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       Wilfrid Gardiner "Will" Hamlin   

of birth:
May 18, 1918

Place of birth:
New York City




1942 fall/spring



Alexander Eliot

Sunley Manuscript



Governance at Goddard: A Brief History by Wilfrid Hamlin - June 1993



In 1936, on graduation from Northampton High School in Massachusetts, Will Hamlin remained for a second "postgraduate" year both to save money for college – it was the Great Depression – and to take some additional courses. He had heard about Black Mountain in high school from Alexander Eliot, whose father taught drama at Smith and who had entered Black Mountain in the fall of 1936. But it was former Antioch students, friends of Will's mother, who persuaded him to apply to their alma mater.

At the end of Hamlin's third year at Antioch, he felt he had mastered "what Antioch had to offer." Black Mountain College was a frequently discussed alternative to Antioch, and WIll and a friend hitchhiked to take a look at the school. Earlier, on a visit to the Tennessee Valley Authority with fellow Antioch students, he and his fellow students had stayed overnight at Black Mountain College. He  already knew one Black Mountain student, Betty Brett, whose brother was at Antioch. After that visit, Will thought he might like to "try out" Black Mountain. His mother’s gave her permission, and he enrolled in the fall of 1940. It was his intention to spend a year at Black Mountain and then to return to Antioch to graduate. He registered at Antioch in the fall of 1941 but was soon on the Southern Railway heading back to Black Mountain, where his friends greeted him with, "We knew you'd come back!"

At first Will was primarily interested in theater. The French teacher at Antioch had encouraged his interest in cinema, and he participated in the theater program where "the emphasis [had] been on a kind of baby Broadway." There he learned "technical things about theater." He recalled that at Black Mountain "[they] had no theater equipment." Despite this presumed handicap, Will discovered in his courses with Robert Wunsch "a wholly different view of how theater could be taught." He compared Wunsch’s teaching style to method acting, "In the sense of trying to find out who this character you’re acting is and what he was doing before he came on stage and what kind of life has he has had, and what he’s bringing with him in the invisible baggage people always carry with them." He had a role in Molière’s The Physician in Spite of Himself and played the male lead in Shadow and Substance.

Besides Wunsch's drama courses, Will took a general curriculum including Elsa Kahl’s Movement for Actors, literature with Kenneth Kurtz and Fred Mangold, and Psychology of the Human World with Erwin Straus. He had always been interested in photography and, inspired by the college’s first picture bulletin, for which John Stix made most of the photographs, he became one of Black Mountain’s student photographers. Fritz Hansgirg, who taught chemistry at Black Mountain, was classified as an "enemy alien" and therefore could not use his cameras – a Speed Graphic, a 4 x 5 format camera and a Leica with a complete set of lenses. He generously made them available to the student photographers.

For his work program at Black Mountain, Will helped with college publicity and printed publications, including newsletters, concert and drama programs, and an announcement for an exhibition of hardware jewelry by Anni Albers. He remained at the college for the fall of 1942 as a member of the staff to help with college publicity. He recalls that he left in March.

Will received a draft rating of 4-F, which exempted him from service. When he left Black Mountain, he did editorial work for the newly founded Bantam Books in New York and also edited a newsletter for civilian employees of the Air Technical Service Command. He worked as an aptitude tester and interpreter for the Johnson O’Connor organization. Will’s primary interest, however, was in teaching. Having attended both the Horace Mann School and the Dalton School in New York and a progressive high school in Masschusetts, conventional schools did not interest him. He applied to several institutions including Goddard College. In his first response, Royce Pitkin, President of Goddard, stated that unfortunately they had just filled the position. Soon thereafter, Will received a phone call from Pitkin. The other applicant could not accept, and the position was open. From 1948 until his retirement he taught literature, psychology and education at Goddard. He obtained his Ph. D. degree from Union Graduate School.

On June 11, 1944, Will married Betty Brett, the Black Mountain student whose brother he had known at Antioch. Betty Hamlin died in 1968 of pulmonary fibrosis. Their son Christopher Hamlin is a science historian and author of A Science of Impurity (1990) and Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick (1998).

A second marriage to Alice Blachly ended in divorce, although they remain friends.

Revised September 22, 2004

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