1905 (before Buffalo Seminary)
Hanging over the fireplace in the Buffalo Seminary library
My classmates in the cafeteria. So 50’s!!!
L. Gertrude Angell was the headmistress when I arrived at The Buffalo Seminary in 1950, just as Jill graduated. Jill, a rebel to her toes, had many run-ins with Miss Angell but secretly I think they both admired each other. She was OLD, in her late 70s or early 80s, in other words, my age now. She had never married and had devoted herself to this school. Her straight back, sensible shoes, and determined step could be seen anywhere and everywhere during the school day. I was somewhat in awe. She presided each morning over chapel, where all 200 students and the faculty gathered to sing hymns. and to be honest not sure what else. I paid little attention, although I enjoyed “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green”. I didn’t know I was singing William Blake.
I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land
Our young voices soared and my bad singing was lost in the chorus. I loved it.
Most days she would read a passage from Santayana, Shakespeare, or Emerson and on special days, she would come out carrying a handful of yellow notepaper. There were yellow slip days. She would read a line, for example Polonius “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”. What do you thing this means, she would ask as she passed around pencils and yellow slips. You have five minutes. Silence as we bent over our slips. Oh to be honored in the next chapel by Miss Angell reading from your very own slip, anonymously, of course! It happened only once to me in the two years she and I overlapped at Sem.
Her other great achievement in my personal life was implanting forever George Santayana’s sonnet “Oh World, though choosest not”
O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
and on the inward vision close the eyes,
but it is wisdom to believe the heart.
To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
is all of science and our only art.
Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
that lights the pathway but one step ahead
across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
by which alone the mortal heart is led
unto the thinking of the thought divine.
Line by line, day after day, she had us, all 200 of us) recite and memorize this poem. It must have meant much to her, so I puzzled over the meaning she found so powerful. I was not then, nor have I ever been, religiously inclined, but I loved learning, and loved beautiful ideas. The concept of knowledge and intellect taking us only so far into the mystery of life and death was clear to me even then. The need for “faith” tripped me up then, but over the years I broadened it to include emotion and intuition, so that I found it altogether satisfying. At no period in my life could I NOT recite the entire poem minus the final line. This line is only now returned to me via my internet search to make sure I had it right. Hmm, the thought divine. Probably that’s why it dropped out of sight.
Miss Angell taught her girls well, even her little Jewish girls.
Learn, learn all you can, but don’t forget your feelings and intuitive sense.
Above all be true to yourself.
And make sure you give back to your community as she did.