St. Paul’s School: Starting Out and Over

Bill Sr. [From The Witness: April 28, 1955)]

The Rev. Samuel Drury was the rector of St. Paul’s School, Concord, N.H. He needed a clerical master to take charge of the Old Chapel. I was to teach religious studies and history but this was secondary–the Old Chapel was to come first. He was satisfied with my credentials but had misgivings about my wife. Young women were scarce at St. Paul’s and Dot, nineteen and attractive, was the age of most of the sixth formers. But he decided to take a chance so we were assigned to an apartment in the Upper School, where Dot could serve tea to the boys while the new parson put on, not too successfully, the dignity act expected of all masters, particularly those who wore their collars backwards.

On arrival I was informed that I was not to teach history but general science. I told Dr. Drury that I was not equipped for it but he simply told me to keep ahead of the class and he was sure I’d manage. I did, with difficulties. The first came when Dr. Drury said: “Mr. Spofford, may I see you in my office?” I had learned that that meant trouble, for it was “William” when everything was going well. He told me that one of the parents had complained that there was too much stress on evolution in my class; to which I replied that he had selected the text book which was based on the theory. “I’ll consider the matter further,” was his dismissal. Later he informed me: “Apparently we must accept evolution… but do not over-stress it.”

Another difficulty was sex. Boys in my classes were in their middle-teens. In biology we started with the simplest animal life, mounting the scale, with reproduction a part of each story. When we arrived at ‘man’ I was told to skip reproduction. “We have a lecture each year in the chapel on sex for sixth formers; we think that is adequate.” The boys thought differently. They called it the ‘smut talk” and dirty cracked about it for weeks. Also I told the Rector I’d feel like a fool if I skipped reproduction in humans when we had dealt with it in all lower forms of life. It also presented an opportunity to get across some sex education which, from my observation, the boys needed. It was finally agreed that I was to prepare my lecture for his approval, after which it could be read to my classes. It was an awkward performance but it did do something for a few who came to me to talk over sex problems, about which they had apparently been taught nothing at home.

The Old Chapel

The Old Chapel story follows the pattern of many churches. It was provided as a place of worship for janitors, maids and gardners, thus keeping them away from the New Chapel where the boys and their visiting parents went on Sundays to worshi;p the God of all mankind. It was a nice show, this New Chapel service, with boys marching by forms..little, bigger, big…blue-suited, black-tied, black-booted…with ‘out of bounds’ to any who violated regulations. The venerable Jimmy Knox thundered away on the big organ, scowling at the choir if they missed a note. And on festive occasions he brought forth his masterpiece, “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”, which was sung with the gusto of a national anthem. Dr. Drury was an exceptionally able preacher, so the whole performance was tops.

The Old Chapel was something else again. Children gathered at 9:15 for Sunday School, held in the ancient pews, taught by school ‘help’ who were inevitably burdened with a sense of inferiority. At ten I conducted a service for a handful, rushing to get through in time to vest for the New Chapel service, even though I was merely to take my place in procession and sit in my stall next to other clergy-masters, as though signs were printed across our vestments: “See, parents, we are a very high class Episcopal School.”

My wife and I tried to do what we could with the people of the Old Chapel. We visited and entertained and were entertained. Dot even caused raised eyebrows at a meeting of masters’ wives by suggesting, in youthful innocence, that she did not understand why the Auxiliaries of the two chapels did not meet together in one organization instead of having two. Dr. Drury’s reply was: “You are a new-comer and have not been here long enough to understand.”

The payoff came when “Mr. Spofford” was again asked to come to the Rector’s office. The janitor of the building in which we lived was Mr. Miner. He was also a vestryman of the Old Chapel; in church every Sunday with his family. He went home for lunch and I often walked through the grounds with him on my way to class. ‘I have noticed you walking rhough the grounds with Mr. Miner. A master does not do that with a janitor at St. Paul’s,” was Dr. Drury’s comment.

“But he is a member of my congregation and an officer. I do not think of him as a janitor,” I replied.

“I think you understand,” concluded the Rector. And I did.

