Lavinia M. Schaeffer
Professor 1938-1972 – The Face of Bates Theater for 34 Years
The number of theater courses at U.S. colleges surged in the 1930s, and these newly invigorated collegiate programs often reflected the energy, vision and creativity of one faculty member. At Bates, that person was Lavinia Miriam Schaeffer. To her students, it was once written, she was “a sparkle of a spirit, moving and speaking in accents and rhythms that were undeniably different, and exciting.”
A graduate of Yankton College in South Dakota, Schaeffer earned her M.A. at Northwestern University and came to Bates in fall 1938. A stylish presence on the tweedy New England campus — “trailing the fascination of her Chanel No. 5″ — Schaeffer directed some 100 major productions during her career, with an emphasis on Shakespeare and a perfectionist’s eye for planning, details, and execution. She maintained unwavering confidence in her actors, and within this creatively safe environment they gave their best to the professor they called “the Schaeff.” In return she gave them her interest in their lives both inside and outside the Bates theater. A discussion with Miss Schaeffer, one student wrote, always ended with relief “because she had received us.” For most of her career Schaeffer worked in Hathorn’s aptly named Little Theatre, and in 1972 Bates’ theater on College Street, built in 1960, was named in her honor.