Razing of Miss Hope’s Studio School Marks End of an Era for Wakefield Baby Boomers

04Oct08

The Studio School for Children
Almost unnoticed, an era ended in Wakefield, Massachusetts this week. Or at least, an era’s final tangible symbol vanished with the razing of the bungalow at 93 Montrose Avenue that was home to Hope Dillaway’s Studio School for Children in the 1940’s and 1950s. The property is slated to be developed as a five-lot single-family home subdivision.

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about their kindergarten days, if they think about them at all. They probably remember even less about the building that hosted them. For the last several decades, kindergarten for most kids has been just the next step after day care and nursery school.

But for baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, kindergarten may be a more distinct memory. It was likely their first foray into formal education, and probably the first time they were left by their mothers in the hands of “strangers.”

For a great many Wakefield boomers, kindergarten was the “Studio School for Children” on Montrose Ave., run by a unique artist and educator, Hope Dillaway, known to her pupils as “Miss Hope.”
Studio School Rubble
Memories of the Studio School were re-enforced by the fact that until this week, the home where Miss Hope taught her classes still stood on Montrose Avenue, and Hope Dillaway continued to live there until her death in 2004 at age 93. Those of us who regularly drive down Montrose Avenue, past the little brown bungalow have had numerous occasions to think back on our days at the Studio School.

But that ended this week with the push of a backhoe. What once was the Studio School is now a pile of rubble.

When Hope McCloskey moved to Wakefield with her family in 1923 at age 13, Montrose Avenue was little more than a cow path in the woods. Her father paid $3,800 for the property.
Studio
Hope graduated from Wakefield High School as valedictorian and went on to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. To accommodate his daughter’s passion for art and dance, Arthur McCloskey built a studio atop the garage next to the house. For decades, that structure bore Hope’s small hand-painted sign that read, “The Studio.”

That building is now gone as well.
studio_garage
In 1942, Hope married Newton Dillaway, an educational thinker, writer and Emerson scholar. They began living in Hope’s studio on Montrose Avenue. A short time later, Miss Hope welcomed her first classes of pre-schoolers to the living room of her parents’ next door home that doubled as a classroom.

Hope Dillaway’s Studio School was a progressive kindergarten that was in many ways ahead of its time. In a January 2004 interview shortly after his mother’s death, her son, Wilson Dillaway, talked about Miss Hope as a teacher.

“She taught reading and arithmetic,” Wilson said, “but there was a very strong art element. Every student had to participate in plays and read poems. Everyone was expected to contribute and be creative.”

Miss Hope believed that “every child has the ability to succeed in this environment, and the expectation is that all will,” Wilson added.

Miss Hope cultivated a physical characteristic that no child who attended her school can ever forget. In an era when it wasn’t fashionable, her hair, even braided, hung well below her waist. Her two braids were objects of endless fascination to youngsters who had never seen anything like them before.

“When she became an artist, she did it to distinguish herself,” Wilson Dillaway explained. “It was the persona she wanted to present.”

The Studio School closed in 1968 after 26 years of educating children. In her later years, Hope Dillaway watched as first the woods across the street were developed, and then the woods behind her house were developed. The little brown bungalow became, in the words of Wilson Dillaway, “an oasis of old in the presence of new.”

And now, that oasis, for some a lingering symbol of childhood in a bygone era, has been leveled to piles of stone and wood and dust.

Driving down Montrose Avenue will never be the same.

[Thes column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “Razing of Miss Hope’s Studio School Marks End of an Era for Wakefield Baby Boomers”

  1. 1 Frank Serafini

    I remmber atending the kindergarten and Hope Dillaway’s long dark braids espcially. I remember her as tall and thin with dark rimmed glasses. She may have seemed even taller because I was so small, and my “Noni”, who would pick me up, was only 4’11”. I remember naps and snacks! I seem to recall the school having it’s own vehicle to pick up and drop off the children who attended. I remember lots of art activities and I loved the bungalow. I attended circa 1954-1955.


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