a source of stability in our changing world. Not only are her stories fascinating and enjoyable, they also serve as an important reminder of how Baldwin has steadfastly endured, despite large cultural shifts. The differences between Mrs. Pillsbury’s and our School experiences may vary, but Baldwin represents an institution that unites students across generations through traditions and core values. We are all Baldwin Girls at heart, no matter what age we are.