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Vermont Women: Hazel M. Weil

03/21/07 12:00AM
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(HOST) Barbara Snelling on her mother, Hazel M. Weil, who lived a life of quiet, willing and uncomplaining service. She served as the Minister's wife in a large suburban church where much was demanded of her with very little recognition. She was mother of two, a son and a daughter, to whom she gave guidance and love. She managed the family finances, a challenging task at best to an outsider's perspective. She would appear unremarkable. In fact, she was a quiet and modest heroine.

(SNELLING) My mother, Hazel M. Weil, lived a life of quiet, willing and uncomplaining service. She served as the Minister's wife in a large suburban church where much was demanded of her with very little recognition. She was the mother of two, a son and a daughter, to whom she gave guidance and love. She managed the family finances, a challenging task at best, stretching a low income. To an outsider's perspective, she would appear unremarkable. In fact, she was a quiet and modest heroine.

I never knew the reason but she was the only one of her family of five not to attend college. She went directly to work as a clerical worker in the mill. Her oldest sister was a nurse and the other two were teachers. Her younger brother became a doctor. For her, a college education became an unrealizable dream, a hidden passion. Later, after she married and had her two children, she took courses at Wellesley College. She joined the Thought Club, a book reading group, and gave her papers an analysis of her assigned book with insight. Education for me and my brother was always a family priority. Mother drove us daily to a small private school several miles away. When that school closed, we went to the local public school. Later, we both went back to private schools with generous scholarships.

When it became college time for me, she was encouraging and supportive although even with scholarships it was a sacrifice for the family. After two years at Smith College, I married a returning soldier and transferred to Radcliffe. Radcliffe accepted me, but remonstrated that married women usually dropped out. They didn't know my mother's ambition and commitment. In my second semester I left college to have a baby. By September I was ready to return to college. My father and mother had moved to South Boston and a mission church with a beautiful large rectory not far from the ocean. My husband and I were across town in Wellesley, 30-40 minutes away, by car. Mother volunteered to help so I could return to college. She took the toddler while I went to classes. Daily, Grandma pushed a pram to South Boston's waterfront and the old fort on the point. The child's first word was "water" not surprisingly, as the Atlantic Ocean spread out from there.

It may be telling only half the story to say that my mother undertook the responsibility of babysitting so I could get my college education, but that was the original motivation. She also had the opportunity to teach and build a close relationship with her grandchild which lasted until she died at age 97. When her husband died of a heart attack she went to work at Tufts College, a fitting, if not exactly a valid conclusion to her search for a college education.

Barbara Snelling is a former Lt. Gov., VT State Senator, and widow of 5 term Gov. Richard A. Snelling. Tomorrow Deborah Luskin considers a new book about Clarina Howard Nichols, a pioneering newspaper editor and women's rights advocate, who was the first woman ever to address the VT legislature.

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