March 2019 BREARLEY TAUGHT ME TO ADVOCATE FOR WHAT I BELIEVE IN. I am always the one who stands up, isn’t afraid to say what I think, advocates for my beliefs regardless of what the popular opinion may be and does it regardless of what the backlash is. Recently, I did it in my own small town in New Jersey at a Board of Education meeting where what I was saying was completely unpopular and I knew the room was against me before I even walked in the door. I have always wondered why I don’t think twice before doing it nor regret it. The answer is very simple: My Brearley education and the teachers we had as role models. Brearley taught us not to be dainty women, but to be strong thinkers with opinions who were not afraid to speak them, and speak them we did. When divesting Brearley’s investments in companies doing business in South Africa was important to us, we sang “Bread and Roses,” taught to us by the feisty Ms. Leonard, and staged a protest in the lobby of 610. When some of us wanted to take our feelings about this to the streets, we convinced members of the History Department to take us to a rally (with parent-signed permission slips, of course). We were taught to speak up for what we believed in, but if we were going to do it, it had to be face-to-face and we had to own up to our words. If we had a complaint, we were expected to walk into Mrs. Halpert’s, the Middle or Upper School offices and have respectful discussion about it.
In 2014, my husband and I opened Lolo’s Seafood Shack in Harlem. The restaurant industry still remains male-dominated, and it’s especially interesting being part of it as a wife and husband team. We each had separate successful careers, and we continually draw from our backgrounds to bring out the best in each other, but often in public I’m perceived as the “wife behind the chef.” No matter, I know where I really stand, and I attribute that conviction to my years at Brearley where it went beyond that we didn’t have to compare ourselves to boys. I learned to be a person who has to live up to my standards, not to measure myself by other people’s. When women—when anyone—focuses like that, they tend to far exceed everyone’s expectations. Especially their own.
Laurie Wetterschneider ‘74
I started Brearley as a first grader. In 1973 I went to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona for a summer session. Thanks to Brearley my grades were high enough that the UofA accepted me as a freshman that fall. It was Miss Mitchell who told my parents they should let me stay in Arizona, thus not finishing my senior year at Brearley. In September of 1975 I graduated from UofA with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Television. Were it not for the amazing education that I received at Brearley, I would not have been able to complete college in two years. I have made my home in Arizona and thankfully my family visit frequently! I was the first woman owner-manager of radio stations in Tucson.
In 2016 I was chosen as the Luncheon Honoree for the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona for my philanthropy. It was recently announced that my parents, husband and I are receiving the Click For Kids Award from Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, which recognizes one person, couple or organization that have made a substantial impact on the kids at the clubs over a significant period of time. I have served on the Board for almost three decades, and with the support of my husband and parents I have raised millions of dollars to support the six Tucson clubhouses.
January 2019 I came to Brearley “late”—in Class V, after all kinds of crucial early education and interactions had taken place. I came from a Friends school and I didn’t know how to curtsy (Quakers can take the blame) or do math (perhaps they are not implicated there) or behave in an elevator. Fifth grade was not a picnic. But friends I made at Brearley over the next seven years, both students and teachers, are still in my heart and my life. Comparing notes over lunch with Mrs. T years after we graduated, a couple of us agreed that the indelible, universal legacy of a Brearley education is grammar nerddom, a near-anaphylactic response to the abuse of the quotation mark or some similar sin. But I also learned to write there, to read beyond my grade level, and to have high expectations of both students and teachers. I arrived in college stunned to find out that deadlines had workarounds (they called them “extensions,”) and that women hesitated to raise their hands if they knew the answer—or had a question. As a writer, a teacher, a parent, a student, a friend, and a reader, I carry it all with me still.
Diane Paulus '84
When you go to Brearley, you are given this incredible gift, this empowerment to speak up and express yourself, this feeling that, as a woman, you can do or be anything that you want and change the world in the process. I’ll never forget the all-female, Brearley girl-only version of Hay Fever that we did, and which epitomized Brearley for me: “Sure, we can do an all-girl Noel Coward! We can act beyond our age and transmit ourselves into other people, male or female.” Going to B-Deck and being in that auditorium was really the heartbeat of my life at Brearley.
