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Coed-Deerfield of the Past

I sat at the Tokeneke Club in Darien, Connecticut, sipping a cool iced tea and listening to a conversation between my mother and Lisa Joyce, a fellow member of the club, when my mother told Mrs. Joyce that I attend Deerfield Academy.

Mrs. Joyce became excited and replied, “Why yes! I know all about Deerfield. My mother went there!”

“How could her mother have attended an all-boy’s school?” I thought to myself. Deerfield had been a single-sex school from the early 20th century until the late 1980s.

However, I soon came to learn a remarkable piece of our history—that all faculty children could attend Deerfield, regardless of gender, while Deerfield was an all-male school. This rule stood until 1948.

Mrs. Joyce’s mother, Nancy Anne Palmer, was one of three girls to graduate from DA with the Class of 1948 – four decades before Deerfield returned to co-education.

Ms. Palmer’s mother and father were members of the Deerfield faculty, as they ran the school store. She knew the Boydens well through her parents and held them in high regard. In fact, Ms. Palmer knew them so well that they held a reception for her engagement at their house after she graduated from college.

She lived close to the Deerfield campus in the Sheldon Hawks House with her parents and younger brother, who went on to graduate from DA in 1953.

Ms. Palmer was one of a group of five girls who attended Deerfield in her four years. Two of the girls, Dorothy Helen Grybko and Patricia Kathryn McNerney, were in Ms. Palmer’s class and graduated with her in 1948.

Boys treated Ms. Palmer and the other girls kindly and with respect. “The boys were always polite to my mother,” Ms. Joyce said. “They accepted her into Deerfield life.”

Nonetheless, the boys left the girls to themselves and their own activities. Therefore, the group of five stuck together, and ate their meals in a separate room from the boys.

The girls could not play sports at Deerfield, but they still had quite a few options for co-curriculars. For example, Ms. Palmer acted in the school play all four years. She was also full of school spirit, and she and her friends rooted for all the athletic teams on the weekends. On the weekend, she worked every Saturday at Wilson’s Department Store in Greenfield.

Ms. Palmer thrived academically, and she attended Colby Sawyer Junior College for two years in New London, New Hampshire. Early in her college career at Colby, Mr. Boyden sent her a letter for her excellent grades. She then went on to Simmons College. After finishing school, she worked at Bloomingdale’s.

Ms. Palmer used her Deerfield education later in her life when she became a schoolteacher. She taught for fifteen years. Ms. Palmer valued the education she received at Deerfield more than anything, and realized how fortunate she was to attend such a prestigious school.

“My mom appreciated the academic opportunities Deerfield provided for her and considered herself lucky to be there,” said Ms. Joyce.

Nancy Anne Palmer’s story is a fascinating one. As one of the final girls to graduate from the school in 1948 until the late ’80s, she is quite a significant part of Deerfield’s long and impressive history.

Though her experience is quite different from those of the girls who currently attend Deerfield Academy, Ms. Palmer enjoyed her experience here, and went on to live a wonderful, happy life. She married, had three children, and currently lives in Massachusetts.

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