Martha Ritzman Johnson ‘63, former trustee

"As a girl with only brothers, by the time I left SMS for college, I had acquired eighty sisters. I cried all the way through graduation because I knew I’d never have an experience like St. Mary’s."
I am a member of the class of 1963, 24 strong at graduation. Our senior class picture, taken at the fountain, shows a group of beautiful young women in pastel shirtwaist dresses, a required part of our school uniform. We also had navy blue blazers and grey skirts. No trousers were allowed in class, and our skirt length was measured by kneeling on the floor. If the skirt touched the ground, it was acceptable. If not, back to your room to change. Everyone wore knee socks and Bass Weejun penny loafers. There were five ‘girls’ in the freshman class, and we swelled to 20 in 1960, which is the year I came. I remember sitting sullenly in the back seat of the car as we drove up from Concord, refusing to believe that this would be any kind of a good experience for me. How wrong I was!
 
Mrs. Wells was our dorm mother and we all crowded into Valliant House, a little hike down the hill. I was in a 4 bedroom with Tracey Ober, Janet Pickering and Susie Roters. There were no ‘preference questionnaires’ in those days, we were just alphabetized and I guess the staff hoped for the best...
 
As I think back about the three years I spent there, for some reason I remember fall the most. Possibly because of the gorgeous scenery as we were treated to the beautiful foliage changes, but I remember most the cold, crisp days, mountain climbing, playing soccer on that crazy slanted field (I was an ‘uphill’ fullback), long walks down the road past West Farm. I have a particular memory of such a walk with Barbara McFadden, singing ‘I’ll Sing you one-o, Green Grow the Rushes-o’ all the way through.
 
Every other Wednesday meant we could stride down the long hill to town and then toil back laden with food. Remember those Dobosh Tortes?
 
Fall meant it was time to wear nylon stockings to dinner when snow was first seen on Mt. Washington. It meant our first dance with boy’s schools with the all-powerful social committee pairing us up with usually disasterous blind dates. If a faculty member caught you dancing too closely with a boy, you would be tapped on the shoulder and forced to finish the dance with a broom! We were not allowed to do the Twist. Too suggestive. There was a certain closet in the Science room, however, where a girl could grab a few minutes of privacy with her date ....
 
It meant sitting at meals at our assigned table praying we weren’t at the ‘French’ Table with Madame Raphael - remember those huge rings she wore? During tests she would sneak up behind us and rap us on the head if she saw a wrong answer...It seemed we had Jell-o every night unless it was sheet cake for a birthday. Work jobs might take us into the kitchen for dish team, or to grab a broom and sweep the long corridor down to the classroom wing. We rehearsed for a play, or a modern dance with Kiki Rice, and sang and sang for Mr. Rice. Mr. Zaidi tried to fill our heads with Current Events, and Mr. Doughty, Latin declensions. Mr. Blake taught us religion and read The Hobbit to us.  His licensee plate read 'Bilbo'! Mr. Kilde made me promise never to take another math class if he passed me in Geometry, and Mr. McEwan despaired of my lack of artistic anything. Mr. Steele, our science teacher, was the most beloved faculty member of all as he devoted his life to the school in every way. I can still see him with his funny, bent over walk, heading down the road.
 
Kit Cooke and Gail Snowden were the smartest girls, Janet Mara our best skiier. Ilona got out of the dreaded ski requirement by conviently breaking her leg. There was a ‘bright golden Hayes in the meadow, helped by liberal applications of Marchands Golden Hair Wash. Sukie Todd and I got to live way up in the top of the Main House in the old infirmary for our junior year with the wonderful painted murals an ‘old girl’ had done years before. Other juniors lived in Hill House where we learned to play bridge on Friday nights, Jill Britton taught us to knit sweaters for imaginary boyfriends. I can still see that thick/thin yarn we used with number thirteen needles to make that awful boat-neck sweater pattern. The school owned two movies: ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’, about which I remember nothing, and ‘The Mouse that Roared’ with Peter Sellars. We watched them over and over sitting in the stuffy auditorium on those uncomfortable chairs.
 
One was either a light or a dark blue and because there were no other girls' schools in New Hampshire, we had to play ourselves in sports. I still see the lights dancing together in victory in 1963 as we won the most overall points to claim the right to paint a a light blue "L" on the rock across the playing fields.
 
Tradition was important to us as we were so isolated up in the north country. It seemed that every song had a meaning - ‘Oh do you know Balfour’ we sang, trying to get our class rings out of the seniors....Barbara McFadden got to sing ‘Oh Holy Night’ on our last evening before Xmas break, a coveted prize. To make the octet, as I was lucky enough to do (not too many second altos at our school!), was a great opportunity to be bused to boys’ schools for concerts so we could scope out any future boyfriends. Remember little Bozo Chagnon at New Hampton - short in stature but with a huge, deep voice. And Mike Conforti who stuttered except when he sang?
 
We did ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ with Holderness, Paige Savage was Bianca, and Widdie Iselin and I shared the role of Kate, as we performed the play more than once. Judy West was the tallest girl, and Marge Bullock’s complexion was the envy of every girl in the school..
 
The bliss of skiing at Cannon on Wednesdays and Saturdays is a great memory for most of us. Those powder blue parkas with the school’s name on our shoulder meant we could get into trouble quickly if we were caught cutting the chairlift line.
 
Mr. Mac! A strict disciplanarian - he expelled girls who were caught smoking - but a fair leader who, at least for me, was a mentor through some tough times. Growing up away from home isn’t easy for some of us, and he was always available for good guidance.
 
As a girl with only brothers, by the time I left SMS for college, I had acquired eighty sisters. I cried all the way through graduation because I knew I’d never have an experience like St. Mary’s. Some fifty years later, these are still some of my strongest and happiest memories.
 
- Martha Ritzman Johnson ‘63, former trustee
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THE WHITE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL

371 West Farm Road  •  Bethlehem, New Hampshire 03574  •  603.444.2928
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire,
The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day
school for students grades 9-12/PG.