My mother’s high school ring is a symbol of more than just her graduation from Norwich Free Academy. After researching and writing about her life, I realized that it represents the role education had played in her escape from the poverty and dysfunction of the family into which she was born.
From the age of ten, she lived in the New London County Temporary Home, which was for “neglected and uncared-for children.” This was because her mother had been admitted to Norwich State Hospital with paranoid schizophrenia and her father was deemed unable to care for her properly. On the face of it, this situation seems bleak — she was separated from her family and living in an institution. But there was a bright side. She got the kind of education her parents could never have provided her.
Because the county home was located in Norwich, Connecticut, Mom was able to attend Norwich Free Academy, a privately-endowed, independent school. Since the town of Norwich didn’t have its own high school, it paid the tuition of students who resided within its limits to attend to Norwich Free Academy. That was how Mom was able to have an excellent education despite having few resources of her own.
Mom entered Norwich Free Academy as a freshman in the fall of 1938. She was studious and hard-working and must have made a good impression on the faculty of the school. When she graduated in the spring of 1943, she was awarded the Catholic League Scholarship. This award (along with other awards and grants from organizations such as the American Legion, the Elks, and the State of Connecticut) enabled her to receive a B.A. in Education from the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1947.
After she graduated from the university, she continued her education by moving to Washington, D.C. to study library science. She met my father while working in the Mullen Library of Catholic University. In June of 1948, Dad got a degree in electrical engineering and he and Mom married. In 1949, Mom received her degree in library science. As my parents began their married life, they benefited from the post-war economic boom, which boosted them into the emerging middle-class.
In the fall of 2017, I visited Norwich Free Academy and was given a tour by a member of the alumni department. I was impressed not only with the high academic standards and stellar facilities, but also with the diversity of student body. It was no surprise to learn that in 2002, it was designated as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
Mom held onto her class ring from Norwich Free Academy her entire life, and now it has fallen into my hands, literally. I plan to wear it everyday until the first anniversary of her death not only as a memorial to her but also to recognize how her emphasis on education influenced my own academic achievements.
For more information on Norwich Free Academy, consult their website at https://www.nfaschool.org/.