This year a group of Wells students researched, wrote, produced, and performed a historical play titled As The Ivy Grows. The play looked into the lives of two Wells Alumni: Emma Lampert Cooper and Frances “Frank” Folsom Cleveland Preston. The play dealt with subjects such as misogyny and women’s rights.
The play opened directly into historical and contemporary portrayals of women in media. From Nietzsche to Trump we were given belittling commentary on the feminine gender, delivered by a pompous male orator. When the orator finally left the stage the voice of sexism continued, this time through video clips of modern television.
As the video ended we were introduced to Minerva, Wells College icon and goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare. Minerva went on to narrate the rest of the play. Her character mirrored the feminist fighting spirit of Wells women.
Minerva observed the life of Emma, an artist and accomplished skater. Emma delivered the commencement speech for her class and encouraged her classmates to never fear other’s judgment. She told them to forge their own paths and follow their dreams. Emma went on to marry a fellow painter, Collin Cooper. They were onboard the RMS Carpathia the night the Titanic sank and helped the survivors taken on board.
We also watched the life of Frank. Her fiance sent her ivy plants for her commencement. She planted her ivy and, along with her fellow graduates, watched it grow up the side of the stage. She and her peers shed their graduation gowns to move on into their next stages of life. For Frank, the next stage was her marriage to the current president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. Frank’s life as a First Lady was full of scrutiny and misrepresentation. Her face was used in marketing without her consent and her every move was used to dictate trends.
As the Ivy Grows took advantage of the antiquity of the Wells College campus and moved locations in the middle of the play. The audience was directed from the auditorium in Macmillian Hall to the Art Exhibit Room for tea time, another iconic Wells tradition. Here, two scenes played simultaneously. One showed Emma and Collin sharing their experience on the RMS Carpathia, where Emma took the lead aiding the survivors from the Titanic. The other showed Frank navigating through her position on women’s suffrage. She supported her husband who believed that women were not prepared to have the vote; but, she said that if women took it upon themselves to seek education they would soon be ready.
The play closed out with a few words from Minerva. She reminded us that women are not weak and that Wells women can be encouraged by the history of feminism in their institution. Calling the audience together she asked us to actively discuss sexism and social expectations and to keep working towards equality.
As The Ivy Grows was written by Ally Collins, Abby Hauf, Luke Lauchle, Michelle Pradella, Kaitlyn Stinson, and LeAnne Weber.
BrierMae Ossont ’22
Tiffany Raymond ’10, Reference, Outreach, and Special Collections Librarian