When St. Mary’s joined other prep schools in trying to recruit students of color, after talking to Headmaster John McIlwaine, my parents felt that I should go. I was getting a good education at Boston’s Girls’ Latin School (an elite exam school), but they thought I should be the one to integrate St. Mary’s. There had been a few Black students in the past, but in 1960 there were none. It was a tough decision on their part to remove me from my community and friends to be the “only one.” But my parents felt I could withstand any racism or implicit bias that arose because of my upbringing and that I would be a credit to my race (a deeply ingrained message and burden for young people of my generation).
I was assigned to a single in Vaillant House and the first three months were extremely lonely. But something broke through when I returned from Christmas vacation with the latest 45 records and dance steps. While it might seem stereotypical that the Black student was the purveyor of Black culture, for me, it was a crack in the white ceiling. Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around,” James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” were songs that were the currency of change. But even more than that, I like to think and hope that my being there broadened the horizons of my fellow students. I was bringing news from racial, political, civil rights, and social justice viewpoints that they had never experienced before. And I was a Democrat in a very Republican New Hampshire. Learning how to be persuasive and articulate about issues were competencies I would need in my career.
Photo: Gail's graduation portrait in 1963.
During my three years, I honed my academic skills with help from my teachers—Mr. Miller, Mr. Steele, Mr. Kilde, and Mr. Doughty—which led to being accepted at Harvard but also life skills in being the only one: either Black or a woman. My roommates, Jessie and Kitt, all the friends in my class—but especially Kit, Anne, Clover, Ilona, Janet, and Marf (Martha)—and Judy, Gretchen, and Rachel from the class behind me all made me feel welcome. Judy and Martha invited me to their homes as well. Serving as secretary-treasurer of the senior class and on Student Committee, Social Service Committee, and as editor of the 1963 Yearbook and assistant editor of The Telemark were formative leadership experiences. My love of writing was formed during those years, and I was always a voracious reader, even winning TIME magazine’s scholastic current events contest twice. Although the School library was limited, I discovered James Baldwin and Langston Hughes there.
I came to love St. Mary’s, not just for the academics but for the camaraderie, the traditions, the beautiful campus, and the small classes. Favorite memories include Kit playing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the start of the Christmas holiday and Barb singing carols, the hymns at church service, Mountain Day, playing soccer, Kiki Rice teaching us modern dance, ice skating at night with hot chocolate provided, and Pickering showing us how to skate backward and twirl in a circle. If I am being honest, it was also a relief to be away from the constant demands from a stressed community, which my parents put first and the source of my resentment. As a child, despite the benefits of meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK when he ran for president, and seeing the community organizing in action, I felt it was very difficult to compete with the mission that drove my parents to fight against structural inequality and systemic racism. Later, I rebelled against the assumption that I would follow in my parents’ footsteps and instead became a banker.
Photo: Gail Snowden, co-chair of Freedom House's 1971 Showcase of the Stars, stands at the microphone with Herbert Tucker, then president of Freedom House.