Recently looking out onto the quadrangle from the top steps of Boyden Hall, Juliette (Silva) Almeida, Margaret (Moniz) LaFleur and Elizabeth “Betty” (Rego) O’Neill reminisced.
“That building wasn’t there,” Almeida said.
“Yes it was, that’s Tilly,” O’Neill corrected her.
“No, no, the one behind it,” her longtime friend responded.
The three classmates stood on campus 55 years ago, when they each collected degrees in elementary education.
The three women are all members of the class of 1963. Almeida and O’Neill earned graduate degrees from Bridgewater in 1968, LaFleur a year later.
When the trio first arrived on campus as freshman the school was known as Bridgewater State Teachers College. By the time they graduated, the legislature had approved a name change to Bridgewater State College.
Their friendship didn’t start at Bridgewater, but some 30 miles away in the mill town of Fall River.
“We’ve known each other since we were born,” O’Neill said.
The women were raised in the same Fall River neighborhood. Their families were all friends.
“We received our first communion together, our confirmation together. We were always friends,” LaFleur said.
The future Bears attended Fall River’s Academy of the Sacred Hearts. Upon graduating 12thgrade, they decided to continue their education.
“As a woman you only had three options back then; nursing, teaching or secretarial,” Almeida said. “We decided to be teachers. Bridgewater was known as the teaching school.”
LaFleur took a slight detour before coming to campus: She initially explored becoming a nun. Three days at a convent were enough. She became so homesick that her parents had to come collect her.
“I don’t think it was your vocation,” O’Neill said, with a laugh.
With the convent behind her, LaFleur rejoined her friends from the neighborhood and began her studies at Bridgewater.
As one would expect, things were different in 1959. Tuition was only $200 per semester, undergraduates had to be in the dorms by 9 p.m., and female students were not allowed to wear pants and instead had to don pleated skirts with nylons.
“It was freezing in the winter,” O’Neill complained.
The course load was also heavier than today, Almeida said. It wasn’t uncommon to register for 13 classes in a single semester.
“We took classes all day, there was not much of a break. We literally were in class morning to night,” she said. “As elementary education majors we had to take classes in everything.”
Throughout college, the women leaned on each other, as they worked dated and studied. When senior year rolled around, they began searching for fulltime teaching positions. After graduation, they were each offered a position back where it all began – in Fall River.
“The three of us were hired on the same day,” O’Neill said.
LaFleur was hired as a first grade teacher at the John J. Doran Elementary School. Almeida was employed at the Charles V. Carroll School to teach fourth grade. Meanwhile, O’Neill started off at the William M. Connell School as a second grade teacher.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” LaFleur laughed.
The three quickly figured it out and continued their education, each earning their master’s degrees from Bridgewater. Eventually, they moved on from teaching into administration, each becoming a principal within the Fall River school district.
LaFleur took the helm for the Lincoln Annex School, Almeida served as principal at the Pine Street School, and O’Neill took on principal duties first at the Carroll School, before moving to the Susan H. Wixon Elementary School.
Throughout their 40-plus years working in education, the friends continued to support each other through marriages, births, divorce and death.
“We have remained friends,” O’Neill said. “We have our own distinct things, but we are still a unit.”
Now retired, the friends are all grateful that Bridgewater was part of their journey, particularly LaFleur who is happy she left the convent to trail her friends to Bridgewater.
“I was never sorry to have followed my friends into education,” she said. “It has been my mission to work with the children, parents and teachers. It’s been amazing. What a gift.”
No doubt, her best friends agree.