Mildred Jeanmaire Berendsen
September 14, 1927 - May 25, 2016
1949: Arrives at Chapin to teach history
1993-2016: Headmistress Emerita
Mildred Jeanmaire Berendsen was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of Swiss parents who emigrated to the United States after World War I, and attended P.S. 197 and James Madison High School. After high school, she entered Smith College, which she selected on the advice of a family friend.
While at Smith, she decided to become a teacher and diligently typed letters applying to more than 50 schools. Only two were encouraging: Brearley and Chapin. After her interview at Chapin—in which she mistook Miss Powell, the secretary, for Miss Stringfellow and was thoroughly intimidated by her interrogation by the pince-nezed Miss Wilkinson—she returned to Northampton, feeling that the job was perfect but unattainable. A few weeks later, the job was offered, and she accepted so readily that the startled Miss Powell asked her if she wouldn’t like time to think it over. To which Mildred Jeanmaire firmly replied, “No.”
And so in the fall of 1949, she joined the history department and began an association with The Chapin School.
At Christmas that year, she and Charles Berendsen became engaged, and her students hummed “Here Comes the Bride” every time they saw her until their wedding in the spring.
Nine years passed happily, and then Mrs. Berendsen was summoned to Miss Stringfellow’s office. To her shock, Miss Stringfellow asked her to become her assistant. In 1958, she was named associate headmistress. Miss Stringfellow’s retirement was announced, and the Board began a search for her successor.
“During that time, I continued to work with Miss Stringfellow, but I did not expect to be chosen. I was too young and not a product of this kind of education. But I loved this school, and when I was offered the position of head of another school, I didn’t even consider it.”
Shortly after her appointment, Mrs. Berendsen met her own high school English teacher in a Brooklyn bakery. Naturally, she was curious to know whether her former pupil was still involved with “that school in Manhattan.” When Mrs. Berendsen told her she was not only involved but the headmistress, her teacher was incredulous. “But you were such a shy and gentle girl!” she exclaimed.
Whatever I have become, I learned it here. Chapin has been a proper place for me to be, and I have learned far more than I taught. Of course you do not do it alone. I have had tremendous support from the faculty and trustees and from a very remarkable husband. Together they have enabled me to rise to a truly extraordinary opportunity.
Mildred Jeanmaire Berendsen
*Adapted from the profile, “A Shy and Gentle Girl,” written by Elizabeth Jones White ’65 that appeared in the
1984 Alumnae Bulletin.