Photo: Gail Champlin, Marcia Savage, Kathleen McGrory, Joan Davis, Miriam Butterworth
The Butterworth Family and Hartford College for Women: Acting President Miriam Butterworth, 1979-80; Elizabeth Butterworth, Founder and Trustee; Paul Butterworth, Chairman of the Board;Oliver Butterworth, Professor of English
After the departure of Joan Davis, Miriam Butterworth served as acting president of HCW until Marcia Savage came on board in 1980. The Butterworth family had a long association with the college. Miriam’s husband, Oliver Butterworth, was among HCWs most fondly remembered faculty. Oliver’s father, Paul Butterworth, and Paul’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Butterworth, were among the visionaries who created HCW. The main administrative building of the college was named Butterworth Hall in honor of Elizabeth and Paul.
Elizabeth von Arnim Butterworth
The original Mount Holyoke in Hartford came into being when a group of local women met to address the need for college-level educational opportunities for young women in Hartford, Conn. Elizabeth Butterworth was among those women. She brought to the project a sophisticated international outlook and a keen interest in intellectual pursuits.
Elizabeth Butterworth was born in New Zealand, the daughter of the British author, Elizabeth von Arnim, who wrote the novel Enchanted April and many other works, and a Prussian father, Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin. As young children the von Arnim children were educated on their father’s Prussian estate by tutors, including the novelists Hugh Walpole and E. M. Forester. The younger Elizabeth would eventually receive the rest of her education in England, where she attended Cambridge University.
After her first husband died, the elder Elizabeth had a three-year relationship with H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds, among others. She then married Lord Frank Russell, the elder brother of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, in1916. The couple separated after a short time, although they never divorced. For the rest of her life Elizabeth was able to use the title “Countess Russell.” She eventually moved to the United States to be with her daughter at the time of World War II.
Her daughter Elizabeth married Paul Butterworth’s brother, Corwin. Although the Corwin Butterworths spent most of their lives in California, they also lived for many years at Sunset Farm, a residential division of West Hartford developed by Paul Butterworth. Elizabeth and Corwin’s daughters were educated at The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn., where they were close friends with Miriam Brooks, who fell in love with and married their cousin Oliver.
Elizabeth Butterworth introduced the family to a highly intellectual game called Sonnets. According to Paul’s daughter, Lucy, each player is given a list of words that must be used as the last words in the lines of a 14-line sonnet. The sonnet must be written in iambic pentameter using a traditional rhyme scheme. This game proved to be good training for Oliver, who became an English professor at HCW. He was responsible for the creation of several traditions including the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and a yearly medieval banquet.
Although she probably would have liked to accomplish more, Elizabeth Butterworth seems to have found at least some outlets for her intellectual energies in Hartford. Most of Elizabeth von Arnim’s (Countess Russell’s) books deal with the theme of intelligent women struggling under the domination of overbearing men and restrictive social customs. Therefore, it is not surprising that her daughter, Elizabeth Butterworth, would support an experimental college that provided a superior education to young women.
Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Paul Butterworth, served HCW in many ways. He was chairman of the board for many years in addition to contributing financially to the cause and encouraging his fellow trustees to do likewise. Butterworth helped negotiate the acquisition of the Seaverns property. Finally, he predicted the importance of HCW’s long-term relationship with the University of Hartford.
Born in 1887, Paul Butterworth was the oldest son of Irwin Butterworth, president of the Denver Gas and Electric Company, and Mary Adelaide McMillin. Mary was the daughter of Irwin’s employer, Emerson McMillin. Emerson McMillin was a highly successful self-made man, an industrialist, and a generous philanthropist. McMillin’s business interests included public utilities, transportation, and banking. His charitable interests included libraries, museums, and university fellowships.
Paul and his brother Corwin both graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1909. Two years later Paul married Clarabel “Clare” Virginia Smith, daughter of a Harford physician. At the time of his marriage, he worked for his grandfather at the Hartford City Gas Light Company. The couple had three children: Virginia, Oliver, and Harrison.
William B. Smith, Clare's grandfather, purchased land in West Hartford in 1867 that would later become Sunset Farm. The property was first used for horse pasturage while the Smith family continued to live in Hartford. Paul and Clare lived in a small house on the property after their marriage. When responsibility for the property fell onto Paul’s shoulders, he realized that the land would be better suited for development as a residential area than as a working farm.
Clare Butterworth died suddenly during the influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 50 million people. Paul was now faced with raising three young children alone. When Elizabeth and Corwin Butterworth moved to Sunset Farm in 1924 to be near good schools for their children, they provided Paul’s three children with an extended family.
Paul Butterworth became the owner of Sunset Farm after Clare’s death. He began to sell lots to congenial friends and relatives, creating a community not unlike that of Hartford’s Nook Farm in the 1870s and 1880s. Nook Farm had been a literary colony whose residents included Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The Sunset Farm community was close to good schools, and had plenty of open spaces for recreation. This part of West Hartford was still out in the country, and it was possible to raise sheep, cows, and chickens on the property. People who grew up in Sunset Farm during that period recall an idyllic setting of gardens, woods, and fields peopled by friendly neighbors who viewed their community as a cooperative effort.
In 1938 Paul married Elizabeth Taylor Elmer, a widow with two young daughters, Jeanie and Lucy. Elizabeth Taylor Elmer had grown up in Hartford and lived in Bronxville, Conn., during the years of her first marriage to Wellington Elmer. After her first husband died, she and her daughters joined relatives who lived at Sunset Farm.
As the family grew and expanded, the Paul Butterworths built several houses. Paul also oversaw the other major construction projects in the neighborhood. His enthusiasm for and knowledge of building and design extended to his oversight of Hartford College.
