Kirkland College
Table of Contents

I went to a wonderful college in upstate New York. It was the sister school to a very prestigious men’s liberal arts college. It only survived 10 years but I always saw the men’s school as the poor little brother rather than the other way around. Kirkland College was a glorious experiment in education built by Hamilton College in 1968. It fostered creativity, deep thought, personal responsibility and a commitment to serious academic and artistic work. Kirkland College’s graduates are vital, active, sharp-as-tacks, curious women and certainly in part because of the story of Kirkland, have held onto their commitment to the issues facing women. Kirkland’s creativity and rebellious nature was always a thorn in the side of Hamilton College. Hamilton College swallowed up Kirkland in 1978.

Our two institutions were starkly different. Kirkland’s angular, cement and primary color buildings were the visual shout that Kirkland was new and different from the stately Georgian buildings of Hamilton. Kirkland’s curriculum was student based. We devised our own concentrations, we had no grades, no exams. Hamilton’s coursework was traditional in contrast and reality. This was a time when women were knocking on glass ceilings that my daughter’s generation cannot imagine. Kirkland women who took biology at Hamilton were told that women did not belong in science or medicine.

Hamilton men called us Kirkies. We were considered flaky artsy hippies. Hamilton men tended toward the pre-law and pre-med, and the consuming of large quantities of alcohol. The fraternity system was a substantial part of Hamiton's social life. Kirkland had no sororities. But, Kirkland’s short vibrant life attracted some men to Hamilton who would have preferred to enroll at Kirkland and perhaps some women who would have preferred to enroll at Hamilton (although I don’t know of any). Hamilton’s conservative students and Kirkland’s liberal ones challenged and balanced each other forcing us to find ways to listen to each other and coexist. The administrations were, unfortunately, not so successful. The Hamilton administration, behaving as the Republicans currently in the Senate, chose to shut Kirkland down rather than to find a way to work with Kirkland.

The demise of Kirkland was heartbreaking to everyone Kirkland, including alumni and staff. This was a beautiful and idealistic college populated with dedicated and deeply caring, creative and energetic people. Hamilton was shocked at what they created and was unable to see its beauty. It was a terrible thing for Hamilton to feel compelled to destroy its rebellious child.

—Jean McGavin
Bethlehem, CT 2010

Winter Study

I was a big fan of Winter Study at Kirkland. I transferred to Kirkland after my freshman year so I was not able to enjoy all 4 years of Winter Study. I spent my first of 3 winters on the hill studying piano, the second learning how to make pottery and my third year working on my Senior Project. These Januarys spent on the hill were peaceful times. This was a month of focus on one endeavor during a period of intense cold and wintry stillness. The season, in offering diminished incentive to spend time outdoors, afforded more pleasure in the pursuit of quiet contemplative focus.

Studying piano was an odd endeavor. I was not a pianist. I had studied a few years as a child and had played a bit over the years. I wanted to get in a concerted and intense amount of playing to push me to a new level of playing and I was able to do that. It was rewarding and focused and I thoroughly enjoyed this. I enjoyed the quiet, the intensity and the fact that the campus was not so busy. Without the full student population, social pressures and options were diminished creating a peaceful, contemplative environment.

The month I spent learning pottery under the tutelage of my sophomore roommate, Jane McAllister, was cursed by both the natural and the political climate. It was January 1975. We were in the throws of a desperately cold winter and in spite of Kirkland’s snow-belt location, this was a new level of cold. Temperatures dropped below zero with negative double digit wind-chills for a good stretch. Car batteries across the parking lots died. We learned to cover our faces, and never go outside without hats and gloves – but we did go outside. Additionally, the cost of oil had increased world-wide and, in response, Kirkland was conserving heat. I recall that the thermostats were to be kept very low. The pottery studio was very cold. In order to make pots I had to keep the clay wet and that meant keeping my hands wet. We worked with a bowl of water next to the wheel and we used the water to dampen the clay and keep it malleable. With the studio so cold it was impossible to keep the water and the clay warm. My hands were cold and horribly chapped and making pots became a labor, of not much love. Nonetheless, I still look back on this fondly.

There were no house parties during Winter Study. As I recall, no Steak Nite, no crowds at at the Rock. It was quiet, still, but with enough people on campus to have plenty of companionship. The days of Winter Study were enhanced, ivory tower college days - days of luxurious self-indulgence, peace, contemplation and freedom. Looking back, I don’t miss the house parties, the Rock, the social life. I miss the stillness of winter, the faculty, the art and dance studios. I miss Root Glen, the dorms. I miss the old hockey stadium – remember the old unheated one at Hamilton? I miss the first sunny Spring days when all of a sudden everyone was smiling. I miss the doughnuts cooking all night at the bakery in Clinton. I miss the warm confidence of Sam Babbitt. I miss Esther Barrazone and David Miller. I miss the moment Bill Salzillo told me “you draw very well” and I shot him a dirty look because I thought he was teasing me, when in reality he was not. I miss traying down College Hill Road. I miss Frisbee games, bagpipes, open mics and the heady confidence of being 20 among adults who told us that our ideas mattered. One day I was stuck on an art history paper. I felt I had nothing to say about Ingres that hadn’t already been said. I went to see my professor, Ralph Lieberman. He told me that no one will say what I have to say in the way that I will say it. He instilled in me that idea that each of us has a distinct and significant view and expression which makes our output unique. I held this notion like a talisman and have taught it to my children and I trust they will take this bit of Kirkland and teach it to their children. Our ideas mattered and perhaps in retrospect, in thinking about Winter Study, that is what bubbles to the surface – that it wasn’t the study or the snow or the campus, but that notion that our ideas mattered that Winter Study helped to cement in our present and our futures.

Jean McGavin
Bethlehem, CT 2011

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