For some people, Wheaton is “in the genes”
It was crunch time—spring semester, senior year. As a theatre major in the Class of 2005, Abigail (“Abby”) Russell was busy researching and writing the script for her original thesis performance, and feeling stressed. Then one night during review week, Abby looked up from her table in the library to a comforting sight: both her grandmother’s and her great-grandmother’s class flags, hanging in the atrium.
“It was like they were giving me a little boost of encouragement from the past!” Abby remembers.
Though many decades had passed since Abby’s great-grandmother, Marguerite Mayberry Temple ’12, and her grandmother, Marguerite Temple Russell ’43, studied at Wheaton, in that moment she felt their reassuring presence.
The Russells are one of hundreds of families who have made Wheaton a family tradition, sending two or more of their own to the college through the years. Some “legacy students” have a Wheaton lineage dating back to the 19th century. Others have followed in the fresher footsteps of a mother, aunt or sibling. All have a special connection to the college and to each other.
That moment in the library became one of Abby Russell’s fondest memories from a Wheaton education she now treasures—though she almost went to college elsewhere.
“I had firmly decided on a theatre conservatory education,” she says, “but I applied to Wheaton because I had liked visiting there with my grandmother when I was growing up. When the time came to choose, I felt that Wheaton would allow me to discover more than a B.F.A. program would—and it did!”
Like so many Wheaton grads, Abby found that studying her specialty area within a liberal arts context prepared her well for her chosen work. Now living in Boston, she runs the drama program at Notre Dame Academy, a girls’ high school in Hingham, Mass. She also works as a freelance theatre director in the metro Boston area.
Abby’s grandmother Marguerite Temple Russell remembers the first time she saw Wheaton, when she was 14 years old. Her alumna mother had recommended the college to her, but Marguerite resisted.
“In your teens you want to strike out on your own,” she says. “I was so uncooperative. Then Wheaton had its centennial celebration [in June 1935], and one of my best friends, who had a relative at the college, invited me to come. My mother took us both, and I just fell in love with Wheaton. I never applied anywhere else.”
Marguerite attended Wheaton during World War II, and even sleepy Norton, Mass., felt the war’s impact. On campus, faculty members cultivated “Victory Gardens,” and blackouts plunged the community into darkness.
“We took the blackouts very seriously,” she recalls. “There was a staging area nearby [Camp Miles Standish] from which men were shipped overseas, and that gave us a great opportunity for dances. And we had some strange meals, because meat was rationed. One time they served us peanut butter soup!”
Marguerite says she had “a wonderful experience at Wheaton. I was a psychology major, and the department was truly remarkable.” After graduation, she joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), married Daniel Russell and had three children. In 1962, she earned her master’s of education and became an elementary school teacher. When the time came for her granddaughter to choose a college, she wholly recommended Wheaton.
As the college celebrates its 176th Commencement, the legacy tradition is going strong. About 50 members of the Class of 2011, or roughly 13 percent of the graduates, have relatives who attended Wheaton before them. Here are a few of their stories.
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Archive photos / Marion B. Gebbie Archives