Religious Studies

In the spring of my second year the Rector asked me if it would be convenient for my wife to return to her parents…she was pregnant, with our first child due in June, and he did not think it was a wholesome thing for his boys to see her under such circumstances. She left, never to return, for it was soon after that I had my final session with Dr. Drury.

This time is was over something I had said in my class on religion. “A mother has written”, said the Rector,”that you told your class that Jesus was the son of a working man. You must be more careful in what you say.”

“But wasn’t he, Dr. Drury?

“We must be careful in teaching young minds.”

I assumed at the time that the objection was because I delighted in telling rich men’s sons that the Jesus they so piously worshipped in their beautiful chapel was the son of a worker. It was some time after that a friend suggested that maybe the objection was Virgin Birth.

Anyhow he told me that I was ‘to teach out of the book,’ keeping my personal opinions to myself, in class and out. My reply was that if I could not express honest opinions, in class and out, that I did not want to stay at St. Paul’s. So he handed me a “To Whom It May Concern” signed “Samuel S. Drury, Rector”, which nobody, up to this day, has ever seen except my wife.

“It is a pleasure to speak in a highly commendatory way of my brother clergyman and co-worker, William B. Spofford. For two years, Mr. Spofford has resided at St. Paul’s School, working as a teacher in science and as a minister in charge of our old chapel congregation. In all his activities Mr. Spofford has shown a fine devotion to duty, a cheerful spirit of cooperation and has endeared himself to many boys and parishioners by his wholesom personal contacts.

“The particular reason why Mr. Spofford and I have together decided that he should change his work from St. Paul’s School to some other field is the following: Mr. Spofford’s prevailing interest in Christian Socialism. I do not feel that a boy’s boarding school is a suitable place for the discussion or furthering of the vexing problems of the present modern socialistic program. While not at all desiring to hamper the free expression of opinion among our masters, it has become apparent to both of us that Mr. Spofford’s predominant interest in Socialism will find freer scope elsewhere. I have a very high regard for Mr. Spofford’s spirit. He is a fine man–a devoted Christian thinker. May God speed him.”

So after a summer in charge of the church in North Woodstock, N.H., I sped, with Dot and Marcia, our first born, for Chicago, stopping en route in Detroit to help with C.L.I.D. activities at General Convention.

Bill Jr.:

From this account, Mother seems like a non-entity. Actually, they had a most splendiferous and, I am sure, costly wedding at Trinity Church, Portland, Conn., and had gone to Bermuda on their honeymoon. Her dad, Henry Carey Ibbotson, stove-manufacturer in Brooklyn and owner of Spruce Manor on the main street of Portland, would have seen to all that.

From the distance of decades, one can feel a bit of sympathy for Dr. Drury…he had a ‘tiger by the tail’, young, charming, determined and committed. The letter of dismissal was, undoubtedly, inevitable.

In June of 1957, one of the sons of Dr. Drury, Roger W., wrote a letter to Dad about this article. It is warm and friendly. And Dad responded with an answer which we don’t possess. Among other things, Roger Drury said: “(Dr. Drury’s) diaries between 1922 and 1925 are marked especially by a dogging sense that his religious life was being “stifled”, and by a longing to leave the school and “go to some good working parish where I can preach to the poor and visit the sick…help; some of the unprivileged to a joyous and faithful view of life.” Dad seemed to affect a lot of people, even when it wasn’t obvious at the time. At the time of this correspondence, Roger Drury was operating a small dairy farm in Western Mass. as a ‘very fallible Thoreau-vian in philosophy, and with enough motivational conflicts of my own to make those of my father a rather absorbing study to me just now.”

One of the ironies of this experience, of course, is that I, and my younger sister, went to Episcopal schools (Lenox and Hannah More} as well as to Episcopal camps, [O-at-Ka in Maine and Fleur de Lis in N.H.}. And, in his aging years, one of his closest friends and colleagues was the Rev. Canon Charles A. Martin, head of St. Alban’s School in Washington. It was Canon Martin and his wife, Edith, who ‘hosted’ the service of thanksgiving for Dad’s life and works in the National Cathedral in January of 1973, two months before Dot died.

One further irony is that, prior to my retiring from the episcopacy, I was assistant to Bp. John Thomas Walker, of Washington, who began his post-seminary career as the first Afro-American master at St. Paul’s School.

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