NewsDec 17, 2016

Remembering Jill Hamilton, Special Education innovator who also helped spur Expressive Therapies and Counseling Psychology at Lesley

Former leader in 1970s-era graduate-degree program had relocated to Virginia to be with family.

Jill Hamilton, the last surviving member of Lesley’s original graduate-degree program leaders, died Thanksgiving Eve, according to University Professor Shaun McNiff, developer of the university’s Expressive Therapies program. McNiff says he received the news from Hamilton’s son, Seth.

Hamilton was the former Dean of Special Education at Lesley and later was President of Maple Hill Family and Educational Services, Inc., in Brewster, Mass. She and her Lesley contemporaries, the late Cynthia Cole (Open Education & Independent Studies) and Lenore Parker (Elementary Education), and William Perry (Dean and Vice President for Graduate Studies), “laid the foundations for Lesley’s growth in graduate education,” says McNiff, who began at Lesley three years after Hamilton.

Dr. Hamilton, McNiff adds, “quickly created a thriving center of innovation and remarkable growth,” and he credits her with being instrumental in his own innovation and success.

“She gave me opportunities to teach courses in her division in 1973 and the response led to the establishment of Lesley’s Arts in Therapy and Arts in Education graduate programs,” McNiff says. “She actively supported the arts courses and then the degree programs that grew from them, and did everything she could to generously further their autonomous growth. She did the same for Counseling Psychology.”

Dr. Bonnie Leonard, a midlife coach for women, worked with Hamilton when Leonard was an Associate Professor at Lesley in the 1970s before moving on in 1983 to become Dean of Continuing Education at Wellesley College. She remembered how Hamilton got results and surpassed expectations at a crucial juncture in Lesley’s history.

“In 1970, Jill asked me to teach a new assessments course in the Special Education department at (then) Lesley College Graduate School,” Leonard recalls. “I crossed my fingers six students would enroll so the course would be a go. When I entered the classroom, it was packed with 56 students who couldn’t all find seats. Jill had spread the word in her characteristic fashion.”

Leonard adds: In those early days, the graduate school grew 41 percent every year for seven straight years under the guidance of Dean William Perry. Thanks to Jill’s charismatic leadership, the Special Education department accounted for a significant part of that remarkable growth.”

Jack Gillette, Dean of the Graduate School of Education, never worked with Hamilton, but he is well aware of her impact on Lesley.

“It is important to remember that the legacy of the Graduate School of Education was built with the same passion for social justice and inclusion that animates our work today,” Gillette says. “Jill Hamilton was one of those pioneers at Lesley, and we are truly indebted to how much she paved the way for us as an institution.”

McNiff agrees. Saying: “I think there was no question that the momentum she and her team established in making Lesley the leader in special education training for teachers, with an emphasis on the emerging area of learning disabilities, created a slipstream effect that spurred the development of other programs and the whole of Lesley.”