My thirteen years here were a bedrock for me. The confidence I developed—to have a voice—is something that I think has been instrumental to my life now as a professional director, and as a leader of a theater.
Aly Gibson '04
November 2018 When I recently skipped out of work early to grab coffee with Mrs. Rostow, my colleague exclaimed incredulously, “You still talk to your high school English teacher?!” At that moment, it struck me as unique and special that I still cherish my relationship with the woman who fostered in me a love of literature and writing. Some of my most memorable experiences at Brearley took place in Mrs. Rostow’s classroom: memorizing The Canterbury Tales (which my sister and I whip out on occasion!), exploring gender imagery in my essay about A Passage to India, and discussing ethics while reading King Lear. These experiences not only inspired me to study English in college, but also to pursue a career in storytelling as a marketer for YouTube. I’m grateful to have come of age in an environment that encouraged me to nurture these interests, and to have had passionate teachers who are now lifelong friends.
Olivia Harris '10
October 2018 I joined Brearley in Class VIII, young for my grade at 12 years old, coming from East New York, Brooklyn. For a long time, I thought that being a Brearley Girl was about being a mythical creature. Mehitabel would be a quiet bookworm with a biting wit. I was not. I was loud and sang in the hallways incessantly, and laughed a lot. But somehow, in college I found that Brearley had prepared me in ways that I could never have imagined. Brearley taught me the importance of caring about the world beyond ourselves and the strength to hold the world and myself accountable. Brearley women out in the world are fearless! Coming back to 610 to work in the Technology Department (2014–2016) helped me to see how brilliant, funny and absolutely original the girls are. Brearley girls led the change in increasing awareness around social justice issues. It brought tears to my eyes watching the girls spearhead conversations with faculty with grace and determination. Though they may not see it yet, Brearley women are incredible forces.
Elaine Bennett '77
Yesterday I explained to the author I'm ghostwriting for why I want to set up our first chapter as I do. In mid-sentence I realized that advice came straight from a conversation with my Class XI history teacher about a paper I'd written. That's what makes me a Brearley Girl. The six years I spent there changed me, yes. But Brearley continues to inform and enrich my life in ways I don't even realize. I learned not just HOW to write but WHY writing matters, and how to make it matter more. I learned to read critically. And I learned I could hold my own in a world of extraordinarily gifted women and girls. To paraphrase that great philosopher Dorothy Gale, "There's no place like Brearley; there's no place like Brearley..." No matter how many times I repeat that and click my heels together, I'm never transported back to East 83rd Street. But I don't need to be there physically; Brearley lives inside me. And isn't that the point?
Samara Epstein Cohen ‘88
The summer after I graduated from Brearley, I received my BC Calculus AP score in the mail and, separately, a note from my calculus teacher, Judy Conant. She congratulated me, told me she was proud of me and hoped I would continue to bring math into my life after high school. At the time I was pleased—Miss Conant was a teacher who could be quite intimidating in the classroom and her praise was unexpected and flattering. I didn’t realize, though, how profoundly her support would impact me.
I started freshman year with the intention of never taking another math class—thanks to my calculus score I received enough college credit that I didn’t need more math. I found, to my great surprise, that I missed the satisfaction of solving a complicated problem with numbers. It turned out that not only was I pretty good at math, but I actually liked it.
June 2018 After college, as a Teach for America corps member in inner-city DC, I realized how much I had taken for granted. Being bright and motivated wasn’t close to enough—my students didn’t have the Brearley community supporting them each step of the way. I just couldn’t see the easy adage of “where there’s a will, there’s a way” coming true for too many students.
And it’s not only the time in school, but the life Brearley sets you up for: the thirteen years in 610 were only the beginning for me. In the decade since graduating, I’ve found myself growing “Brearleyer” with each passing day—from defending my point of view, even (or especially!) in meetings full of men, to becoming overly enthusiastic over words with Latin roots, to forgetting to brush my hair.
