The Eulogizer: Innovative educators Stanley Bosworth and Phyllis Dimson

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Stanley Bosworth, 83, educator

Stanley Bosworth, an innovative and iconoclastic educator who was the “visionary and charismatic leader” of Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn for 40 years, died at his Brooklyn home Aug. 7 at 83.

St. Ann’s, once formally affiliated with a Brooklyn church but now an independent private school, has built a reputation since its founding for developing excellent students while following an unconventional curriculum. A survey conducted in 2004 showed that Saint Ann’s was “the No. 1 high school in the country for having the highest percentage of graduates go on to enroll in Ivy League and other selective colleges.”

Saint Ann’s is “a place where talented students would learn for the sake of the learning, without the pressure of grades” and has a reputation as “a hotbed of artistic expression and individualism.”

Bosworth left the school in 2004. The school’s main building was named for him in 2007.

Bosworth was born in New York and raised in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. He said in 2004 that his family name was originally Pesahovich, which was changed to Boscovitz at Ellis Island.

“And then it came to pass ye verily the next generation changed it to Bosworth,” he said. “They didn’t even know that historical names meant something! I’ve had the name all along. I was accused of hiding behind it when I became the head of an Anglican school, which it would have been had I not made it immediately nonsectarian!”

A colorful New York magazine profile of Bosworth in 2004 (worth reading in full) described St. Ann’s as an “artsy Hogwarts in Brooklyn Heights, where many things — special things! — are possible and few are forbidden.”

Writer Ben Adler, a St. Ann’s graduate, said in a published tribute to Bosworth, “Stanley’s dual insights were that individuality rather than conformity should be fostered, and that learning should be prized for its own sake. From that flowed all of Saint Ann’s unique pedagogical commitments: that there would be no grades, honors, or awards of any kind; that high-school juniors would have as much freedom to select their classes as most college students. Choosing Saint Ann’s for high school, I felt liberated. There were no rules! No phony pretense that kids don’t experiment with dangerous behaviors, no dress codes, no prohibition on chewing gum or wearing headphones in the hallways.”

A letter from Peter Darrow, president of the board of trustees of Saint Ann’s, and Vincent Tompkins, head of the school, said that “Stanley loved children and he created a school like no other, built on the foundation of that simple emotion. Thousands of students, past and present, are the direct beneficiaries of his intelligence, passion and commitment. All of us who are members of the community he created mourn his passing, express our gratitude for what he created, and extend our sympathies to his family and many friends.”

Phyllis Dimson, 93, British girls’ school director

The following entry about Phyllis Dimson, who died Aug. 4 at 93, is excerpted from a longer article written by her daughter, Dr. Shalva Weil, senior researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Weil graciously offered her piece about her mother to the Eulogizer:

If anyone beyond the age of 50 or so were asked to name the most respected woman in Anglo-Jewry in the past century, they might mention Phyllis Dimson, the headmistress of the Hasmonean Girls’ School.

Phyllis Dimson was known as a model educational leader. She was respected and revered by all, including by the extreme religious right, and she succeeded in retaining an excellent name as a true professional in the community at large.

Phyllis Frumet Dimson was born in Manchester in 1917. Her mother Bertha was only 4 years old when she came to live in England from Bialystok. Bertha married Godel (Gedalia or Gad) Heilpern, who had also come as a young baby from Brod in Poland (later Austria) with his parents to Manchester.

At the age of 9, she obtained a rare scholarship for a Jewish girl to attend the prestigious Allerton Girls’ High School  in Leeds. She received a bachelor’s degree, and subsequently a master’s degree, at Durham University in French. During her studies in the 1930s, she lived with Madame Goldberg-Herzog, the sister of Chief Rabbi Herzog and a close family friend. At the Sorbonne she encountered Polish Jews who ate “treif” but called her the “shikse” because she didn’t know Yiddish. Not to be beaten, she learned Yiddish as a foreign language.

In 1942, Phyllis was recruited by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, known as the WAAF, to parachute into occupied France on a daring mission, since she spoke excellent French without the trace of an accent. She was later rejected because she was born in Austria. She spent most of the war years working in the local Sunderland Jewish community, sorely depleted because of the conscription, and keeping up local morale.

A message she published in 1942 in a newsletter for Jewish soldiers said, "You will be interested to learn that Zionism continues to flourish and be propagated in Sunderland. Our young people are growing up ‘Jew-conscious,’ aware of the fact that they are part of that great but down-trodden, persecuted people.”

In 1944 she became senior mistress in the newly mixed Hasmonean Grammar School in London. She met her husband, David, at a meeting of Professional and Technical Workers’ Aliya, and remained married for 63 years until he died in 2009.

After she was named headmistress of Hasmonean school in 1961, she changed it from a parochial Jewish institution to a competitive and serious grammar school. Within only a couple of years, she had submitted her first pupil as a candidate for Oxford University, overcoming all religious objections and diplomatically handling the somewhat conservative Board of Governors.

In retirement, she was active in the World Zionist Organization. She leaves two children, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
 

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