By Ryan O’Connell
Arts & Features Editor
Alumni of Framingham State University and members of the wider community attended a presentation on the diverse history and travels of 19th century FSU graduates at the Independent Alumni House, Feb. 7.
The presentation, part of the Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni (IAFSA) Coffee and Conversation event series, taught attendees about prominent FSU graduates in the 1870s, and what their lives were like.
The research was performed by two volunteer archivists, both alumni, by analyzing several dozen primary sources stored in the Independent Alumni House’s attic involving early students.
The two archivists, Patricia Berlandi and Michael Conway, both graduated from FSU in 1970 and have backgrounds in public education.
The two presented letters from noteworthy graduates explaining snapshots of their lives, why they had written about them, and the global impact of FSU graduates in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Berlandi said many of the early graduates - all women who completed their training while the school was still called the Framingham Normal School - were innovators and pioneers in education and social improvement.
She added the influence of these graduates was on a global scale, and that she and Conway learned of women’s involvement in South America, the then-new western United States, and in distant countries, as missionaries, through IAFSA records.
“The IAFSA archives are a treasure trove of information regarding these smart, assertive, and adventurous women who took the lessons that they learned in Framingham to the rest of the world,” she said.
Berlandi added that while many of Framingham Normal School’s attendees may have resembled the stereotypical “schoolmarm” in the late 19th century, some students were very adventurous.
Conway said several letters documented the “Biannual Meeting of 1886,” a meeting which focused on sharing the experiences alumni had while performing missionary work overseas.
Myra Proctor, an 1859 graduate of the Framingham Normal School, became a missionary in Turkey - quickly learning Turkish and later becoming the first principal of a girls’ seminary, he said.
Berlandi added Corinna Shattuck, who graduated in 1871, also spent time in Turkey establishing schools and work communities.
She said Shattuck was credited with saving the lives of over 300 Armenian Christians from massacre in 1895 by providing shelter in both her home and local schoolhouses.
Conway said Susan Hatch, who graduated 1875, wrote to Amelia Davis in 1886, describing the state of work she was doing in South Africa as a missionary.
Conway read some of the letter aloud, which described the young girls as good students, helping teach others to read, as well as a distinction that they had chosen to teach only white students, due to it being not yet “practicable to help both” white and non-white students.
He added Framingham graduates also had significant involvement in Argentina, being hired by Argentinian educator-turned-president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a dedicated follower of Horace Mann and his educational model.
Conway said Horace Mann, who he had met before, had died by the time Sarmiento became president, leading to Sarmiento requesting teachers from Mary Peabody Mann. Several teachers negotiated contracts to teach for the Argentinian government, such as Elizabeth B. Coolidge.
Coolidge, Berlandi said, graduated in 1864 and later wrote negatively of her three years in Argentina. Berlandi said Coolidge criticized the pay, working conditions, and political influence in all aspects of life.
Conway and Berlandi then read letters from women recounting their experiences at Framingham Normal School. One letter described the journey from Chelmsford in a stagecoach as well as the homesickness the writer felt, and another detailed a woman learning to spot Orion from a window on campus with a younger pupil.
The presentation then recapped several alumni of the 1886 Biannual Meeting who did not perform missionary work, sharing where they taught after their education and often their marital status.
Attendees then had opportunities to ask questions of the two archivists about what they discovered in the IAFSA archives, resulting in discussions of race, gender, and religion among the historical graduates.
An attendee asked about how they learned everything, which Berlandi said was done by looking through the IAFSA’s attic and coming upon boxes of historic primary sources.
She added there’s still a lot more to look through, and it’s something the IAFSA would like to spend more time doing.
“I have held in my hand things from 1845,” she said. “How cool is that?”