University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Sketches of a lifetime

     Perhaps it's time for Nancy Sawin, Delaware '40M, to write
an autobiography. Her life is too large to be contained in a
single magazine article. There are too many facets and
dimensions. She's done too many things well.
     Here, there is only room for a sketch of her life- like the
pen and inks for which the artist side of Sawin is so well known.
It will take a book to color in all the shades and hues, to paint
a full portrait of this athlete, scholar, educator,
administrator, feminist and historian.
     Sawin grew up in a home that stressed education and equal
rights. Her grandmother, Ada Gould Quigley, was at one time
leader of the Delaware Suffragettes. Her father, Sanford Wales
Sawin, Delaware '03, was one of Delaware's first civil
engineering graduates. Her mother, Ellen Quigley Sawin, Delaware
'38M, was one of Delaware's first women to obtain a master's
degree, writing a thesis on the tar-paper shanties and horrid
living conditions of railroad workers. Ellen Sawin is best known
in Delaware as the founder of The Sanford School in Hockessin,
named after Nancy's brother, Sanford, who died in 1916 at the age
of 10 from muscular dystrophy. Three other family members
received their master's degrees at UD and Sawin's sister, Marian
Stauffer, received her doctorate in 1973.
     Born in 1917, Sawin started in public school in Marshallton,
Del., where classes were held in various locations throughout the
     "People were upset that there was no indoor plumbing in some
classrooms," she says, "but I loved walking outdoors, wandering
to the outhouse."
     In third grade, she received a scholarship to Tower Hill
School, and in fourth grade, she began to play field hockey. She
stayed through seventh grade, then spent a year at Miss Hebbs
School in Wilmington.
     For the remainder of her high school years, she went to
Principia School in St. Louis, founded by Mary Kimball Morgan, a
Christian Scientist. It was 19 hours away from home by train.
     In high school and her early college years (three at
Principia College in Illinois and one at Syracuse University),
Sawin was torn between her abilities in math and science, her
talent in art and her love of athletics. She decided to major in
art, but she was also known as an outstanding field hockey
player. After graduation, she was offered a job as head of
women's physical education at Principia College, but she declined
and, in 1938, came home to the Sanford campus, where she spent
more than 35 years working as a teacher, coach and housemother
and, eventually, head of the school.
     "It was a different era," she recalls. "I coached
sports-field hockey, tennis, softball, basketball, riding and
lacrosse. I even coached the football team one year when my
brother, Phillip, was off in the war."
     Introducing girls at Sanford to lacrosse was one of Sawin's
joys, and she is happy boys now play, too. She was so dedicated
to the sports program that she often drove the team bus to and
from games.
     She also worked tirelessly to establish women's
intercollegiate sports in Delaware, sometimes sneaking UD's four
women "phys ed" majors out of their dorm to play field hockey at
Sanford with the Delaware Hockey Association.
     "Who would have hired them as coaches if they'd never played
intercollegiate games?" she asks.
     As Sawin developed the hockey program at Sanford, she joined
the Philadelphia Hockey Association, as the Delaware association
had not yet formed.
     "As soon as the war ended, some of my friends began to play
hockey in Philadelphia on Saturdays and Sundays. In the fall of
1947, we had a four-day national tournament.
     "I made the first reserve All-America team," she says. That
spring, as part of the war rebuilding effort, The Netherlands
held an invitational tournament and Sawin made the touring team.
"I can still hear the Spanish fans chanting, "Remember Plan
USA!" she recalls.
     Before her hockey-playing days were over, Sawin would make
the All-America Team seven times, serve twice as captain of the
touring teams and make the reserve team three times. She served
as coach on the team's fourth overseas tour, coached at famed
women's field hockey coach Constance M.K. Applebee's camps for
more than 20 years and ended up being inducted as a charter
member of the U.S. Field Hockey Hall of Fame and into the
Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.
