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Home page for Marjorie Boynton Quine: Teacher, Egyptologist, Cryptanalysist, Singer home page created by Douglas Boynton Quine. Sign into (email) the guestbook: to post your comments & questions or e-mail corrections to the webmaster:
Marjorie Boynton Quine, 80, died April 14, 1998 at her home on Chestnut Street, Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts following a courageous battle with leukemia. Marjorie Quine dedicated her life to community service, education, and her family.
Marjorie Boynton was born in Putnam, Connecticut on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) 1918. Her parents, Augustus Swain Boynton and Alice Peabody Paine, were both raised in Groveland of early Massachusetts families. Her father helped develop the vocational education programs in Connecticut and her mother in earlier years taught French in high school. Marjorie was raised in Meriden, Connecticut and spent summers at Leetes Island, Guilford, Connecticut. She graduated from Wellesley College (Wellesley, Massachusetts) in 1942 and following a secret course in cryptanalysis was commissioned into the United States Navy as a member of the newly established WAVES (Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Services). She served in Naval Intelligence in Washington DC during World War II for 4 years retiring as lieutenant. She earned a masters degree in the education of young children from Boston University in 1948.
In 1948 she married Professor Willard van Orman Quine of Harvard University who had been her commanding officer in the Washington years; they moved to Boston in 1958. Mrs. Quine joined the faculty of the Beacon Hill Nursery School (then an Acorn Street entry to a private house on Mt. Vernon Street) and taught "four year olds" for over a decade culminating at the Hill House location on Joy Street. She helped educate many Beacon Hill residents with whom she maintained close contact. Many of their children now form a second generation of BHNS students. Following her retirement as a nursery school teacher, she continued traveling widely with her husband, Professor W. V. Quine to mathematical and philosophical conferences as well as to study ancient cultures in more than 80 countries around the world. She had conceived an interest in ancient Egypt as a school girl, and this she cultivated in later years, studying hieroglyphics and making eight pilgrimages to Egypt. She pursued this interest at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts where she served as a volunteer gallery instructor for more than 15 years. She was active in a number of community cultural groups including the Beacon Hill Reading Group, MIT Chorale, Women's Travel Club, Harvard Musical Assocation, and Japanese Culture Group. She enjoyed a project filled life and a host of devoted friends.
She was predeceased by her sisters, Ruth Boynton, who died in childhood, and Barbara Boynton Folk, who died in 1995. She is survived by her husband W. V. Quine of Boston, her daughter Margaret Quine McGovern of San Francisco, her son Douglas Boynton Quine of Bethel, Connecticut, and four grandchildren. She is also survived by her niece Nancy Boynton Folk of Concord, New Hampshire and two step daughters Norma Quine of London (England) and Elizabeth Quine Roberts of Anchorage, Alaska. Arrangements are private. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Leukemia Society of America (600 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10016).
Marjorie Boynton Quine: Teacher, Egyptologist, Cryptanalyst, Singer
Our Neighbors: The Beacon Hill Times, January 4 1996, page 6
Marjorie Quine's soft voice and level gaze says she doesn't seek to be the center of attention. But her quiet manner masks a rich and varied life. She is a teacher, an Egyptologist, a traveler, a wife, a mother, a singer and a cryptanalysist. She has accomplished this through quiet self-confidence, a devotion to her interests, and a dose of daring.
Quine, petite and 77, has lived on Chestnut Street with her husband, Willard Van Orman Quine, 87, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Harvard, since 1956. Many know her from her decade as a teacher at the Beacon Hill Nursery School.
Quine grew up in Meriden, Connecticut. Her parents, both teachers, came from Groveland, Massachusetts, where her grandfather ran the Boynton General Store. Summers, her family went to a seaside cottage in Guilford, Connecticut, where she and her sister sailed in a little "Snipe." Her family gave her the kind of confidence everyone needs. "I thought I was asked to go first in the church choir because I was a good singer," says Quine. "I realized later it was because I was the shortest."
Through a seventh-grade teacher Quine discovered Egypt, about which she has maintained a life-long passion. Her interest was piqued partly because the teacher was good. She also was fascinated by the degree of sophistication present in antiquity. "In 2700 BC, I wondered how they could have had any life at all. They should have been cave men, but they weren't."
Quine mildly regrets not studying Egyptian art. Instead she enrolled at Wellesley College in psychology, preparing to be a teacher like her parents.
Between her junior and senior years, she set out on her first travel adventure. She had planned to go abroad that summer, but the war in Europe kept her at home. She signed up for a geology seminar in Glacier National Park with a Wellesley professor. She found another student who was taking the course and had a car. They eventually drove 12,000 miles to and from Glacier, stopping at all the national parks along the way.