Brearley is a lifelong gift, and more girls should get to be Brearley girls.
Virginia (Ginny) Chambers Keim ’61
Brearley has been an enriching force in my life since I first entered Miss Howard’s loving kindergarten room. I am so grateful to my mother, from Boise, Idaho, and my father, from Far Rockaway, New York, for finding Brearley for their five year old. Their vision and foresight truly shaped not only the person I became but the lives of my future family: my husband, a product of an excellent midwest public school education, embraces my love for Brearley; both our daughters also spent 13 years at the School; and our granddaughter started kindergarten this past fall. My mother was even a Lower School assistant teacher for a few years.
May 2018 It is often feared that women may be relegated to the back row and must shout to have their voices heard. Coming from Brearley, I have never taken for granted that my unquestionable “right” to be heard was just part of who I was. A Brearley girl just grows up knowing her voice counts. Thoughts and ideas have merit and value.
As a scientist, I am eternally grateful that Chaucer and George Eliot are also part of my DNA. I have been delighted by the community of Brearley superstars that I have discovered as an alumna, and I have happily participated on the Alumnae Board, mentored budding scientists, moderated several panel discussions, and hosted Brearley students and alumnae at my veterinary hospital.
At Brearley, asking questions without fear or favor is tantamount to breathing. All my teachers from grades two through 12 worked on this skill; they gave me confidence to raise my hand and ask questions for information or clarification that served me well in later life.
I was in midlife when I asked the question that changed the direction of my professional life. I was at a public meeting, sitting at a large oval table with thirteen other people, all members of the New Jersey State Board of Education. We were listening to the Commissioner of Health give her annual report about the state of adolescent health. When she finished, I raised my hand. “At what age,” I asked, “should young people have information that will help protect them from getting pregnant?“
May 2018 I attended Brearley for Upper School, between 2004 and 2008. I am now a member of the faculty (English Department) and have been teaching here for longer than I was a student! It's hard to believe. My fondest memories of being a student here take place in the classroom. I remember sitting in room 6B in the fall of Class XI, as we started in on Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Our teacher--now a colleague of mine!--had us read the entire poem aloud before we began analyzing it bit by bit. The uncanny rhyme of the words "ices" and "crisis" embodied so much of the emotional energy of the poem, and so I learned better that day the relationship between meaning and form in poetry. I can recall, too, a moment in math class when the mathematics behind taking integrals became clear to me; I can't explain the details now, but I could have after that class (something to do with taking the area of increasingly tiny triangles or wedges of a circle and adding them all up to get the area under a curve). The formula became logical and inevitable rather than magical in that moment. The best part of Brearley for me today, too, is time spent in the classroom. I have a different perspective, of course, but I witness each day moments of understanding, inquiry, and creativity that I remember myself relishing when I was a student.
Bebe Stetson '39
May 2018 Brearley was always there for me. My name is Barbara Brown Stetson, my classmates nicknamed me Bebe for my initials. I was in the class of 1939. Because I was on scholarship, I did not think I should participate in extracurricular activities. When the gym teacher, Miss Carling, found out, she had me on the tennis team the next day. All we had to do was walk across the street from the school entrance and there were five tennis courts next to 10 Gracie Square. I made some of my best friends at Brearley, like Clare Weber Springs and Betsy Babcock Moulton, playing basketball. Most weekends I spent visiting Clare at her family’s home in Westchester or visiting Betsy and her family at Woodbury on Long Island. Betsy became captain of the tennis team and I became manager. Our names are still up on the wall in the gym. I won the Higgins Cup, best athlete in the school, three times in 10th, 11th and 12th grades. In 1938, I won my first Ladies Singles Championship at the Maidstone Club in Easthampton, Long Island. In my day, there were no tennis lessons.