It is hard to assign any one professional designation to Paul Butterworth. He was aware that his family enjoyed financial security as the result of the achievements of past generations. Raised as a Quaker, he felt a strong sense of responsibility toward others. His awareness of his own good fortune coupled with his religious beliefs inspired him to realize significant productivity in everything he undertook either professionally or as a volunteer. He viewed all of his accomplishments as a form of service.
Many institutions including the Hartford Monthly Meeting of Friends, the American School for the Deaf, the American Red Cross, The Connecticut Children’s Aid Society, Hartford Hospital, the Ethel Walker School, and Newington Children’s Hospital benefited from his involvement. In one particularly poignant instance, he volunteered at the temporary morgue set up in the Hartford Armory building after the Hartford circus fire in 1944. Sixty-seven children and 119 adults died in the fire. Paul assisted the families who came to the morgue to identify the bodies of their relatives.
As chairman of Hartford College board of trustees, Paul was among the five chairmen of local colleges who met in 1956 to lay plans for the development of the University of Hartford. Although HCW was not ready to join the University at that time, Paul recognized that the college should not dismiss the possibility of future cooperation between the schools.
One important factor in the decision not to merge with the University of Hartford at the time it was formed was the perceived need for a non-denominational college specifically for women. At the time, single-sex colleges were not an anomaly. Saint Joseph College in West Hartford was a strongly Catholic women’s college run by the Sisters of Mercy. Trinity College in Hartford, although open to members of all faiths, still had important ties to the Episcopal Church and was several decades away from admitting women. The trustees of HCW wanted to maintain a college open and welcoming to young women of all backgrounds.
Paul Butterworth was chairman of the board at the time negotiations were underway for acquiring the Seaverns property for HCW. Negotiations for setting up the University of Hartford were going on at the same time. The HCW trustees considered various forms of affiliation and cooperation. They even considered settling on a tract within the University’s property and sharing facilities such as cafeterias and administrative offices.
Paul felt cooperation with the University of some kind was necessary to secure the good will of the community. He also believed that HCW “should not close the door” on possible affiliation with the University until the Searverns property was secured. Once that occurred, however, the issue of a merger with the University became dormant until many years later (letter to Laura Johnson, Aug. 4, 1956, and letter to Helen Randall, Aug. 21, 1956).
The Seaverns property posed challenges. For example, the fire department would not allow the Seaverns house (now Butterworth Hall) to be used for classrooms. Eventually the problem was solved by building several classroom buildings nearby and using the house for administrative offices.
Born in 1915, Oliver Butterworth was the oldest son of Paul and Clare Butterworth. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1937 and did his graduate study at Middlebury College, where he earned an MA in 1949. He taught at Kent School in Kent, Conn., from 1937 until 1948 and the Junior School in West Hartford, Conn., from 1948 to 1950.
Beginning in 1947, Oliver taught English at Hartford College for Women for a salary of $1.00 a year until the late 1980s. Like his father, Oliver believed that since he had been blessed with financial security, he had a duty to share his good fortune with others. Therefore, he felt he should not accept a larger salary from the struggling college.
Oliver is most widely known for his children’s books. He was awarded the New York Herald Tribune Spring Festival of Books prize (1960) for The Trouble with Jenny's Ear and the Lewis Carroll Shelf award (1970) for The Enormous Egg. He served as trustee of the Mark Twain Memorial from 1958 to 1962 and eventually became a trustee of the Hartford College for Women. Oliver died in 1990 in West Hartford.
According to an oral interview with Oliver prior to his passing, many of the young women at Hartford College did not have enough family money to go elsewhere. Some students were daughters of recent immigrants who spoke a language other than English at home. Especially during the Depression years, families might make sacrifices to educate their sons, but not their daughters.
For these young women, the Hartford College experience opened up a whole new world of learning and achievement. According to Oliver, these students were a joy to teach as he watched them discovering talents they never knew they had. Butterworth’s wisdom and compassion earned him a special place in the memory of his students.
Oliver married Miriam Brooks in 1940. Oliver and Miriam raised three sons: Michael, Timothy, and Dan; and one daughter, Kate. Miriam would become well-acquainted with the college and its special characteristics. When she became acting president of HCW on Sept. 9, 1979, she had just finished a challenging stretch as the chair of Connecticut’s Public Utilities Control Authority. This had been a demanding assignment. Running HCW for a year seemed restful to her by comparison.
Miriam had many credentials to bring to the job of college president. She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and had helped found and had chaired the Caucus of Connecticut Democrats. She was an organizer of the 1971 Economic Conversion Conference, the 1973-74 ad hoc Committee for Economic Alternatives, the 1975 Forum on Economic Alternatives for Connecticut, and the 1975 Forum on Multinational Corporations.
In later years Miriam was named town historian for West Hartford, Conn., (1996) and authored a history of West Hartford. She rode the 1995 Peace Train for 23 days from Helsinki to Beijing on her way to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women.
Between 1979 and 1980, Miriam kept HCW going until the arrival of its next president, Marcia Savage. The next chapter in this blog will deal with the administrations of Savage and her successor, Kathleen McGrory.
1. "Elizabeth von Arnim," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 197: Late-Victorian and Edwardian British Novelists, Second Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by George M. Johnson, University College of the Cariboo. The Gale Group, 1999, pp. 9-14.
2. Townsend, Lucy, compiler. Uncle Paul Stories: A Collection of Documents and Reminiscences by and about Paul McMillin Butterworth, Dec 31, 1887 – October 24, 1980, Sugar Bush Hill Press, Chesterfield, NH.
3. Butterworth, Miriam Brooks, interview with Margaret Mair, Sept. 23, 2010.
4. Townsend, Lucy Elmer, interview with Margaret Mair, Sept. 7, 2010.
5. University of Hartford Archives. HCW Collection, trustees’ papers.