Four decades have passed since the first female students arrived at Brooks. The Fall 2019 Bulletin spoke with some of them as they reflected on their time at the school, and we're sharing the story here in recognition of Women's History Month. Visit the Bulletin online to read more stories from the issue, and see news, about Brooks School's inspiring alumni.
Forty years ago, the first female students to attend Brooks arrived on campus. The group was one of pioneers, of determined students, of women who wished to step into a community and make it their own. Forty years later, the Bulletin caught up with some of the female members of those first few coed classes to hear about their Brooks experiences, their lives since leaving the school and the lessons they carried with them.
KIP AZZONI DOYLE '81
Kip Azzoni Doyle '81 credits her experience of being one of the members of the first coed class at Brooks with stoking her sense of courage. She speaks of the support and encouragement faculty emeriti Michael B. King and Richard Holmes gave her as she navigated the school. "Every single ounce of my journey to get to Brooks, and then also the attention that I got from teachers once I was here — I carry that with me," she says.
Doyle says that Brooks taught her to break her own trail. She gives an example: Doyle grew up ice skating, and when the school attempted to place Doyle in a dance class for girls, she bucked authority and found herself skating with the boys ice hockey team and running stats on the bench during games. "The school was terrific in trying to give us every opportunity," she says, "but you had to have sharp elbows. In everything that we did, we had to forge our own way."
"We made it up as we went along," Doyle says. "There was a whole lot of self-motivation. I was born with that, but Brooks was the perfect place to let that run and forge that forward momentum. As a result, there was this kind of method that I applied to life after: Go get it, take a bite out of it and give it your best shot."
Since graduating from Brooks, Doyle has spread her talents far and wide, and always with an undercurrent of exploration, of trying new things, of amplifying new voices and of lending her own to those who need it. She is, among other pursuits, an inventor, a filmmaker, a freelance journalist and an entrepreneur. She says that the most important part of her work now is three companies she founded in Chicago, each of which employs struggling military veterans: Rags of Honor, a silk screen and apparel company; Veteran Roasters Cup O'Joe, a coffee company; and RNR Brews, a craft beer brewing company.
Doyle says the importance of supporting military veterans became clear following a tragedy in her own family, and she's gone full-bore into trying to help. "A lot of it was, again, that sense of pioneering," Doyle says. "That's transferred through me to my kids. My attitude with them was to 'go far, go wide, go long,' and I really learned that at Brooks." She continues: "I mean, honestly, a big thank you to a school that could embrace newcomers and really roll out a future for us that I could never imagine. It really was very special to be the first there, and I never realized how much that would affect me later in my life."
DEIRDRE DENAPOLI DUNN '82
Deirdre DeNapoli Dunn '82, P'11, P'13, P'15, P'18 has a family tree that has entire branches of dark green. Her brother preceded her as a Brooks student; she met her husband, Peter Dunn '82, P'11, P'13, P'15, P'18, while they were students together on Great Pond Road; and she and Peter sent their four children — including their two daughters, Morgan '15 and Madison '18 — through Brooks.
Deirdre and Peter Dunn have the distinction of being the first Brooks couple to get married and send their own children to Brooks. "I was at The Pike School at the time that Brooks was talking about going coed," Dunn remembers. "There were a few of us females who stayed at Pike for ninth grade so that we could start going to Brooks as fourth-formers. It was exciting to be the groundbreaking first girls there."
Dunn remembers a school that was welcoming to its girls, but that didn't always have systems in place to manage them. For example, she says, girls were held to a dress code that was designed around male-gendered clothing: "We got away with murder," she laughs. "We really did. Some of the boys were in the blazer, shirt and tie, and for the girls it turned into anything goes except jeans. This was the 1980s, remember, so a lot of the girls did that thing where you take a pair of jeans, split the inner seam and then put in a triangle-shaped piece of denim to make a skirt out of your jeans. We couldn't wear jeans, but we still kind of were."
Dunn was a day student, and she remembers fellow day students and her having an experience at school that was different from the experience her boarding peers had. "We were definitely 'townies,'" she says. "We came, we went to school, we did sports, then we left." She's happy to report that the experience her day student children had — particularly her daughters — was vastly different from her own.
"The first thing I want to say is that a lot of things were still the same, like the sense of community at Brooks," Dunn says. "The feel of the school, the fact that it's stayed the same size, that community feel — that never changed. That's what Peter and I loved about Brooks, and that's why we wanted our own kids to go." She continues, now speaking about the ways in which the day student experience has become more similar to the boarding experience. "The fact that day student girls are now much more integrated is a wonderful thing," she says. "My girls were involved in so many of the different clubs and things that weren't as available when Brooks had just gone coed. They would always stay for dinner, stay for study hall, go to the library — none of that happened when I was a student."
