Who was William Rollin Shipman?
June 13th 2012 marks a note-worthy anniversary in the history of Goddard College. It is the centennial of the unveiling of a bronze memorial tablet dedicated to William Rollin Shipman, a Vermonter born on a farm in Granville, Vermont in 1836. Shipman is recognized as the founder of Goddard Seminary originally located in Barre, Vermont. In 1938 Goddard College was established and moved to Plainfield under the leadership of its founding president Tim Pitkin. Although the story of the founding of Goddard College has been often told, it may be of interest to think about Goddard’s deepest roots in the landscape of American education.William Rollin Shipman was said to be a natural born teacher. Both his parents were teachers and he worked as a school teacher beginning at age 16. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1859 and became the principal of the Green Mountain Institute in Woodstock, Vermont. As an important participant in a statewide conversation among Universalists, he shepherded the group towards articulating the need for a properly endowed and properly equipped secondary school in the center of the Green Mountain State. The Green Mountain Central Institute was chartered in 1863. Approximately one year after opening, it was renamed Goddard Seminary after Thomas and Mary Goddard of Boston, Massachusetts donated a sizeable amount of money towards the construction of a modern steam heated five story school building made from locally produced bricks in Barre, Vermont. Shipman served as president of the Goddard Seminary Board of Trustees for decades while he also served on the faculty at Tufts College in Boston for over 40 years. Although Shipman credited the thousands of people who supported the original idea for a school, it was agreed that Thomas and Mary Goddard helped in such a big way as to rename the institution. Looking back from the vantage point of today it’s clear that the undying efforts of William Rollin Shipman made it all possible.
After his death in 1908, a substantial cast bronze tablet designed by Mary Stickney was mounted in the Goddard Chapel at Tufts. A second casting made from the original mold was mounted on the wall of the first floor of the Goddard Seminary when a new Library was dedicated to Shipman’s memory on June 13th 1912. The bronze was removed and brought to Plainfield when Tim Pitkin, along with the faculty, staff and students of the “experiment” to be called Goddard College packed up for the move. It was stored somewhere on campus nearly forgotten but eventually it was brought to the Archives in the Pratt Center.
As we look for a suitable place on campus to remount the tablet, it provides a unique opportunity to think about all who have benefited from William Rollin Shipman’s essential efforts that bring us to this moment in Goddard’s progress.
Goddard College Archives