April 2018 In our senior year, we threw a class party — to be photographed for the Yearbook — where everyone was to dress as she saw herself in 25 years. Many of my classmates got kind of silly (or, I hope, ironic): we had Playboy Bunnies, a fairy godmother and a bag lady. Some got ambitious: an astronaut, chief surgeon, queen. Showing a complete lack of imagination, I dressed as a lawyer: blue suit, pumps, briefcase. I maintained a serious demeanor for the camera. And now, here I am: 33 years a lawyer. And I actually still like it. No blue suit, no pumps, and a serious demeanor only when that works best for a client. Brearley taught me to write, to speak my mind, to advocate, and to be intellectually fearless. I’m not afraid to be fierce or passionate about my convictions, at work and in the rest of my life. Brearley also introduced me to Justice Thurgood Marshall (on our Class X trip to DC!) and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (my senior spring project). Brearley gave me a lot more than a career path. But there’s no overstating the value of being guided into work that has kept me deeply engaged for decades.
Alexandra Doering-Dorival '96
I will start by saying I'm not your typical Brearley success story. I have the same marketing job I've had for 17 years. I was married for 10 years with no children, and we are now divorced. I live a comfortable life in NYC, and don't take many chances.
But Brearley showed me that I can do what I want to do.
I was a full scholarship student (mixed race; lower middle class) when I joined the student body for high school in the mid-90's and quickly realized that I was very different. My parents wanted my brothers and me to go to private schools for HS, but didn't have the money to pay for them, so I didn't do Prep for Prep like the rest of the new students; I don't think they knew about programs to help me figure out the private school system. It took a little while, but the faculty and students at Brearley made me feel like one of them, like I could open up and be who I wanted to be (or as much as you could be at 14!).
February 2018 In March 1957 I transferred from the eighth grade at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD, into Brearley’s Class of 1961. Aside from the excellent academics, athletics—including team competition—and exposure to the culture only in NYC, Brearley’s major benefit to the girl who graduates is empowerment, a modern word with over a century of meaning at 610 East 83rd.
We were endowed with the confidence that comes from knowledge, as well as the responsibilities of self-government. We held positions of responsibility leading to our belief in our own capabilities to do or be anything we were willing to work hard enough to accomplish.
January 2018 I started at Brearley in the seventh grade. Before that, I attended public school in Manhattan. My family chose Brearley for its outstanding reputation and the fact that it was an all-girls school. My mother is the daughter of immigrants, and the first person in her family to graduate from a college in the US. Throughout her college years, she worked as a nanny for a young girl who attended Brearley. This job proved particularly life-changing, and she felt that if she ever had a daughter, she would endeavor to provide her with the same quality education.
January 2018 My Brearley education defined for me what it means to be “well educated,” something I have grappled with daily as a professional educator over the last 16 years. At Brearley this meant getting to think deeply in a classroom community of eager peers led by a master teacher. Our ideas as scholars were taken seriously from the youngest age. I still vividly remember a kindergarten science lab where we were given a battery, wire and lightbulb and were told to figure out for ourselves how they might work together.
In fourth grade during “rest time” after lunch, we drew geometrically patterned rug designs inspired by the Muslim civilizations we were studying while our teacher read us the epic story of Beowulf.
January 2018 The path that one chooses in life depends on many things: early experiences, seemingly insignificant experiences, and clearly important ones. As I reflect on my years at Brearley, a few moments stand out to me that I can categorize as turning points. In seventh grade, we read Great Expectations. I had always been a reader, but exploring this book opened my eyes to a new way of reading. I remember thinking this was different: a text that was “grown up” but that also appealed to my page-turning desire; a text where I wanted to talk about the plot as well as the themes—and I felt a profound shift in how and why I read. I am currently a seventh grade English teacher, and I strive to replicate this particular experience for my students. Later in Upper School, I took an interschool course entitled “Looking at the Dance,” taught by our beloved librarian, Kitty Cunningham. I had always been a lover of dance, but for me, dance meant ballet and nothing else. Mrs. Cunningham opened my eyes to all kinds dance, and I saw movement in a different way. I was a professional dancer for 15 years.