LEIGH PERKINS '81, P'14, P'18
English faculty Leigh Perkins '81, P'14, P'18 is the daughter of two of the school's faculty emeriti: Leonard "Skip" Perkins '56, P'81, P'83, GP'14, GP'18 and Maureen Perkins H'81, W'56, P'81, P'83, GP'14 GP'18. She grew up on campus and spent her childhood years exploring the buildings, playing on the fields and making Brooks her home. After leaving for college and a stint as an attorney, Perkins returned home to Great Pond Road in 1998, and she's stayed ever since. She's raised two children on campus, and she's become a bedrock figure on the Brooks faculty.
Perkins '81, P'14, P'18 (right) with her daughter, Sam Grant '14.
"As I was growing up here, it wasn't obvious to me that I was one of the only young female humans on this campus," Perkins says. "In my age group, it was really only Circe Dunnell '84 and me, and I would argue neither she nor I thought of ourselves as anything except faculty kids. We didn't really gender anybody, and we were both running around being just as athletic and tree-climby as everybody else was."
Her childhood, Perkins believes, imbued her with a unique character trait. "I feel like I grew up with what passes for white male privilege," she says. "The way I conducted myself in the future bespoke a certain confidence, a lack of fear or concern that I think most women my age didn't have. I was so entirely comfortable in rooms full of men or in institutions that were built from the male perspective." Perkins entered Brooks as a fifth-former from Pingree School.
"The classroom was an interesting place," she says. "All of us got to be the first girl doing something at Brooks, whether we thought about it that way or not. We were often the only girl in our class or the only girl doing a thing. In a way, I feel like our being there freed up the boys a little. The girls came in a little more free-spirited, and we injected permission and space into whatever regimented notions of what one could do existed before we came."
Perkins, for example, was the first female lead in the musical; the first female president of the choir; the first captain of the girls 1st soccer team; and, a point of which she is proud, the first (and last) girl to receive a Brooks diploma from Founding Headmaster Frank Ashburn, who returned to Brooks from retirement for that purpose. Perkins believes that Mr. Ashburn was an early proponent of coeducation.
"Mr. Ashburn understood that doing the best we could meant making sure our schools were an equitable reflection of our country," she says. "And that's a tricky thing to do under this business model. But he knew, in the early 1960s, that these schools couldn't and shouldn't survive if they were merely going to be mirrors of their old selves."
ALICE BABCOCK PEARCE '81
Alice Babcock Pearce '81 holds a special place in Brooks history: She was the first woman to walk across the Prize Day stage and receive a Brooks diploma. "It's very much my claim to fame," she says. "Whenever I meet anybody who went to Brooks, whether they're older or younger, I tell them that I was the first girl. They're always impressed." Pearce adds that the distinction landed with her only because a classmate — Kip Azzoni Doyle — graduated with honors. In those days, honors students crossed the stage last, which freed up the first spot for Pearce.
Pearce decided to attend Brooks because, she says, she was ready for something different from New York City's Nightingale-Bamford School. "I also fell in love with the campus when I came to visit it," she says. "I really thought it was so bucolic and beautiful, a nice contrast to New York City, in which I had spent my entire life. I was ready to get out of New York and do something different in a more beautiful surrounding, yet be close enough to New York that it was easy enough to get home for vacations."
Brooks checked off all the requirements Pearce wanted, and it also appealed to her adventurous nature. "I thought it would be really interesting to be a pioneer and pave the way for future women at Brooks," Pearce says. "I thought it would be a fun adventure, rather than going to a school that was already coed. I felt that it was an honor, and I was just very excited about the opportunity."
Pearce says she quickly became comfortable on campus. "The ratio [of boys to girls] was quite unbalanced," she notes, "but I always felt that everyone bent over backwards to be thoughtful and respectful, and I felt that it was successful from the get-go because of that. It was fun. You felt special."
The small classes at Brooks also appealed to Pearce. "It was rewarding to me to feel that I could really be academically strong," she remembers. "I really relished a lot of the teachers. Sometimes I was the only girl in my class, especially that first year, and I never felt uncomfortable speaking. Everybody was encouraging."
She also speaks fondly of the fact that she was able to get to know a group of male peers well. "I really enjoyed getting to know a group of guys and truly be friends with them," she says. "That was invaluable to me. That was one of the great things."
GINGER WALSH COBB '83
Ginger Walsh Cobb '83 has dedicated her career to independent school education: to supporting students as they seek success in the classroom and on the field; to teaching and coaching in ways that develop the whole person; and to framing a school's systems, infrastructure and resources in mission-driven ways.
Cobb is currently the head of the upper school at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Bethesda, Maryland, but she has worn many hats since she arrived on campus as an English teacher in 1987. She was head coach of the girls varsity soccer and lacrosse teams for six years before leaving St. Andrew's to pursue her master's degree overseas. She returned in 1998 as the director of athletics; she continued to coach until 2003.
