Biographical / Historical
Stephen Albert Freeman was born on May 9, 1898, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His parents were Samuel Albert Freeman, a postman originally from Orleans, Cape Cod, and Mary Reed Freeman, whose family came from Maine. Called Albert by his family, Stephen was the elder of two children, his younger brother Allan being born in 1902. Albert spent his childhood alternating between Cambridge and Orleans.
Freeman was educated at Harvard Grammar School and Cambridge High and Latin School before entering Harvard College in 1914. Elected in his junior year to Phi Beta Kappa, Freeman displayed a natural gift for languages, learning French, German, Latin and Greek before the entry of the United States into WWI interrupted his studies. Freeman was first denied the chance to enlist as he failed his medical inspection, being declared too small for service, but on his second try was accepted into the Naval Aviation school at MIT. He was commissioned Naval Aviator 1091, and was shipped out to Hampton Roads and later Pensacola, Florida, as a flight instructor. With the end of the war, Freeman returned to Harvard and graduated, Magma Cum Laude, with the Class of 1919 with a degree in Romance languages.
Freeman applied for and received an American Field Service Fellowship to study languages and culture in France. He embarked in 1921, spent a semester in Bordeaux, and then moved to the University of Paris to study literature. Freeman travelled widely while on his fellowship, visiting Germany, Italy and Switzerland, as well as touring around France, and it instilled in him a lifelong love of travel. Returning to the United States in 1922, Freeman completed his PhD work at Harvard University in 1923 with his dissertation, The Development of Victor Hugo’s Theory of the Grotesque Before the Preface de Cromwell.
Also in 1923, Stephen Freeman married Ruth Hayden. They had known each other since 1917, and began a long courtship that continued while Freeman was in Europe. The Hayden family also lived in Cambridge, having moved there from Nova Scotia. Ruth’s father, Frederick, ran a successful painting and paper hanging shop, and was at one time president of the Harvard Square Businessmen’s Association. Ruth and Stephen had three children: Hope, Caroline, and Harvey.
After completing his doctorate, Dr. Freeman took a job as professor of French at Brown University. After two years, Andre Morize, his mentor and Harvard doctoral advisor, enticed Freeman to Middlebury College in 1925 in order to rebuild the Romance languages program. Accepting the job as Chairman of the French Department, Freeman also became Dean of the French Summer School and taught there. Early in his tenure he oversaw the building of the Château, at the time the largest French-only dormitory in the country. Freeman was promoted to Director of the Language Schools in 1946, a position that he would retain until his retirement in 1970. During this time, Freeman oversaw the expansion of the program, adding the Chinese and Japanese schools and supervising the development of the state-of-the-art language laboratory at Sunderland Language Center. After WWII, the US Army enlisted Freeman’s aid in developing a languages program at the Army University in Biarritz, France, in which GIs could learn French, Spanish or German. Perhaps as a result of this collaboration, Freeman pushed for and helped found in 1949 the first Middlebury College Graduate School Abroad, in Paris. In subsequent years, he directed the founding of schools in Spain, Germany and Italy, thereby expanding the College’s international prominence in language education.
Freeman also served the College in its time of need, first serving as Acting President of the College in 1940. When President Moody retired, Freeman guided Middlebury through the dark years of 1942-1943, before President Stratton took office. Upon his appointment in 1943, Stratton made Freeman his Vice President. Freeman served as acting President again, in 1952. He taught his last class in 1963, then retired as Vice President Emeritus, but he continued as director of the Language Schools until 1970.
After his retirement Freeman continued to keep busy by lecturing, giving sermons at the Congregational Church in Middlebury center, and traveling around the world with Ruth. He wrote two books, one on the history of the language schools and the other a history of his church. He was honored with awards and honorary degrees, including the French Legion of Honor and Commandeur a l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques. In 1993 the Trustees voted to rename the Social Dining Unit complex the Freeman International Center, in honor of Freeman’s contributions to the college.
Ruth Hayden Freeman passed away on August 9, 1983, shortly after they celebrated their 60th anniversary, but Stephen continued to be a cornerstone of the local community. One of his favorite activities was leading the annual Memorial Day Parade as honorary Grand Marshal, in which he would dress in his WWI uniform. Stephen continued to live in his home at 24 South Street until 1998, when a series of strokes led to his admittance at Shard Villa Retirement Homes, where he passed away on July 12, 1999, at the age of 101.