Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History

Academics

1880-1897

A. Ellen Stanton

Hired by Caroline Cutler Metcalf to teach French in 1871, A. Ellen Stanton thus provided continuity to the Seminary’s successful past, and added a continental elegance by having lived in Paris before arriving in Norton. Although several Trustees did not believe Miss Stanton to be a sufficiently “public Christian,” she was the personal choice of Mrs. Wheaton, who believed her previous experience as a teacher gave her an understanding of the Seminary’s traditions. Former principal Martha Vose Emerson also lobbied for Miss Stanton. On the day the Trustees met in 1880 to vote on Stanton’s candidacy, Mrs. Wheaton donated six annual scholarships for needy students.

Known as stern but fair, students took great pride in Miss Stanton. She was described as a tall and distinguished woman, often wearing trained dresses during the day, and always looking like a “grand, although gracious lady.” She abolished more of the trivial rules, and instituted more self-government among the students. Like Mrs. Metcalf, Stanton gathered able and scholarly teachers, such as Julia Osgood (Art), Clara Pike (Natural Sciences), and Elizabeth Palmer (Classics). Miss Stanton herself taught Mental and Moral Science, as well as Butler’s Analogy while principal. During her tenure, the Alumnae Association, founded in 1870, increased in membership and influence, After many years of lobbying, the Trustees finally admitted alumnae, its first female members, to the Board in 1896.

Stanton maintained a close friendship with Mrs. Wheaton, visiting in her home nearly every day, and traveling with her to the Isles of Shoals, the mountains of New Hampshire, and other locations during the hot summer months. On Mrs. Wheaton’s 80th birthday, 27 September 1889, Miss Stanton and the students arranged a “Fete Day” in her honor, which has been celebrated as Founders Day every since. It was thus a blow to Mrs. Wheaton when Miss Stanton resigned in 1897.

The 1890s was a decade of change in women’s higher education. Increasing numbers of public high schools opened (Norton’s opened in 1900); BA-degree granting colleges for women were opening, such as Radcliffe, Pembroke, and Smith; and schools founded as seminaries, such as Mount Holyoke, were adopting college status. Wheaton’s enrollment declined precipitously, which resulted in a financial drain on Mrs. Wheaton, who financed all maintenance and construction as well as making annual gifts to cover each year’s operating deficit. In 1895, the Trustees voted to add a college-preparatory course to the seminary curriculum, apparently headed in the same direction as many other long-established schools for women, such as Troy and Abbott academies. Miss Stanton probably realized that she was not the person to take the seminary forward into the unknown future of women’s education. Her resignation in 1896, postponed at the Trustees’ request until 1897, precipitated a major change in direction for Wheaton Seminary.

In recognition of all her work, Stanton Hall was named in her honor.

Mrs. Stanton not able to attend dedication of Stanton Hall, but wrote of it later: "Last year just about Christmas time a 'Happy Thought' was sent to me from Wheaton College, which brightened the season and caused me great happiness; to think that my name was to become a permanency where I had spent so many delightful years of my life was indeed a most happy thought to me that could not have been enhanced had I been offered a position in that other 'Temple of Fame', now, perhaps, better known to the world at large." (Shepard, p.235-6)

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