Miss Winfield: Woman of the Watch

That day in September 1928, a voice echoed through the open atrium that existed in Yonah Hall on Brenau’s Gainesville campus. “Girls, there must be no more of this hanging over the railing of the balcony to watch the dates in Rec Hall.” That was Miss Ella De Tong Winfield, who was not scolding but merely admonishing her charges that ogling of their sisters’ gentlemen callers in the parlor below the ornate balcony could lead to unintended consequences.

Ella Detong WinfieldSeemingly, she was always alert, keeping watch over the flock by night and day.

Today, Winfield is a memory trapped in handbooks, yearbooks and minds of those with stories to share. She was a long-term Brenau administrator, but that perfunctory descriptor belies the fact that she, for generations of students, was a watchful, nurturing presence who lived in the residence halls, engaged hungry minds in classrooms, dined with them and counseled – sometimes impromptu group settings and sometimes as individuals.

A career woman dedicated to challenging students while leading by example, Miss Winfield was the real deal, one of those unsung heroines in the institution’s 135-year history who preached and practiced “The Brenau Ideal” for at least 35 years without – as near as we can determine – a building, bench or plaque in her honor. Her many titles included professor of Latin, registrar, head of East Hall and Yonah Hall, dean of women and counselor. Winfield knew each student by name. She knew who was to be where and when they would return, supervising all on-campus visits and off-campus excursions. In a recent interview, Mary Helen Hosch, WC ’35, reported that that it was to Miss Winfield she turned for resolution of a problem involving an over-aggressive pedant’s trying to change the way the west Georgian spoke. Others counted on Winfield to help them solve more serious problems.

Originally from Ironton, Missouri, where her freemason grandfather Hiram Tong was regarded as “the founder” of Iron County, Ella Dee Winfield adopted the middle name “De Tong” after her mother, Lillian Tong. Winfield served Brenau and kept watch over students and their callers from 1925 through the year she passed away at age 80.

She attended Buford Women’s College in Nashville, Tenn. There she studied Latin and music. She also was vice president of the college Shakespeare Club. She also attended Vanderbilt University, but she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mary Connor College, a select school for girls and young women in Paris, Texas.

Winfield’s mother, Lillian, was a richly cultured woman of her time – a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, director of the Beethoven Conservatory of Music in St. Louis, head of vocal music at Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., and head of the music department at Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Monteagle, Tenn. Ella Winfield called that Chautauqua environment home.  In fact, the activity house at Monteagle bears the family name, Winfield House.

Although Miss Winfield never married, her sister, Blanche, married Townes R. Leigh who completed his career as the vice president of the University of Florida. Leigh Hall, the main portion of the chemistry and pharmacy building, is named for him.

Miss Winfield brought that rich family legacy with her and kept watch over Brenau from 1925 through 1960.

Following her death, the 1961 Bubbles “In Memorium” page honored Miss Winfield with a line from a little-known poem by a 35-year-old Abraham Lincoln: “As leaving some grand waterfall, we, lingering, list its roar.”

Danielle Miller, EWC ’08, is multimedia programs manager at Brenau University.

 

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3 Responses to “Miss Winfield: Woman of the Watch”
  1. Betty Rose Hutson says:

    How well I remember Miss Winfield! I was a member of the class of ’45. During my 4 years at Brenau we all recognized Miss Winfield was a force to be reckoned with. We absolutely were forbidden to wear “head rags” in public anywhere. Should we wish to cross campus after “Quiet Hour” to go to the “Tea Hole” we had to roll our pj legs up above our coat hems and wear said coat to cover up everything. Should you be invited to a friend’s house for a weekend visit, Miss Winfield had to see your invitation from the responsible adult in that house-hold as well as a written permission from your own home before signing off on a permission. I don’t regret a minute of it. Required attendance in formal attire at faculty and student recitals, dating on Sunday nights in that dreadful Chinese sitting room was accepted along with chapel attendance and many other customs. Those really were the “Good Old Days” for me. Betty Rose Hutson

  2. Judy Hubbard Smith class of '49 says:

    She was a constant reminder of the proper way to approach life’s problems. If she approved of your behavior, you were thrilled. She was unforgettable.

  3. Clare H. Lewis says:

    As an alumna (WC ’84) and the daughter of an alumna (Sue Marie Franklin Lewis, WC ’51), I can attest to the fact that Miss Winfield was recognized for her dedication to Brenau. There sits in my living room a bust of Miss Winfield that was sculpted by noted artist and former Brenau professor Abe Davidson. My mother assisted Abe in the art department while she was a student and they became life-long friends. That friendship grew to encompass a friendship with his wife and daughters that was maintained for many years. Abe was still living just off Prior Street when I entered Brenau as a freshman in 1980.

    Abe served as my surrogate parent (poor man) and hosted my parents in his home when they visited me until his death in 1981. Abe gave my mother the bust of Miss Winfield during one of my parents’ visits to me, and upon her death I received it. I was present in his house when he recollected to my parents that mother’s class commissioned the bust of Miss Winfield their senior year. Apparently the bust was intended to be displayed, but where and for how long I do not know.

    However, not long before I entered Brenau, Abe found the bust “hidden in the back corner of a cleaning closet”. Per Abe, “if that’s all they think of my work and Miss Winfied, I’ll just take it home”. And he did. During this visit he readily acknowledged the fact that my mother did not like Miss Winfield. He had a great sense of humor and thought it would be ironic for mother to have the bust. My parents returned to Calhoun with the bust on the floor of the front passenger seat. My mother swore to me she rested her feet on it “cause I always did want to step on that old bat”.I don’t think Miss Winfield ever did anything intentionally to wrong my mother. But she enforced the rules. Ah! Therein lies the problem. It is a trait my mother passed on to me so I understand it all too well. So will Brenau faculty and administrators who might remember me! If Brenau wishes to recognize Miss Winfield by properly displaying the bust, I will be happy to relinquish her to your care.

    Clare

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