‘Father’ of Ridgefield High
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Dr. William Allee:
‘Father’ of Ridgefield High
‘Father’ of Ridgefield High
Few individuals have affected the quality of Ridgefield schools a century ago as much as William Hanford Allee, a name all but forgotten today, but renowned and respected early in the 20th Century.
“Dr. Allee may properly be called the father of Ridgefield High School,” The Ridgefield Press said at his death in April 1927. “He saw the need of such an institution in town. Although he met with strong opposition, he well knew the justice of the cause. Patiently he worked and finally triumphed.”
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Allee was born in 1872, graduated from Brooklyn Polytech and Columbia Medical School, and opened a practice in Wilton around 1905. He and his wife, Laura Curie Allee, came to town in 1906, buying the former Hurlbutt place still standing at Main and Market Streets.
Dr. Allee was elected to the school board in 1912, serving many years. “He was the guiding hand that created and developed the Hamilton High School (Ridgefield High’s original name) and saw it gradually advance into one of the best small town high schools in the state,” The Press said.
He also led the effort to secure land on East Ridge for a new grammar school and ball field – the Benjamin Franklin Grammar School later became Ridgefield High School.
He was a true activist for education.
“When we came to Ridgefield, the town did not provide free textbooks for school children,” his wife, later Laura Curie Allee Shields, wrote in her autobiography, “Memories.” “One day, one of his patients, a poor widow with five or six children, came to see him to ask if something could be done about free books, as it was simply impossible for her to buy books for all her children, either new or second hand.
“Doctor went to see our town attorney, Judge Light, who, by the way, was a good suffragist, and he told him that Connecticut had two suffrage laws giving votes to women, one on all school questions and the other on libraries.” (This was eight years before the 19th Amendment was ratified.)
Allee decided to employ the little-used right of women to vote on school issues, but also learned that the previous time it was exercised, Ridgefield town officials had “lost” a voting list that contained names of women who officially wanted to be able to vote.
“Dr. Allee spoke before our Equal Franchise League and agitated the question with every woman with whom he came in contact. Two hundred and six women gave their names to him to be made voters. Doctor made the list in duplicate.” The list was submitted to the town’s registrars of voters and they accepted it.
“The day came for the registrars to meet, and the women went to the town hall to be made voters. Doctor was there, and I will never forget the amazement and confusion of the men that so many women came up to the scratch. The men fumbled around at their desks and whispered and conferred with each other, and finally we were told that the list had been mislaid.
“Doctor was all ready for them and handed in the duplicate list.” Because the original of the list had been properly received and acknowledged, they were forced to accept the copy.
“Cheers went up. The room was full, as well as the hall outside. Well, we were all ‘made’ and I assure you it was a sacred rite.”
A town meeting Oct. 10, 1912, included, down on the bottom of the agenda, the question of free text books. The meeting began at 3:30 in a packed, standing-room-only town hall — about half of the attendees were women. However, most of those women had family obligations and “the men arranged it that the school business came up last. At 5 o’clock we were still there. Many mothers felt they ought to go home, but didn’t. It was almost 6 before the school business was reached.
“Dr. Allee moved that the vote be taken by roll call, which was passed. Some women whose names were down toward the end of the list, went home and came back; some whose names came first, voted and then left to take care of the homes of those down at the end of the list.
“Of course we won. I think if we had ever needed any more convincing arguments for woman suffrage, we had them that day.”
“Memories” also describes how Dr. Allee went around, drumming up money to buy the East Ridge land for the new grammar school, part of the package that included creating Hamilton High School. Education advocates had agreed to buy the property to help convince the voters to build the town’s first modern school.
Allee approached book publisher E.P. Dutton of High Ridge for a contribution, explaining the need for a modern school in Ridgefield.
“Mr. Dutton was most enthusiastic and sympathetic, and he turned to Doctor and said, ‘Suppose we take it to the Lord.’ Doctor told me he knelt down by the couch and made a most beautiful prayer for direction and wisdom. Rising from his knees, he went to his desk and made out a check for $1,000 and, giving it to Doctor, told him, ‘Here, my boy, go to it!” ($1,000 then was worth nearly $25,000 in today’s dollars.)
“Dr. Allee never rested, but day after day he went to see people from house to house until he had the whole $16,000” needed for the land. The town approved the schools project and both the grammar school and high school opened in 1915. And it was Dr. Allee who suggested the names for both; Hamilton and Franklin were two of his heroes from history.
Though a physician, Allee helped establish and was first president of the Fairfield County Farm Bureau. He was an official of the local, regional and state organizations of the Congregational Church, and his special interest was in youth groups.
“His love of justice and fair play led him to champion many causes of importance in church and community,” The Press said.
Dr. Allee was 55 when he died in 1927.
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