June 13, 2022 — For the Northfield School for Girls Class of 1971, this year’s reunion weekend was an especially meaningful one — and not just because it was an opportunity to gather for an in-person celebration of the 50th anniversary of their graduation, a celebration that had been delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s reunion was also an opportunity for the Class of 1971 to honor its beloved former campus in a tangible way: On June 4, members of that class and alumnae from other years gathered for an unveiling of a plaque that honors the Northfield campus and its students and the important role they play in the history of what is now Northfield Mount Hermon.
“From 1897 to 1971, this beautiful campus was a girls' secondary school,” reads the plaque, which includes a photo of the 11 women who made up Northfield’s first graduating class, in 1884. “Northfield Seminary, founded by evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, welcomed racially and ethnically diverse students. Over 92 years, almost 20,000 young women, many from humble backgrounds, benefitted from teachers who shared Moody’s commitment to the education of the head, heart, and hand.”
The idea for the marker was born a year ago, during a Zoom gathering of the Class of 1971, said Leigh Hansen, the class reunion chair. That cohort was the last to graduate from the all-girls’ Northfield school, which the next year merged with Mount Hermon, the all-boys’ school founded by Moody in 1881 just a few miles away. For many years, the new Northfield Mount Hermon school continued to occupy both campuses, with students traveling between the two. But in 2004, the school’s Board of Directors made the difficult decision to consolidate the school on the Mount Hermon campus, selling off the Northfield property.
The move hit many Northfield alumnae hard. “That was our home,” Hansen said. “We were sisters. That was our family. To lose that was difficult.” The idea of a sign on their old campus quickly caught fire with members of the Class of 1971, she said. A group of organizers put together a proposal that was warmly embraced by Stace Hagenbaugh, NMH’s director of alumni relations. And while the alumnae were ready to fund the sign themselves — indeed, they raised about half of the cost before they even took the campaign public — NMH leadership informed them that the school was happy to pay for the marker. “It brought me to tears that the school recognized how important this is,” Hansen said.
The sign stands on the site of Moody’s homestead, on property now owned by the D.L. Moody Center, a faith-based nonprofit organization that honors the legacy of the school’s founder. The majority of the former Northfield campus is owned by Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic liberal arts school that occupies many of the old campus buildings.
During reunion weekend, both institutions welcomed Northfield alumnae, with the college offering campus tours and the Moody Center opening the former Hibbard dormitory for reunion housing. Patrick Ford, a representative of Thomas Aquinas, and Julia Wiggin, director of operations at the Moody Center, both spoke at the plaque’s unveiling about their organizations’ commitments to honoring the property’s legacy. “We are very grateful and very proud to be taking part in this wonderful tradition,” Ford said.
The chance to explore the campus and connect with its current occupants was especially meaningful to Virginia (Ginne) Rice Roscioli ’71, who recalled how hard it was to hear the news that the property had been sold. “Now to see it in good hands and in good shape is heartwarming,” she said. “It’s wonderful that we can come back and see it and utilize it.”
Like many alumnae, Claudia Istel ‘71 spent the weekend traveling between the two campuses to attend reunion events. But she was grateful, she said, for the chance to end each day at the place that was her home through high school. “How wonderful it is to be on campus and to stay in Hibbard and to wake up here.”
At the unveiling, NMH Head of School Brian Hargrove spoke about the importance of Northfield and its campus in NMH’s legacy and acknowledged the feelings of alumnae when the property was sold. “I cannot begin to imagine the pain of saying goodbye to this place,” he said. The sign, he added, is just a start; NMH is ready to do more to recognize Northfield and its alumnae, including with a sign on the Northfield Mount Hermon campus.
“This is just the beginning of a much-deserved and continued recognition of this beautiful place,” Hagenbaugh said. “This is your place. It may have a different name now, but it will always be yours.”
For Hansen — whose mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother all attended Northfield before her — the reunion weekend was an opportunity for alumnae to reinforce their connections with this special place. “Universally, we all left feeling great, feeling a sense of peace, of closeness, of healing,” she said. “And, most important, a sense that the campus we love is under good stewardship, with the college and the Moody Center. ... The fact that the properties are still being used for education, with a foundation of faith, is very comforting to us.”