The Moment



August 1924

William Kilpatrick is ready to begin. The temperature in the Hall Farm House is already rising. Built in 1779 by the family of former Vermont Governor Hiland Hall, whatever cracks and gaps allow the harsh Vermont winds to cut through the farmhouse in the winter do nothing to release the summer heat. The servants open windows but the house is packed with people and the day's temperature will eventually reach a humid 86 degrees. The fact that "Professor Kilpatrick opened the conference before the arrival of the stenographer" is curtly noted in the minutes by the jilted stenographer. Kilpatrick's role is to moderate the marathon two-and-one-half-day conference. He acknowledges that his role as moderator should be one of guided diplomacy and says he will try not to talk too much. The 356 pages of minutes serve as evidence that he succeed adroitly in the former while thankfully failing in the latter.

Edith McCullough understands his impatience to begin and also feels the excited urgency of the task. She was introduced to Kilpatrick by her Manhattan neighbor, the commissioner of education, while searching for educators to work on the idea of a progressive college for women in Bennington. She was immediately taken with Kilpatrick's writings and talks. She described teaching her children geography by taking them to the East River to track the departures of ships and was delighted when Kilpatrick told her that "was really the Project Method."

In addition to Kilpatrick's role as moderator he is also to deliver the last speech of the conference. He doesn't have a commanding stage presence-he's five feet, seven inches with narrow shoulders-but he has a pleasing Georgian accent with a captivating pace and cadence. He ends his speech saying, "We have a wonderful chance, and this college that starts in this new way and hour is going to found itself on the best that is known now....and we are going to insist that the curriculum takes hold of life, life, the present life...in order that we may make them see it better; life as they value it, in order that we may make them value themselves better; life, that they may select more wisely; life, in order that they better understand and appreciate it. This is the vision we see and the possibility we see here for the new college at Bennington." He is a persuasive speaker. Perhaps he even won over the stenographer, who recorded "Prolonged Applause" after his speech in the minutes.

From the Archive

Biography

In 1924, Edith McCullough, chairman of the board of trustees, prominent North Bennington resident, and one of the founders of Bennington College enlisted the expertise of William Kilpatrick of Columbia Teacher's College to bring a progressive women's college to Bennington. McCullough had experienced firsthand, the "grim and meager" sampling available when researching colleges for her children. "When I entered our oldest daughter in college in 1920, the first woman in both our families to receive a college education, I told the Dean of my excitement. The Dean said, 'This is nothing to be excited about. It is just sheer grind.'" Kilpatrick, however, was a different kind of educator, full of enthusiasm and Deweyan ideas. After an organizational meeting at New York City's Colony Club (1924), McCullough called Kilpatrick's remarks on women's education "scintillating." "Women have reached a position where a different education is required for their living, different from the old curriculum provided for men...[they] have reached a position equal to men and should be able to take the same curriculum." Certainly this was innovative talk for 1924. Known as the "teacher of teachers," and one of the "moving spirits" for Bennington, Kilpatrick's name is woven throughout its history. He encouraged the College founders to seek the best progressive thought available and debate new educational theories. "It will be a serious thoughtful effort to improve methods and conditions in college work. Heretofore, we have had to confine our ideas and improvements to the lesser schools. Traditions and vested interests generally make it impossible to make changes in the colleges already established. But this will be a chance such as does not come in generations. I feel that it will be a matter of tremendous importance." Kilpatrick served on the board of trustees at Bennington. He received honorary LLD degrees from Mercer University in 1926; Columbia University in 1929; and Bennington College in 1938; the honorary DHL degree from the College of Jewish Studies in 1952; and the Brandeis Award for humanitarian service in 1953. In 2014, Bennington College established a fellowship program for graduating seniors in honor of William Heard Kilpatrick. The Kilpatrick Fellows work in key areas of the College's administration and receive professional mentorship throughout the year-long program and a broad exposure to a career in higher education and nonprofit management.

Sources:
"Kilpatrick Urges Freer Education." New York Times 10 Aug. 1937: 22. Print.
"New Woman's College Unlike All Others." New York Times Apr. 1924. Print.
Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930's. New York: Knopf, 2011. Print.