The Moment

June 1989

Bob Woodworth is collapsing time. It is something he is good at doing. His perception of time-its duration, its passage, its meaning-is informed by his studies of plant growth and development using time-lapse filming. It required recording time in fractions of a second, the brief click of the camera shutter, opening and closing, again and again. Each click is a moment. He is gathering them together and collapsing the days and hours back into seconds.

Click. Bob is testing a film projector in Barn 100. It is his first visit to the newly opened Bennington College. He is presenting "Living Organism-Botanical Movies."

Click. It is two years later. He is leaving his position as curator of the Harvard Botanical Gardens to come to Bennington College.

Click. He's managing the War Farm project. He's in the tilled field, laughing with Martha Hill, holding potato seedlings.

Click. He's building a brooder for 450 chicks.

Click. He's explaining plant nutritions to a class. The chalk is scratching against the slate board.

Click. He's counseling a student.

Click. He's chairing a committee.

Click. He is sharing his favorite bread recipe with two students who are writing a College newspaper article on faculty members' favorite foods.

Click. He is at an executive committee meeting at the Institute for Research in Tropical America.

Click. He's on stage in Commons. It's opening night. He's playing the role of Escartefigue in the play Marseilles by Marcel Pagnol.

Click. He is setting up the camera to document the growth of a sunflower. Helianthus angustifolius.

Click. He is in a faculty meeting, questioning the idea that an introductory course must inherently be considered basic.

Click. He's reviewing building plans for Dickinson.

Click. It's 1976. He's interim president.

Click. He's admiring the sugar maples' red foliage. Acer saccharum.

Click. He's teaching. He is always teaching.

Click. Click. Click. It is 1989. He closes his eyes. Each click is a moment. He has gathered 54 years' worth at Bennington College. Each moment, mundane or exceptional, he gave to Bennington. He is collapsing the moments together. He is watching the wondrous film in his mind.

From the Archive


In his 1941 article entitled, Science Teaching at Bennington College, Robert Woodworth, science faculty member, writes: "The belief predominates [at Bennington College] that science teaching must be educational rather than merely imparting technicalities or training for a job." Woodworth practiced this philosophy in his own classroom-however that classroom took shape. During the 1938 Field Work Term, his "classroom" was held in a boat sailing for Panama; Woodworth and students Margaret Hepburn Perry '40, Dotha Seaverns Welbourn '41, Barbara Willis Heinrich '40, and Marjorie Brown Jump '40 were headed to study tropical botany in the field and bring back specimens for study at Bennington. The Growth and Life History of Panamanian Myxomycete was one student project that evolved from this experience. Woodworth's beautifully written words continue to describe science at Bennington. "Material is adapted to the needs and capacities of individuals and is so planned as to give direction toward continuous development of power. The conviction that the mastery of intricate and laborious technique, although often necessary, is less important than the attempt to approach the truth easily and completely pervades all instruction. The replacement of what claims to be the absolute by probability and the endeavor to measure the probability are common practices. A thorough criticism of the foundations of science is made. Our responsibility in assisting the student in developing an independent philosophy of life is appreciation of the idea that knowledge is not nearly as important as one's constant endeavor to obtain it." Robert Woodworth taught at Bennington College from 1935 through 1989, shaping generations of young minds. His expertise spilled into other areas at Bennington, overseeing the construction of the Dickinson Science Building and the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) center, as well as serving as interim president of the College in 1976. Dr. Woodworth earned a PhD in biological sciences at Harvard University in 1928 and was a curator of the Harvard Botanical Gardens until he joined Bennington in 1935. The Robert H. Woodworth Science Lecture Series was established in his honor. The founding of the lectureship was spearheaded by five alumnae: Edith Stevens Sheldon '43, Susan Hedge Hossfeld '42, Jane Wellington Merrill '40, Dotha Seaverns Welbourn '41, and Rebecca B. Stickney '43.

Reid, John. "Bennington College Looks Again for a New President." The Telegraph Jul. 1976: 10. Print.
"Robert H. Woodworth, Biology Professor, 88." New York Times Dec. 1990. Print.
Woodworth, Robert. "Planning the College Farm." Bennington College Archive. Jan. 1942. Print. ?
Woodworth, Robert. "Planning the College Farm." Bennington College Quarterly Mar. 1943. Print.
Woodworth, Robert, H. "Science Teaching at Bennington College." The Journal of Higher Education Mar. 1941: 129-132. Print.