Revolutionary Woman, Belle Hill

Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr., LC History Professor~

Last week I was talking with an alumnus and our conversation soon turned to our college days and our favorite classes. I asked him whom he had for English literature and with a wistful smile he replied, “Mrs. Hill.” Then both of us paused to share our memories of that remarkable lady.

Belle Morton Hill graduated from Lynchburg College in 1936 and with her new husband William Hill she headed to New Haven, Connecticut where he entered Yale Divinity School. Her mother and aunt were graduates of Virginia Christian College, and her elder son would become a member of the class of 1962—but that lay far in the future. The Rev. Mr. Hill died at a very early age, and Belle Hill returned to Lynchburg with her two young sons.

She obtained the position of house mother in Hundley Hall, the new women’s dormitory. In the early 1950s female students were subject to many restrictions, and these were monitored by the house mothers. Her two sons lived with her parents on their farm which was about five miles from our campus. Mrs. Hill proved to be one of the most popular members of the administration, and because she had a master’s in religious studies she had a chance to teach as an adjunct.

However, her real love was English literature, and so she obtained a master’s from the University of Virginia. Resigning as house mother, she became a member of the English department in 1957, and until her retirement in 1980 she taught freshman composition, sophomore literature and upper-level classes in her specialty—modern English literature. She was a demanding professor; a friend of mine who later became a Trappist monk took her sophomore literature class three times before he passed it!  

Her elder son was one of my best friends in high school, and the summer before we entered Lynchburg College, Mrs. Hill taught us to play bridge.  After my first class, I headed to the student lounge which was in the present psychology building. As I walked in the door, Ron Martin, who was a senior, turned to me and said, “Take my hand, I have a class.” Fifty minutes later he reclaimed his hand. I had done Mrs. Hill credit and made four new friends. Thus, the first subject I mastered during my college career was contract bridge.

Mrs. Hill was one the members in the faculty who led the effort to liberalize the regulations that governed the lives of our female students. Slowly, rule by rule fell until true equality was achieved. The last barriers fell after Mrs. Hill retired, but she had helped start the process.

Every spring the female members of the graduating class engaged in an activity called “The Senior Sneak.” After the dorms were closed the women would “escape” and head to an undisclosed location where they partied until dawn. Of course, the Dean of Women knew what they were doing, and she permitted it because there was always a chaperone in attendance. Belle Hill was the faculty member most often asked to lead this annual affair. However, thanks to her, our women no longer need to sneak anywhere!

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