History of Women at Canterbury

By Mary LaVigne ‘16

Sandy Behan giving a speech at the Women of Canterbury annual dinner

Women have been inluential members of the Canterbury community since the school opened in 1915. Ma’rie Hume, founding Headmaster Nelson Hume’s sister, ran the kitchen, was the infirmarian, and served as “housemother” in Middle House. She served the school for 28 years and retired in 1942.

Another important woman was Madeline Powers. She was hired as secretary by Dr. Hume in 1924 and retired in 1972. According to Faculty Member Mr. Mandler, “She was viewed by the faculty as more fearsome than the Headmaster, as one who must be obeyed.” Ma’rie Hume and Madeline Powers were just two of many women who have contributed to Canterbury in the last hundred years.

There were also the wives of the Headmasters. They were  not only hostesses; they assisted wherever help was needed. During World War II, Nelson Hume’s wife, May Hume, “took over the management of the dormitories, directed the kitchen staff, and worked with the housekeeping crew.” She also served as a Trustee for 32 years. Second Headmaster Walter Sheehan’s wife, Lynn Sheehan “oversaw campus aesthetics as well as pitched in when the business office was short-handed” and also “served as Canterbury’s librarian after her husband retired.”

Mrs. Sheehy, current Headmaster Mr. Sheehy’s wife, was the first official employee of the school, having worked in Admission since 1991.

The first full-time faculty member was Gilda Martin in 1966, while Canterbury was still all boys. Gilda Martin taught Spanish and French and served as Chair of the Language Department.

At Board of Trustee meetings, she was selected to represent the faculty. She ran a service organization called The Canterbury Guild and formed The Girls’ League after the school became co-ed. In 2000, Gilda was awarded the Canterbury Medal, remaining at Canterbury until 2006. She was a mentor to so many students, especially in the 1970’s.

On October 30, 1970, Walter Sheehan announced that Canterbury would admit girls. The decision to become co-ed, however, took a few years. In 1970, a Trustee wrote to Headmaster Sheehan in 1970, “I love girls and think they are just great, but they have absolutely no place at Canterbury regardless of what St. Paul’s does or Choate.”

Mr. Sheehan replied, “I cannot say, philosophically, I am for having girls at Canterbury, but so many of the young alumni think it is the way of the future that I do not think we should be adamantly opposed.” So in the fall of 1971, Canterbury welcomed nine girl day students. Those nine included Terry D’Alton ’73, Gail Erwin, Valerie Gumpper ’74, Sarah Huntington ’75, Sarah Krieger, Lizette Michelman ’74, Judy Sullivan ’74, Anne Wagenbrenner ’73, and Vicky Weill ’74. From there, girls made their mark from their academics to athletics and student life.

I was fortunate to meet Judy Sullivan and Vicky Weill at the Women of Canterbury Spring Dinner this past April. who spoke about what it was like to be the first girls on campus

It has been amazing to learn about all of the women who have played critical roles in shaping the school into what it is today. Mrs. Rachel Stone will serve as the sixth head of school in the fall, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for women here at Canterbury.

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