War changes life
On December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Quine was in her senior year. When she returned to school after Christmas, her economics professor informed Quine of a secret course that would prepare her for a new women's naval unit. After graduation she would be expected to move to Washington, D. C. Wellesley had a special interest in the unit because its president, Mildred McAfee, had been named director. It would be known as the WAVES - Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Services.
Quine enrolled and spent the last semester of her senior year working on puzzles -- the beginning of her instruction in cryptanalysis. She moved to Washington upon graduation. "I thought with my experience with the ocean it was good to be in the Navy," she says. "But I never did anything in the ocean."
She moved into a former finishing school's dormitories with other WAVES-to-be and began working with real codes. After more training at Mt. Holyoke, she returned to Washington as an ensign in one of the first classes of WAVES. WAVES were required to wear white gloves and she had 18 pairs. She was assigned to an office in the eaves of the finishing school, where, she was told, she would follow Italian naval traffic.
It took Quine only a few weeks to figure out she was tracking and reporting on German U-Boats in the Atlantic. Part of her information came from diplomatic reports. The rest of it originated a few floors below her office where codebreakers intercepted German messages and decoded them on a secret replica of the German Enigma machine. Her colleagues sent the enemy's secrets to her office to be disseminated.
Her office had a map of the Atlantic with pins locating the last known position of every U-boat. It grew tense when they got little information, or when important information suddenly came through. One Sunday when Quine was in charge, a document arrived that translators told her had to get out fast. She strapped on her pistol, got a driver and a Marine guard, and took the message to the main Navy building herself.
Quine sang in the Washington Chorale - the first WAVE in uniform to do so. Her friends were mostly her colleagues who went to movies together in their off hours. One was a poet from Dartmouth. Another was a mathematician from the University of Texas. Her commanding officer was Van Quine, on leave from Harvard. As a philosopher with a grounding in language, mathematics, and science, Professor Quine was uniquely equipped as a codebreaker. The commanding officer and the young WAVE became friends. Today, above the desk in their home they track their travels with pins and a map, much as they tracked U-boats in their war office.
After the war, Quine came to Boston University to get her master's in the education of young children. Professor Quine returned to Harvard. They married in 1948.
Within a few months, they were traveling, a pattern that soon became permanent. They spent the first years of their married life exploring Mexico and Panama, where Quine's parents were then living, and spending time in California and England while Professor Quine worked. They bought a house in Belmont. Their son Douglas was born in 1950 and their daughter Margaret in 1954. Quine soon knew she had to get out of Belmont. "It was easy to live in, but I didn't admire the view," she says. They found the house on Chestnut Street and moved in.
Shortly thereafter, a neighbor told Quine of a job at the Beacon Hill Nursery School. The school had been a parent cooperative but now needed professional teachers. The classes were held all over -- one in an empty storefront on Charles Street, and another in a Mt. Vernon Street house. A garden on Mt. Vernon Street served as the playground.
The school eventually moved to Hill House. Quine taught the four year olds during most of the 1960s. "Four is one of the great ages," she says. "They will try anything, because they're not yet sophisticated enough not to."
Children don't need much to stimulate their learning -- an easel, building blocks and some good books. With these few tools, you can teach children math and language, and give them a chance for self-expression, says Quine.
Quine's early childhood training made her own children's play enjoyable. She provided them with a big board, on which Margaret and Douglas drew streets and buildings with chalk. Then they ran little metal cars around the imaginary city for hours. One time, says Quine, the children tore up a box of Kleenex to make snow for their city. "It was all over the top floor," she says, laughing.
After her nursery school years, Quine indulged her passion for Egyptian art. She became a gallery instructor at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she has been for more than 15 years. She found time to travel to Egypt many times. Nimrod Press published a journal of her 1988 trip. Her favorite period is the Old Kingdom, she says, a period well represented in the MFA's Egyptian galleries.
Although both Quines are well into the age of retirement, they haven't stopped working. Quine continues her study of Egypt. Their children visit frequently with their families, even though Doug lives in Connecticut and Margaret in San Francisco. The Quines' four grandchildren benefit from having a grandmother who loves and understands children. The top floor is filled with stuff that children love. "The children mine the attic when they come," says Quine.
Professor Quine's research still takes them around the world -- their most recent trip was to the Czech Republic, where they will return in a few months for a conference. Quine says she thinks Beacon Hill is one of the most beautiful places in the world. "It's wonderful," she says. "I always like coming home."
The Code Breakers of 1942
The Wellesley Winter 2000 magazine (pages 26 - 30) features an article entitled 'The Code Breakers of 1942' describing the Wellesley College secret training program for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in the Navy. The college photograph above was taken from that article.