06: Henry Winchester Rolfe

Professor Henry Winchester Rolfe (1858 – 1945) and Mrs. Rolfe

Professor Rolfe was an English instructor at Cornell University (1883-1885), Professor of Latin at Swarthmore College (1885-1890), lecturer in Latin literature at the University of Pennsylvania (1891-1892), and Associate Professor of Greek at Stanford University (1900-1910). He was a staff lecturer in literature for the American Society for the Extension of University Teaching, and he was also a Shakespearean scholar.[30]

Professor Rolfe and his wife, Bertha Colt Rolfe, came to Nelson in 1895, settling in a home now owned by Dorothea Iselin, located on the present-day Apple Hill Road. Like Olivia Rodham, Dr. Rolfe converted the large barn on this property into living quarters with additional rooms to accommodate guests.

It’s intriguing to note that sixteen years earlier Rolfe had been chosen to serve as Sub-Master for the Union School District in Keene, New Hampshire. In the Reports of the Board of Education in the Union District for 1879-1880, the “Report of the Union District” states:

Classical course is still continued, and is mainly under the charge of Mr. Rolfe. He is an accomplished scholar, and his success as a teacher has been satisfactory to the committee and scholars. Any scholar in Union District can, if he desires, fit for the best colleges in the country, free of tuition.[31]

These same records indicate that for thirteen weeks of work Henry Rolfe was paid $21.05 per week, or $273.69. This sum included board, but there is no indication of where Mr. Rolfe lived.

The Reports of the Board of Education in the Union District for 1880-1881, “Report of the Union District” includes the following: “Mr. Rolfe, who for a year past had most successfully discharged the duties of Sub­ Master, left at the close of the summer term. A Professorship in one of our New England colleges, preceded by a term of study and travel in Europe, was an attraction too strong to be resisted.”[32] Although Rolfe’s stay in Keene was brief, this information puts him in our immediate geographic area several years before Olivia Rodham came to live in Nelson.[33]

Interestingly, Henry Rolfe is listed in A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin as a member of the Dublin Art Colony. And in a letter written in the 1960s by Mrs. Alexander Law, a Nelson neighbor of Ol­ivia Rodham, in response to Robbins Milbank’s request for information on Olivia Rodham, Mrs. Law indicates that Fred Rolfe, Henry Rolfe’s brother, owned a home in Dublin. While staying at Fred Rolfe’s home, Olivia Rodham saw information on a property selling in Nel­son for $200.00, an affordable price for her. Upon sight of the beautiful vista and the large barn, Miss Rodham bought her property in Nelson. Dr. Rolfe published in several scholarly areas. 1891 saw the appearance of his Syllabus of a Course of Six Lectures on English Literature in the Nineteenth Century, followed in 1892 by The Ideal Syllabus. He also collaborated with fellow scholars to publish several books on Petrarch and other Renaissance figures. Petrarch, the First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters was published in 1898, with its authorship attributed to “James H. Robinson, Professor of History at Columbia University with the collaboration of Henry Winchester Rolfe, Sometime Professor of Latin in Swarthmore College.” Rolfe also wrote Antigone, an Account of the Presentation of the Antigone of Sophocles at the Leland Stanford Junior University, April seventeenth and nineteenth, nineteen hundred and two, which was published in 1903.

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