     And, all the while, the artist side of her was being quietly
nurtured. Sawin's mother arranged for her as a child to take
lessons with Delaware artist Frank Schoonover.
     "During the Depression, we couldn't buy presents, so I made
wood carvings, pottery and paintings for friends and relatives,"
she says. "Over the years, I never went any place without my
sketch pad. I took it along on 20 senior class trips to
Williamsburg, Va., that I chaperoned for Sanford."
     Additionally, Sawin went on to earn a master's degree in
American history from UD and her doctorate in education
administration from the University of Pennsylvania after
commuting to classes for seven years. Her thesis developed
evaluation criteria for boarding schools. Sawin eventually served
as the second woman president of the Middle States Association of
Colleges and Schools.
     After her mother retired, Sawin assumed more
responsibilities at Sanford and, in 1962, was officially
appointed head of the school, which had come a long way from its
early beginning with seven boys and girls who were taught in the
family home. In the '30s, '40s and '50s, Sanford was a
prestigious, coed boarding school, heavily used by the
Washington, D.C., foreign service contingent as a home-away-from-
home for their children.
     As head of the school, Sawin perpetuated its philosophy that
the school could not be run on tuition alone. "That would mean we
could only educate the children of millionaires," she says.
     She also foresaw a time when her family would need to let
others run things. "I'd seen other schools decline when the
founding family held on for too long," she says.
     In all, Sawin stayed at the Sanford for more than three
decades, teaching, coaching, taking out the tractor and mowing
the fields of the former family farm, driving the bus when
needed, painting buildings, raking leaves and picking apples.
     Eventually, as Hockessin became suburban, the boarding
school was phased out and Sanford became a private, country day
school for grades K-12.
     Throughout these busy years, Sawin kept planning some day to
have more time to paint, sketch and write.
     In 1972, she requested a sabbatical from Sanford, with the
understanding that, upon her return, the board would appoint a
new head of the school.
     "I had to find out if I could be a really good artist," she
says, "so I went to Europe with my sketch pad." Visiting friends
and staying here and there, she had her first art show "on a
clothesline outside a small condo on the Mediterranean."
     Her confidence buoyed, she returned to Sanford in 1974 and
officially retired. As a going-away present, grateful parents
gave her a two-week safari in Kenya. From there, she toured Egypt
and lived in Devon, England, on a farm for three months, studying
the sketches of the owners' father, a member of the British
Watercolor Society.
     "They were a great education," she says.
     Back in Delaware, Sawin worked for UD's Division of
Continuing Education, running career exploration workshops and
doing counseling. Little did she know she would eventually
practice what she preached.
     "I gave seminars to women to convince them of their
abilities," she says. "I had an exercise where I asked them to
pipe dream. I'd say, 'If you had all the time and talent in the
world, what would you do for the next five years?' I realized I
had a pipe dream, too. I knew I loved art and loved local
history, and it was then that I got the idea for combining those
into books."
     The first one, Delaware Sketchbook: Text & Sketches of
Delaware, produced with friend and former student Janice Carper,
was so successful that a string of others-16 so far-have
followed. Writing about and drawing illustrations of areas from
the Bahamas to Chesapeake City, Md., has become Sawin's passion.
     Most of the books deal with Delaware, which has caused one
local newspaper editor to refer to Sawin as "a treasure of
Delaware heritage and history."
     Her work has been widely exhibited and is included in many
public and private collections.
      She continues to travel, recently going to France with a
group from the Delaware Daughters of the American Revolution to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. She
also has become a collector of country primitive antiques,
exhibiting and selling them in shows and from her home, North
Light Studio near Hockessin.
     Nearing 80, Sawin has the energy of someone half her age.
She's currently involved in three new projects-a sketchbook of
Delaware's Main Streets due out in 1997; a book called Vanishing
Points, due out next fall, which will feature silos, one-room
school houses and other points that are disappearing from
Delaware's countryside; and, maybe, that autobiography,
tentatively titled Pets, People and Places.
                                              -Beth Thomas