Judy Hunt ‘67
In September 1963 my journey began at the original Anna Head School campus on Channing Way in Berkeley. My first impression of the brown shingled buildings was how inviting the architecture felt, as the buildings did not feel imposing, sterile, or cold. I felt at ease there.
I was the only African American girl in the upper school’s freshman class. There were two African American girls in the sophomore class and one in the junior class. An eighth grader was the first African American “lifer,” who attended Anna Head School first through twelfth grades. There were two African American girls in the seventh-grade class. Our parents paid our tuition and related extracurricular expenses, as there were no scholarships, grants, or subsidies.
Daniel and Catherine Dewey, headmaster of upper school and headmistress of lower school, were fair-minded forward thinkers with steadfast courage to admit African American girls, whose families pursued academic excellence. For many Caucasian families, it would be their first exposure to African Americans as peers. All girls wore uniforms: seersucker dresses in spring and summer, and green tartan plaid pleated skirts, white blouses and green wool sweaters and blazers in the fall and winter. Penny loafers and saddle oxfords were the preferred shoes. Every sport - swimming, tennis, or gym - had its uniform. I wore uniforms at elementary school, so I took for granted that every school had a uniform dress code.
Mary Katherine Huddleson, the freshman class president, met me in the library the first day of school. She was my confidante and friend, who helped me navigate the daily schedule, introduced me to other girls, ate lunch with me, explained school traditions and shared some insights into our teachers’ pet peeves! As we went to our classes, we sometimes played “creaky steps” that made high pitched or groaning sounds whenever we went up or down the old wooden staircases.
I recall the chaos at school on November 22, 1963 when we learned that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The high vaulted ceiling in the beautiful all wood Chapel was a sanctuary of emotional comfort while we quietly waited for our parents to take us home earlier than usual.
My mother insisted that I learn French, as she studied Latin in high school. During rainy days the steam heaters would sometimes clang and hiss as Madame Jean Jacobs would emphasize correct pronunciation of French words or phrases. We would all giggle as the heating sounds drowned out her voice! She became a mentor and friend, corresponding with me from Europe during my undergraduate and graduate school years. Having some French language skills came in handy when I worked in New York, and served as a member with the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Narcotics and Substance Abuse.
Phyllis Hill, history teacher, and Sara McGrath, art history teacher, both captured my interest in how they taught subject matter simultaneously sharing how history and art were reflected in current culture. I still have and utilize my books from their respective classes. I treasure the memory of sitting in the Quad during Sarah McGrath’s art history class. I fondly remember one of her class assignments was to visit a UC Berkeley library that had a display of medieval art and books. One afternoon I walked from the Anna Head Channing campus onto the UC Berkeley campus. During our subsequent class discussions of the medieval period, we explored how history, space and structures impacted our lives and culture. Charles Steingart, senior English teacher, integrated English literature, philosophy and good humor into his lectures and pop quizzes. He was a wonderful writing and public speaking coach.
My most inspirational teacher was Dr. Irvin C. Feustel, a retired international chemist, who taught chemistry. A warm and gentle man, Dr. Feustel provided a supportive class environment. Even if one’s comments, questions or answers were “off the mark,” Dr. Feustel found a way to integrate those remarks into the chemistry lesson. He also encouraged accountability and responsibility through individual and collective tasks. Each girl “signed up” for a duty in preparing experiments, setting up or cleaning the vials, stands, trays and Bunsen burners. Dr. Feustel was a life-long mentor, coach, cheerleader, and friend.
During my sophomore year I was selected to be the class country fair chairperson. I learned some valuable lessons about human nature, teamwork, and leadership. I also learned that nothing beats determination and hard work. My father built the wooden tripod and spinning wheel for our class booth. The school custodian, Mr. Jenkins, was a special friend to me. After the country fair he asked if the tripod and spinning wheel could be kept at the school for future events. In tough moments, he often shared life lessons and insights with humor.
In May 1967, graduation day was very special as graduating seniors wore long white dresses and carried yellow rose bouquets. I celebrated this milestone with family and friends at the new campus on Lincoln Avenue in Oakland. I missed the pleasure of walking the curved driveway at the Channing campus; and a fond farewell to those strong, creaky, weathered buildings that welcomed me to The Anna Head School for Girls.
My experience at Head’s prepared me for the future by acknowledging that my “exclusive education” was actually an exceptional opportunity that was and remains unopened to most African-Americans. It was also an opportunity for my peers and their families to be exposed on par with others and learn that difference is not bad or deficient. My family’s love and unwavering encouragement along with the support of teachers and staff strengthened my resolve to persevere especially when assailed by others. When faced with tough situations, decisions or difficult people, I remember that often my mere presence is an affirmation that I belong wherever I enter, stand or sit. Just as I felt at ease my first day at Head’s, my faith in the Creator and myself propels me to utilize my talents, intellect and skills to be an authentic force for good.
The Deweys valued inclusion, and I incorporated that as one core value in my own career path focused on increasing opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible, regardless of ethnicity, income or location (e.g. Appalachia, Native American lands, rural/urban/suburban areas or other nations).
I hope those old-shingled buildings on Channing Way are preserved as: historical artifacts of women’s education, landmarks of Berkeley’s varied architecture, and valued heritage sites within the UC community.
Judy Hunt received a Master of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University, worked as an executive with national and international health organizations and served as a member of the Head Royce School Alumni Council.