The Dana Hall campus has been dog-friendly from its earliest days. Seven of our eleven Heads of School (eight of twelve if you count the Eastmans twice) are known to have dogs in their families, and faculty, students, and classes have included these beloved animals (both real and artificial) into the daily life of the school for its entire 140-year history.
Julia and Sarah Eastman, the first principals, owned and led the school from 1881-1899. Both sisters were very fond of dogs, and we have records that quite a few canines knew 66 Grove Street as home during the Eastman era.
The first was “Shot,” a water spaniel who, according to teacher Katharine Lee Bates, sat demurely with his paw on Miss Sarah’s lap during daily worship services, but as soon as the prayers had ended, would bolt out the door to visit a neighbor’s chickens.
His successor in the Eastman household was “Donald” whose indoor behavior was less polite; he barked loudly when he’d had enough of prayers. Nonetheless, a heartfelt eulogy for him is found in the January 1891 issue of the first school newspaper, The Bonbonniere, and an image from an engraving of “Don” was on each Dana Hall bank check written for several decades.
An article in The Bonbonniere of April 1891 notes that “Laddie MacGregor has delighted everyone with his beautiful and winsome ways” and ends with the “wish…that he may excel even Donald in virtues and graces.” His absence at the beginning of the 1892-1893 school year was lamented in the October issue: “Long will his memory be kept fresh in the hearts of his friends.” But the January 1893 issue notes a new dog, “Hector,” enjoying the snow, and taking “long walks with the girls.”
The list of known Eastman dogs ends with “Cardigan,” photographed in 1896 sitting next to and holding “hands” with Miss Sarah on the steps of Dana Main. Unfortunately The Bonbonniere, a reliable source of canine information, ceased publication at the end of 1893, but we suspect Miss Julia and Miss Sarah may have continued to adopt furry family members when they moved to Orchard House on Denton Circle in 1899.
We know little about the Great Danes photographed with Helen Temple Cooke circa 1902, except that their names were “Danae” and “Dana I”. According to The Tattler 1902 (the first Dana Hall yearbook), “Danae” had only recently been acquired, while “Dana I”, who came from Montebello Kennels, had won multiple prizes at a recent dog show.
Dogs were often present as class mascots on Field Days, an annual Spring athletic competition that began in 1903. Classes competed for trophies in various sports and drills, and often posed in their uniforms with a class banner, honorary faculty class member, children, and dogs. All of those elements can be seen in a 1907 Field Day photo, with a costumed Boston terrier bulldog in the front row.
Miss Theodora “Theoda” Bush, Director of Physical Education at Dana Hall from 1913 to 1938, shared a home at 32 Denton Road with Miss Florence Johnson and a series of dogs. Miss Johnson taught Latin starting in 1921 and was Department Head from 1928 to 1938. The dogs were of various smaller breeds and bore the names “Ginger,” “Puck,” “Mittens,” and “Merry Christmas.”
The Archives is not aware of any dogs that shared Orchard House with Alnah James Johnston, who became Dana Hall’s third principal in 1938 and served until 1962. Mrs. Johnston’s early years were times of frugality, war, rationing, and reduced faculty salaries. A pet to be cared for was likely considered an unnecessary expense at a time when the school needed funds to construct new campus buildings. But despite the absence of a live First Dog, for a period of time in the 1950s a floppy-eared and docked-tail stuffed toy named “Classy” was coveted, competed for, and sometimes abducted. The two varsity mascots named “Herby” came out for athletics games and team photos, but possession of “Classy” was an informal competition amongst the sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Whichever class had hold of him promptly crowned him with their class beanie. The 1957 Focus is full of line drawings of a cartoon “Classy” in various school roles, and of course, his/her beanie is red, the Senior class color. The 1956 Focus includes a rare photo of “Classy.”
One of the most well-known and widely-loved Dana First Dogs was “Posie,” who moved into Grove House in the summer of1963 with new Principal Edith “Edie” B. Phelps and her three teenage daughters. Posie became a ubiquitous presence on campus and contributed to the less formal atmosphere during the Sixties and beyond. When asked what breed Posie was, Mrs. Phelps happily pronounced her devoted companion “pure mutt.” The Archives has photographs of Posie helping out with carpet installation in Grove House, attending Class Day ceremonies, on stage at graduation, and aboard a bus in January 1970 with members of the Classes of 1970 and 1971 bound for Saint Paul’s School. Posie was present at so many all-school functions, faculty meetings, and graduations she was deemed worthy in 1973 of a diploma and membership in the Cum Laude Society. A beautiful full-page portrait of her toward the back of the 1973 Focus preserves her memory for those who loved her, as Posie died that fall at age 14. The obituary in the December Dana Hall Bulletin, written by Head of Studies (and Posie’s “Godmother”) Dorothy Maynard, declared her “the most intelligent, friendly, lovable dog I have ever known.”
We believe from a portrait of Headmistress Elaine W. Betts (Dana Hall, 1984-1995) that the next canine occupant of Grove House was big, beautiful and apparently very devoted dog by the name of “Baron,” possibly a Saint Bernard.
Mrs. Betts was succeeded by Blair H. Jenkins (Dana Hall Head of School, 1995-2008), who lived in Grove House with her husband Steve, a member of the Latin and Mathematics faculty, and their standard poodle, “Casey.”
In 2008, the Erisman-Silberstein family came to campus with their two Havanese dogs, a male named “Smokey,” and a younger female named “Bunny.” Former Head of School Caroline Erisman recounts that the move from a 6th floor apartment in New York City to Grove House was a bit of an adjustment for the normally mellow pair because of the nearby sounds of people and cars. For a time, Ms. Erisman could hear the barking as she worked in her office. Eventually the pups adjusted and they grew to love walking around the campus, meeting people and other dogs, and playing in the grass. Ms. Erisman led Dana Hall as Head of School until July 2016.
That summer the Bradley-McCracken family moved in, and Katherine L. Bradley became Dana Hall’s eleventh Head of School. In the fall the family adopted a sweet, playful, and friendly Golden Retriever puppy and named him “Apollo.” He is a beloved and familiar presence on campus, and the latest in the long line of loyal canine companions to hold the title of Dana Hall First Dog.
The Bonbonniere. Issues from January 1891, April 1891, October 1891, and January 1893. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives, Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
Erisman, Caroline K. “Re: Dana Dogs.” Received by Liz Gray, 1 October 2021.
The Dana Hall Association Quarterly, Vol. 24, no. 2 (February 1928), pp. 8-9. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives. Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
The Dana Hall Association Quarterly, Vol. XXXVII, no. 1 (November 1938), pp. 10-11. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives. Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
The Dana Hall Bulletin, Vol. 35, no. 3 (December 1973).
George, Tamsen 1958. “Re: Classy.” Received by Dorothy DeSimone, 30 September 2021.
Focus 1956, 1957, 1973. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives. Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
Jenkins, Blair H. “Re: Casey and Steve.” Received by Liz Gray, 29 September 2021.
Post, Winifred Lowry. Purpose and Personality : the story of Dana Hall. Dana Hall School, 1978.
Senior Class Books 1923 and 1927. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives. Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
The Tattler 1902. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives. Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.
Photographs are from the Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives collections.
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