When Marian Melby arrived at Teachers College in 1946 to study for her master’s degree in nutrition education, she boarded with Bea Shuttleworth, an octogenarian retiree who rented an apartment in Seth Low Hall. Sixty-seven years later, when Marian finally moved out of that building, she had become – much like her early friend – one of the elders in a community of teachers and teaching advocates who connected generations of families in a life of common purpose.
TC’s newly established Forrest and Marian Abbott Endowed Scholarship, funded with a $100,000 gift from Marian’s estate, commemorates those lives and that purpose.
In 1946, Marian was only a year out of college. Sometime after she moved in with Mrs. Shuttleworth, she met Forrest Abbott, then the purchasing agent and superintendent of operations at TC. Forrest had earned his own master’s degree at the College in 1934. He was working on his education doctorate and raising two sons, Jeffrey and James, in Whittier Hall. Marian and Forrest married in 1951 and moved together to apartment #26 in Seth Low. Together, they had a son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Patricia. In 1953, Forrest became treasurer and controller at Barnard College.
“This was a community about opportunity, knowledge, and equity.”
Jon Abbott remembers that, when he turned six years old, his parents “splurged,” moving the family to apartment #33 in Seth Low, which had windows facing Morningside Drive, a marked improvement over the air shafts visible from apartment #26. There the family remained.
For a time, three of the children attended TC’s Agnes Russell School, an innovative and diverse private school that the College operated from 1948 through 1973. Jon went to PS 36 and the Cathedral School. Thus, all the Abbott children experienced Morningside Heights as a true neighborhood. “We knew every nook and cranny,” Jon says. The children played on the campuses of Teachers College and Barnard. They knew the local shopkeepers. Jon remembers that Forrest went every day to the Academy Luncheonette – known to the family as “Jack’s” after the proprietor, Jack Gordon – to buy his newspapers. He keeps a photo taken in 1949 of his brothers standing in front of Hartley’s Chemist.
Most of all, Jon reminisces about growing up in a multigenerational community of people who loved education. “This was a community about opportunity, knowledge, and equity,” he says. While Marian came from a long line of educators, Forrest had been the first in his family to escape tenant farming. He had put himself, then a brother, through college. “For him, education was his lifeline to a better life,” Jon says.
He recalls that faculty and administrators who retired often stayed right on campus and in the immediate neighborhood. “You’d see the men and women you knew in their 70s and 80s, sitting on park benches along Morningside Drive, in the neighborhood grocer, dry cleaner, or drugstore, and it meant something to have an older generation who were respected elders in your life.”
Having chosen to raise their children in the city, the TC families showed their collective ingenuity in the summertime, conspiring to keep the children safe and occupied. “The assumption was you would be constantly learning,” remembers Jon. “You lived at the American Museum of Natural History, the Hayden Planetarium, and Coney Island Aquarium. Life was a subway token.” And, of course, there was also the TC pool. “I had swimming lessons there. I remember they had little changing booths alongside the pool. My mom swam there into her 70s.”
“You’d see the men and women you knew in their 70s and 80s, sitting on park benches along Morningside Drive, in the neighborhood grocer, dry cleaner, or drugstore, and it meant something to have an older generation who were respected elders in your life.”
When Jon was 13, Columbia University opened its new gym facility at 120th and Broadway. “The neighborhood children graduated to that pool. It was the coolest thing in my life. “We swam every day for four hours. That first summer, nobody had yet discovered it, so we had our own private pool.”
Jon has lived by the values of urban engagement he learned as part of TC’s campus community. He currently serves as President and CEO of WGBH public radio in Boston, and he and his wife are active with the city’s cultural institutions. “These are places that create public access to learning,” he says.
The Forrest and Marian Abbott Endowed Scholarship honors two lives that were devoted giving back to TC. Forrest served on the Alumni Council, and Marian made sure the family contributed regularly to the TC Annual Fund. In fact, Marian was a member of all three TC giving societies: the Dewey Circle, which acknowledges annual fund gifts of $1,000 or more; the Maxine Greene Society, for consecutive giving – Marian donated regularly for more than 20 years; and the Grace Dodge Society, recognizing alumni who provide support for TC through a planned gift.
“My parents loved TC,” Jon says. Those ties will continue now, as their scholarship fund helps TC students long into the future.