Over the course of her coaching career, Cobb brought home numerous championships and sent her athletics program to acclaim. As director of athletics, Cobb set up many of the school's programs for continued success by overseeing significant improvements to the school's athletic facilities. In addition to her massive presence in the St. Andrew's athletics program, Cobb has also served St. Andrew's as service learning teacher, dean of students, assistant head of upper school and head of upper school. She also conceived of and ran the school's first summer programs.
Cobb was inducted into the St. Andrew's athletics hall of fame last year and was showered with praise. "She's dedicated her life to St. Andrew's," former St. Andrew's director of athletics Al Hightower said at the induction. "She believes in community, in including people, in setting high expectations... she exemplifies all the things St. Andrew's believes in."
To hear Cobb tell it, the roots of her love of teaching and coaching reach back to her time at Brooks. At Brooks, Cobb says, she found a school and a faculty that were "very, very thoughtful about the transition from all-boys to coed. To me, it seemed very seamless, and it seemed like they wanted us to have lots of opportunities."
Those opportunities were many, from the classroom to athletics. Cobb speaks fondly of former Brooks faculty — the Dunnells, Ray Broadhead, Nick Evangelos — who, she says, were "fabulous and very supportive." They welcomed her into their classes and gave her a comfortable atmosphere in which to learn.
Cobb also found a home on the field at Brooks: The school began a girls lacrosse program when she was a fourth-former, and it went on to win the ISL when she was a sixth-former. She also notes that she played on the boys hockey team. "The school was open to, if it didn't have that opportunity for girls, making it happen," she remembers. "David Swift was the coach, and he was excellent and made me feel so welcome."
Cobb credits her coaches at Brooks, including former faculty Swift, Bob Morahan and Dusty Richard, as "awesome role models who made me love athletics, and working hard and being part of a team. The close atmosphere, the caring, supportive adults in my life — I wanted to give that back to my students. That striving for excellence and teamwork, really, I credit back to Brooks."
MAUREEN KINNEY '82
Maureen Kinney '82 says that her path to Brooks was an unexpected one, and that her time at the school set her up "for a life of adventure."
Kinney grew up in a small town in Michigan as the youngest of six children. Nobody in her family, she says, went to boarding school, and going away to school wasn't part of her family's equation. One summer, though, that all changed: Her older brother came home from Stanford University, where he was in school, and told Kinney that she should move past the boundaries of her town and go to boarding school.
Kinney knew nothing about boarding schools, she says, and her parents were not receptive to the idea, so she took matters into her own hands. "I went to the local library and got out a little booklet on boarding schools," she says. "I looked through it and noted the schools that looked interesting, and I applied."
It was July, and Kinney applied to a handful of schools for admission that September, two months away. She had no SSAT scores, she says — nothing to show schools other than her transcripts. When Kinney's father took a business trip to the East Coast, Kinney went with him, intent on visiting the schools to which she had applied (she had no interviews lined up).
After a failed attempt to visit St. George's School ("We couldn't even find it," Kinney laughs. "There was no Google Maps back then, and heaven forbid we do any research ahead of time"), Kinney and her father drove to North Andover. "It was a Saturday night, I think. There was a light on in a building — we didn't know which building it was," she says. Serendipitously, the building was the admissions building, and the light belonged to former faculty Cliff Irons '63, who at that time was the dean of admissions. "He let us come in, and he gave me an interview," Kinney remembers. "He called a couple of weeks later with a spot for me. I found out only a week or two before school started. I was really, really excited when I got the call that it was going to work."
Kinney says that Brooks felt right when she visited. "I stepped on that campus, and I was like 'I love this school,'" she remembers. "It was really clear that my only choice was Brooks. It was one of the best decisions I ever made."
Brooks, Kinney says, supported her and believed in her, and became, she says, her family. She became a dorm prefect and a school prefect, and tried new sports, including rowing. She matriculated to Hamilton College, where she helped start the women's rowing program, then moved to Chicago to attend art school. Kinney also became an instructor for Outward Bound programs.
She and her husband have three teenage daughters, with whom they recently traveled the world for a year. Kinney credits her family with giving her a sense of independence and inner strength, and she credits Brooks with amplifying and reinforcing it. "Brooks set me up for a life of adventure," she says. "Just going for it, embracing the unknown. Brooks opened doors for me and opened my eyes to a life beyond the Midwest."
OTHER RECENT STORIES
Serious Competition to be Funny
The theme of Brooks' annual Wilder Speaking Contest this year encouraged students to share a humorous look at life — and did they ever!
Life Lessons Through Art
Jim Sperber '87 inspires students as an artist in residence and teaches them the techniques shown in his new "Directions" exhibit in the Robert Lehman Art Gallery.
Bravo, Beauty and the Beast Cast!
Audiences got twice the fun at Brooks' winter musical, thanks to a double cast for the Disney extravaganza: See our photo album.