Three years ago, former history teacher Laura Camp struck gold while rummaging through the school archive in the library.
“I was just dumpster diving through old boxes,” she said. “I knew the archive contained materials from the early days of the school, but when I saw that envelope of negatives I knew I had found something special.”
Camp had uncovered dozens of old 2x2- inch negatives of photos taken by Shirley Sherman, one of the first staff members at St. Stephen’s. “Looking at her photographs, you get a sense of the kind of work she was doing to create a record of the school,” Camp said of the images of sporting events, dorm life, special campus programs, even student birthday parties and dances.
“Shirley was the official photographer for the school yearbook for the first five or six years,” said Christine Aubrey, director of Advancement. “All the images from the first years of ‘The Deacon’ were hers.”
Born in 1919, Sherman possessed a rough- hewn spirit, no-nonsense personality and wickedly funny sense of humor. After graduating from The University of Texas at
Austin in 1942, she joined the U.S. Army as a soldier in the Women’s Army Corps. “She was head of the secretarial pool during the U.S. Army’s occupation of Vienna during World War II,” said Aubrey, who believes Sherman bought her camera while stationed in Austria.
Following the war, Sherman worked as a counselor and photographer at Camp Mystic, located 100 miles west of Austin. “Bill Brewster gave a sermon at the camp one Sunday,” Aubrey said of the first head of school. “He recruited Shirley to be his secretary. She started work on the first day school opened in the fall of 1950.”
As secretary to the head of school, Sherman’s ’day job’ involved handling an immense amount of paperwork for the school, including typing exams, recording grades, distributing report cards, and coordinating communications among school staff, parents and trustees. She was also a member of the residential staff and lived on campus in a one-room apartment connected to Freeman dormitory. As a dorm parent, she served duty every third day and was required to attend all meals and daily snack time.
No doubt, her military experience helped prepare Sherman for the rigors of Spartan life. “Shirley was tough as nails,” Camp noted. “She was very self- sufficient and liked being alone. That being said, the school was everything to her.”
“St. Stephen’s was her entire life,” Aubrey concurred. “Shirley was an educated woman who supported others her entire professional life. Luckily for us, she made it her business to witness and record school life.”
Sherman’s tenure at St. Stephen’s spanned an amazing 55 years. Her black-and-white photos of life on The Hill in the 1950s—those discovered by Camp in the school archives— are now on display in various shared meeting spaces across campus, including the Board Room in the student center, a dining hall meeting room and the Admission Office.
Sherman retired from St. Stephen’s in January 2008. Thanks to her tremendous photography skills and dedication to St. Stephen’s, we can all gain insight into the early days of this school on a hill that she loved so deeply.
A Glimpse of 1950s School Life
“Sherman faced many personal challenges in her career at St. Stephen’s,” wrote Kathleen Wilson, former head librarian, in a profile of Shirley Sherman from 2000. “Even answering the phone in her first years on the job was not easy.
“At that time, no telephone line ran to the school. The phone company, however, agreed to install a mobile phone in a car. Ike Fowler, the school handyman and horse stable manager, towed an old junker to the phone company on 9th Street. Once the phone was installed and wired to the car’s horn, Fowler towed it back to school, where it was parked in front of the administration building. Whenever the horn honked, Sherman had to race outside to answer the call from the car.”