An old adage insists that “everyone has a story,” and never was that truer than at the May 21, 2011, gathering of Clark’s early women athletes in Room 001 of Jonas Clark Hall — the former Women’s Gym.
Their stories flowed freely, delivered into a hand-held microphone and videotaped for posterity. The theme binding all of them could be summed up in the name of one person who was critically important to the Clark — and life — experiences of each speaker: Hazel Hughes.
Clark’s legendary dean of women was the centerpiece of this celebration recognizing the installation of a plaque in her honor on the wall outside Room 001.
Miss Hughes, or Dean Hughes, as she was respectfully and affectionately known, was mentor, basketball coach, role model and mother confessor for hundreds of women who attended Clark from 1942 — the year women were first admitted as undergraduates — until Hughes’ death from cancer in 1968.
Dressed in vintage Clark athletic garb, Patricia Brissette ’68, one of the event’s organizers, moved from table to table with a microphone to elicit reminiscences from some of the women who had learned valuable lessons from Miss Hughes both on and off the basketball court.
Ann (McKenny) Early ’46, who’d traveled from her home in Texas for the May 21 event, recalled that Miss Hughes was the driving force behind bringing women’s athletics to Clark.
“Miss Hughes looked around the women’s lounge, and I think she must have spoken to both Dean Little and President Atwood to say, ‘These women need physical exercise as well as mental exercise. What are you going to do about it?’
“Soon, the call went out that all those who would like to play basketball should meet — and meet we did. That was the beginning of women’s basketball at Clark.”
Ruth (Butterfield) Robinson ’48 remembered that as a coach, Miss Hughes always kept her cool. But if she was dissatisfied with a player’s performance “she gave you a look that said, ‘Kid, get going or else.’ And we sure did. We went out there and played our hearts out.”
Miss Hughes was a calming influence, Robinson said, especially with students who’d traveled great distances to attend Clark. “She just had a way of soothing their fears, telling them how it was and getting them to adjust to the situation.”
As a Clark graduate student, Marcia Savage ’61, M.A. Ed. ’62, Ph.D. ’66, L.H.D. ’92, worked alongside Hazel Hughes for several years. When Miss Hughes was growing weaker from cancer and was forced to miss much work, President Howard Jefferson called Savage into his office and asked her to assume some of Hughes’ responsibilities.
“Something President Jefferson said to me has marked my life and career,” said Savage, who later went on to become president of Manhattanville College. “He said, ‘No matter how ill Hazel Hughes becomes, if she can only work two days a week, one day a week, it doesn’t matter. She has her job and she has her title. It will never be taken away from her.’
“That gave me something to live by, and I hope I’ve been able to replicate that in my relationships with people.”
Savage recalled that Miss Hughes kept a chart with a photo of every first-year female student on her desk, with a personalized note next to each name.
“People were beginning to feel that she was behind the times. So when I got there to work, what I was able to say to people was, ‘Oh no, this woman is not behind the times. She is very much ahead in all kinds of ways.’”