Five and a half decades after she first stepped onto campus, Ann Ferguson retired May 15, 2010, having shared her love for literature, writing, theatre and art with some 2,000 students in almost 500 classes.
by Jo Kadlecek
Ann Ferguson remembers events and trends current students now study in books: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests and apartheid. Mostly, though, she remembers students and the stories they shared. “Many have become writers themselves—children’s books, fiction, drama, you name it,” she says. “Or they’ve studied law, become librarians, teachers or scholars. One became a master carpenter so he could write poetry. But they’re all readers.”
Hired in 1955 when the College was still on the Fenway (just opposite the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), Ferguson made the move with Gordon to Wenham that fall. She found a home, unpacked her books and went to work.
The College had a faculty of 27 and just 300 students, and as a young professor she wore many hats, teaching freshman writing, art history and masterpieces in literature. In 1956 she started a theatre program, producing the first three-act play in the College’s history, Night of the Burning Pestle. She traveled as a faculty advisor with the European Seminar (the precursor to Gordon’s Global Education programs), and drove students regularly into Boston to theatres or museums.
“It was pretty exciting to be a part of that early group and to see all that’s come to pass here,” says Ferguson. “There weren’t a lot of Christian colleges doing these things then.” In fact, at the small Protestant college Ferguson attended in the Midwest as an undergraduate, she’d had to sign a pledge that forbade attending movies, operas or plays, including Shakespeare. At that time, young women at Christian colleges were expected to become missionaries, wives or teachers.
But Ferguson was determined to find her own way and follow her passions. During her senior year of college when someone asked if she was going to teach, the young woman responded simply, “I’d starve first.” Thankfully, she didn’t. She enrolled in seminary to study the Old Testament—“because you can’t understand literature without knowledge of the Bible.” Her undergraduate mentor begged her to teach writing while she studied. She needed the work, found she liked the classroom atmosphere and has been teaching ever since.
When asked what her favorite class was, she responds, simply, “Whichever one I was in.”
Her love for a good story led her to Boston University, where she completed her doctorate while teaching full-time at Gordon. When she finally took a sabbatical, some 20 years after she began at Gordon, she studied another love: Russian literature, adding Russian to the list of languages she was already proficient in: Gaelic (for Irish literature), German, French, Spanish and Italian.
“There’s never been a time at Gordon when we weren’t encouraged to seek out truth in all aspects of the College and across all disciplines,” she said. “I don’t want to see faith embraced without the ability to think. Thinking and reading enriches the faith, and that’s exciting. That’s why I stayed.”
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