Family Champions Women’s Education

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, an area family continues to celebrate a significant historic achievement of its own – having five generations of women who have attained a college education.

When Johanna Mary Kathryn Staffel of Bethany graduated summa cum laude from West Liberty University on Dec. 14, she represented the fifth generation of women in her family to complete college studies.

Hanna, as she is called, is the daughter of Dr. Mary-Bess Halford-MacLeod and Dr. Peter Staffel of Bethany. Her father is a professor of English and director of the honors program at West Liberty.

After graduating with a degree in elementary education and a minor in early childhood and special education, Hanna is returning to Iowa for another summer as a counselor at Camp Albrecht Acres, a camp for people with special needs. This fall, she will be moving to Winston-Salem, N.C., for a year of service with the Abraham Project through the Episcopal Service Corps. She then plans to pursue a career in teaching.

Hanna’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Halford-MacLeod, known to friends as Mary-Bess, graduated from the University of Stirling, Scotland, in 1976 with honors and a first-class degree in German language and literature. In 1981, she became the first person to graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the German department of Stirling University. After moving to the United States with her husband, she earned a Master in Library Science degree at Louisiana State University and worked at Tulane University and as library director at Bethany College.

Mary-Bess’ mother, the late Giovanna Mary Durst, known as Vanna, studied Italian at Oxford University in England. She was employed by the British intelligence agency, MI6, and served in several parts of the world. Her husband and Mary-Bess’ father, the late Aubrey Seymour Halford-MacLeod, was a longtime member of the British Foreign Service and served as the British ambassador in Iceland.

Vanna’s mother, the late Alice Winifred Durst, graduated from King’s College, London, with honors and a degree in zoology. She grew up in India, where her father was an indigo planter. She and her husband lived in Florence, Italy, and in England.

Alice’s mother, the late Emma Booth Headland, studied at Newnham Hall College, Cambridge. In 1882, she set out for India, where she had been appointed headmistress of a school. On the journey, she met Edgar Hill, an indigo planter in India. She returned to England in 1901 and lived in Sussex for the rest of her life.

Considering the limitations placed on women seeking an education in earlier times, the women of this extended family were definitely high achievers and, in many ways, ahead of their times. Brava!

FestivALL, a popular arts festival in Charleston, will mark its 10th year this summer. To celebrate the anniversary, organizers said several new events will be added to the June 20-29 festival.

New events will include FestivALT, an alternative rock and country concert Saturday, June 21; a West Virginia Writer’s Roundtable on Sunday, June 22, with special guest Scott McClanahan, author of “Hill William” and “Crappalachia”; theater performances created around public art by Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre Saturday and Sunday, June 21-22; West Virginia Music Hall of Fame “WV Squares” game with Peter Marshall, a West Virginia native and former Wheeling resident; Art-for-ALL, a juried art show for children in grades K-6; Appalachian Festival of Young Voices and the St. George Orthodox Cathedral Religious Icon Festival.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: