Children of Light, Friends Seminary 1786-1986 by Nancy Gibbs ’77. This invaluable history of the school sprang from a happy coincidence: Joyce McCray’s tenure as principal at the time of the bicentennial of the school and the availability of such a promising young writer and alum as Nancy Gibbs. I doubt that any one of her all male predecessors had Joyce’s keen sense of occasion. The celebration was marked by a cantata, a book of faculty essays, a magnificent quilt, and of course a commissioned history of the institution. When I mentioned at Joyce’s retirement party that the school’s bicentennial had more regalia that the bicentennial of the French Revolution, I got a laugh. But I think everyone knew I was just telling the truth.
I cannot imagine that many institutions have a written history of this quality. It is the story of a school but rooted in the context of a changing city, country, even world. The book discloses a school that strengthens, faulters, reinvigorates itself and veers off in new directions as forces from without and leadership from within impact its course. After all, it came into being in a very young country and from its hallowed halls (actually a succession of hallowed halls) looked out at all the events of two centuries, from the early days when New York was the country’s capital to the Civil War to the civil rights movement to Vietnam, from a particular vantage point.
Toward the end of the book Nancy states that from this point on the book is a narrative and not a history. This is the part that exists in the living memories of many people (including me). We had an upheaval in the school in the seventies when a new principal was hired. Everyone in the school was entangled in the controversy. I can only say that Nancy’s description of those times was dispassionate and evenhanded. I think that those who were there, regardless of their position in the conflict, would admire her fairness.
I feel privileged to have a signed copy of the book.