When you're nineteen or twenty and living in a college dorm in western Massachusetts life is beautiful. Especially in the morning. There's something about a New England morning that feels like a new beginning. If you're in the country, that's even more true.
So today, when I received my "Happy Mountain Day" message, I found myself hurtling back to those mornings- once a year - when the fall foliage was at its best and mid-terms were coming, when we'd awaken to the sound of bells and know it was Mountain Day. Classes were canceled, box lunches were waiting in the dorm dining rooms, and the day was ours. The idea was that we take our bicycles or the bus or someone's car and go see what a New England autumn was all about.
Smith College was way before its time in many ways: educating women, educating the whole person (maintaining a healthy body AND a healthy mind), advocating for an equal role for all of us. It's no accident that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan along with Julia Child, Molly Ivins, Jane Harman, Madeleine l'Engle and hundreds of other remarkable women studied there.
You didn't teach at Smith to get famous or publish best-sellers. University professors got the attention, even though those who taught us were certainly as knowledgeable. Somehow though, people who taught "girls" were considered lesser beings. Of course there were rewards: eager, grateful students who reveled in learning and arguing and growing toward success, students who returned to say thank-you, and a lovely, civilized environment. When we wanted to start an African-American studies curriculum, we just found a professor who was willing to supervise us, and we had one. Faculty members were expected to come to dinner when they were invited, and eat with a table of curious underclasswomen. We spent enormous amounts of time hanging around with professors, and one another, figuring out everything from the meaning of pacifism to the puzzles that were Stan Brakhage films.
As women, we formed a sisterhood that lasts. Meet another "Smithie" and there's a bond - a grateful understanding of what we've shared. I know that happens in lots of schools, but women's colleges have a special understanding - because we made a choice to study with one another in a specific environment that enriched and strengthened us.
And Mountain Day? Well, think about it. Seasons, beauty, nature, a sense of priorities, self-education, fun, friendship. All enhanced by ringing bells, box lunches and the oranges, reds and yellows of a New England fall. Reminding all the ambitious, capable and very busy women who came to and left to remember, as they moved forward, to ring the bell once in a while, go outside and look at the leaves.