Maplewood Essays have been written, corrected and returned to the more than 230 girls in the senior class at Pittsfield High School.
For the author of the best essay, it will mean a prize at the June graduation ceremony. For the majority of the class, it was a compulsory exercise in research and composition.
But regardless of the spirit in which the essays were written, they serve as an annual memorial to an event more than a century ago that marked the beginning of an educational era.
In 1841, the Rev. Wellington Tyler and his wife established the area’s first girls’ school on land presently occupied by the First National Store and the Maplewood Apartments.
The school and the idea of educating young ladies were greeted with skepticism but the school flourished.
Then came the Depression of 1857-58, a typhoid epidemic, competition from Smith and Vassar and finally the Panic of 1873.
In 1884 the school was presented to Oberlin (Ohio) College and finally ended up as a summer resort.
Today, only the Maplewood Apartments and an ever-decreasing number of alumnae remain.
This alumnae, which included the daughters of some of the prominent families in Pittsfield and vicinity, held annual reunions. At one reunion there were some 100 women present. Wishing to keep the name and traditions of the school alive, and also to further the education of other young women, they passed a resolution at the 1926 reunion, establishing a scholarship fund which was given to Smith College. The fund was named the “Maplewood Institute Prize.” A large amount of the funds for the scholarship was supplied almost immediately and the money was deposited in a local bank.
The women decided that the scholarship should be awarded to the senior PHS girl who wrote the best paper on a given subject. Judging was based on the effectiveness of writing and the originality and accuracy of presentation. However, during the past 20 years, the contest has been incorporated into the term paper required of the entire senior class. From this paper, known as the Maplewood Essay, the prize is determined. Because of a decrease in funds, the prize has been changed to a book of the winner’s preference and is awarded at graduation.