Educated to Care

Victoria Shorr ’71

Educated to Care

Photo by Carl Reiss

Photo by Carl Reiss

When Victoria Shorr ’71 moved to Los Angeles in 1991, after a decade in Brazil, the first thing she saw when she turned on a television was Anita Hill testifying before the US Senate about Clarence Thomas. Horrified, Vicky called her mother and said, “I can’t live in this country! These people hate women.” Her mother replied, “Why don’t you try to do something about it?” Vicky became convinced that the answer was more female senators—and that the best way to get more female senators was girls’ schools.

Then, at a political fund-raiser she and her mother held, Vicky met Megan Callaway, a Vassar graduate and one of three women with whom she would later found the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles. Despite having zero experience in “the school business,” the two women realized they shared the same vision. In early 1994, at the suggestion of Trudy Hanmer ’71, then assistant head of the Emma Willard School in New York, the women threw a “friend-raiser” to gather support for their future school. There, they met their third founder, Diana Meehan, a professor at the University of Southern California, and the women not only got the money they needed, but also recruited their board and first teacher.

Vicky and Diana both independently came up with Archer as a name—Vicky thinking of Henry James’s heroine Isabel Archer, and Diana thinking of the Greek goddess Artemis, a protector of girls and women. The Archer School for Girls opened its doors in the fall of 1995 to 33 girls, including Vicky’s and Diana’s daughters. Two decades later, Vicky (now a trustee emerita) visited the school, which currently educates 500 girls. She attended a seventh-grade class in which the girls all shared why they chose Archer. They said things such as, “We all feel like sisters here,” and “Here, I can excel in math.” Vicky turned to the teacher and asked, “Was this staged for me? That these girls are saying what I dreamed they would have said?”

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2012, while reading about the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Vicky felt horror not unlike what she experienced watching the Senate hearings in 1991. The statistics are staggering: One in four babies on the reservation is born with fetal alcohol syndrome. The counties that make up Pine Ridge are some of the poorest in the country. The high school dropout rate is over 70 percent. Vicky began thinking, “Girls from girls’ schools don’t have babies with fetal alcohol syndrome—they go to college. Why not found a girls’ school on the reservation?”

“If we could send 100 percent of our girls to college, that could change everything,” she says.

Vicky never intended to start another school. She had other things going on in her life. The fiction she’s been writing since she graduated from Wellesley was finally beginning to be recognized. In May, Norton published her novel, Backlands, set in Brazil. But Vicky lovingly blames her alma mater for educating her to care: “At Wellesley, we used to say, ‘You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,’” she explains, “and I want to be part of the solution.” Vicky has brought together a board including nationally renowned Native American educators, and community and cultural leaders in and from Pine Ridge. If they raise the funds they need, Pine Ridge Girls’ School will begin operations this fall. One of Vicky’s favorite parts? Girls from Archer are helping to raise money.

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