January 2018 The Brearley School provided an educational foundation that has served me beyond well throughout my entire life. Initially, the education prepared me properly for matriculation through Bryn Mawr College and then graduate school.
Thereafter and modeling after the Brearley program and curriculum, in 1984 I founded Nevada’s first and only pre-K through 12 not-for-profit, nonsectarian college preparatory school. From 1984 to 2010, 100 percent of our graduates earned four-year college placements and did so at many of the nation’s very finest colleges and universities, allowing the school to gain a reputation as one of the top independent schools in the nation. Simultaneously, I led a capital improvement program, first acquiring a donation of 40 acres for the campus and then raising the funds to develop (fully) the site, leaving the school entirely debt-free at my retirement in 2010.
January 2018 I’ve heard it countless times: “How did YOU grow up in New York City?” In Chilean Patagonia, where I’ve worked most of the time since college, I sleep in a tent more often than a bed. You’ll find zero stoplights in the nearest town, but plenty of people riding their horses through the streets. Shoe choices: hiking boots or Crocs. Un-New-York-ish as this existence looks, elements of Brearley have accompanied me on this wild journey.
January 2018 Being a Brearley girl means that when people ask where I went to school, I often have to remind myself that they mean college and not high school! And while I’m proud of having attended all of my alma maters, Brearley is the only one that’s intrinsically tied to my sense of myself. Even now, after 11 years of active duty as an army intelligence officer and currently as a consultant with Deloitte, I find that Brearley is a larger part of my identity than just about anything else I’ve done.
January 2018 A Brearley education is a lifelong antidote to smallness of any kind. At Brearley, I first learned the virtues of respect, rigorous inquiry and wonder. As an Episcopal priest and the founding director of Earth Ministry, a nonprofit which explores the intersections between Christianity and the environment, and as a parent and a citizen, I have drawn upon what I learned there, and for that I am deeply grateful.
It was all about the teachers. Brearley teachers dove deeply, and insisted we do the same. Physics, literature, classics, history—for me, each was not merely a subject, but a journey of the soul.
I can trace several direct lines from the classrooms of 610 to my life’s work.
January 2018 I started kindergarten at Brearley in the early 70s, right after the civil rights movement. My parents wanted my sister and me to attend a good school so I attended Brearley and my sister, Spence. I only thought of Brearley as being a predominately white girls’ school located downtown whereas I lived in Harlem. In my grade, there were only three African-Americans, including myself, until sixth or seventh grade. None of us had ever heard of or gone through programs which helped minorities get into school.
Brearley was like a second home. I was a teacher’s pet to some and had many friends, but because I lived in Harlem I did not have most of them visit me as their parents didn’t want them traveling so far north “into the ghetto.” On Saturdays I attended dance and piano school in the Bronx. I stood out because the people in the neighborhood said I talked differently, or “proper.”
January 2018 I entered Brearley in sixth grade in 1966. I lived in Harlem and had attended public schools there. The summer before I began, I received a call at home from a girl, warning me, “Don’t go to the Brearley School, we don’t want you.” I wasn’t the only Black girl in the class in 1966, I later learned. There were two others who had attended since kindergarten. Were three Black girls a crowd?
December 2017 To have gone to Brearley means, basically, everything. I was admitted to the school in sixth grade, after our neighborhood librarian in East Harlem noticed I was one kid who visited the place of my own volition. (Would not have encountered a word like “volition” without the Brear!) Going to Brearley literally changed every aspect of my life—educationally and socially, but also in terms of compassion, and I’ll say it, class.
Today, at age 54, I am a pretty adept and deliberate code-switcher; if not for my seven years at the Brearley and the way this experience teed me up for being the first college attendee in my family, and then graduate school and early adulthood in Paris (with a Parisian first husband no less!), I don’t know who or what I’d be today. But I think I’d be emptier, more incomplete, yearning and without agency.