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Jean Seeler-Gifford runs through a tunnel of Women's Field Hockey Team players

In March 2023, Special Collections received a box of four sweaters. These sweaters, Middlebury themed of course, had been hand knitted by Jean Seeler-Gifford, ‘60. College Archivist, Kaitlin Buerge, ‘13, had heard from colleagues in the Advancement Office that these sweaters existed, and they were high on Special Collections’ wish list. 

Both Kaitlin Buerge and I (Liefe Temple, ‘25.5) chose one of Seeler-Gifford’s sweaters as something to include in my recent “Staff Picks” exhibit, but the information in our online ArchivesSpace database wasn’t enough for me to complete my label.

So I emailed Jean Seeler-Gifford, and the next week she came into Special Collections. I had a wonderful time talking with Jean, and I feel honored that she shared her story with me. I learned so much more than I could fit on an exhibit label! I wanted to be able to share Jean’s story a little bit more. 

Jean Seeler-Gifford graduated from Middlebury College in 1960 as a Political Science major, with American History and Theatre minors. She participated in women’s field hockey, though there was no official team at that point. Post Middlebury graduation, Jean Seeler-Gifford had a career working for IBM’s headquarters. Jean worked there until 1989, and she took an unpaid leave of absence before fully retiring in 1993 when she was 55 years old.

Jean Seeler-Gifford Old Chapel Knit Sweater
Jean Seeler-Gifford’s iconic Old Chapel sweater

It was during this period of unpaid leave, in May of 1989 that she knit her very first Middlebury-themed sweater. This crew neck sweater was devised and knit in sport weight yarn (the brand was Red Heart Yarn, and Jean referred to this as a “phony fiber,” which means the yarn is made of acrylic. Acrylic yarn is cheap, but it also washes well and won’t get moth holes). This sweater depicts the landscape of the Old Chapel: “Old Chapel sits on green grass among forest green pine trees. The gray structure with the blue door is placed against a baby blue sky.” (from ArchivesSpace). Seeler-Gifford devised the pattern for Old Chapel herself, but the surrounding trees and landscapes were borrowed from another pattern. It reminds her of the landscape and views from the Breadloaf campus. Indeed, the sweater works. The pattern and colorwork is so impressive.

Shortly after President Laurie Patton arrived at Middlebury in 2015, Jean Seeler-Gifford ran into her on South Main Street as they were heading back from what was President Patton’s first homecoming game. Jean Seeler-Gifford was wearing her colorful Old Chapel sweater, and flippantly told Laurie Patton that it was “early McCardell.” Patton quipped back, “how about doing something early Patton?” Jean Seeler-Gifford remembers that it took her a long time to think about what pattern to do for her “early Patton” sweater, but a few months later, a dark blue crew-neck sweater with the Middlebury College Crest was complete. Jean Seeler-Gifford wore the sweater for the first time during a Christmas reception at the Shelburne Museum, where she took a picture with President Patton.

Jean Seeler-Gifford and President Laurie Patton

In addition to her impressive knitwork, Jean Seeler-Gifford has been involved in the Middlebury College community through many years serving on the Alumni Board, as a class correspondent,  a class column writer for the Yearbook, and an avid supporter of the Theatre Department and the Women’s Field Hockey Team (perhaps you are familiar with the Jean Seeler-Gifford Black Box Theatre in the Center for the Arts, or the Field Hockey shed that names Seeler-Gifford as their “field hockey fairy godmother”). 

Jean Seeler-Gifford with Field Hockey Team

Jean Seeler-Gifford’s Middlebury crest sweater is currently on display as part of Special Collections “Staff Picks” exhibit in the Davis Family Library atrium, as is the photograph of her wearing it with President Patton. Come and see it! And even take a commemorative pin with the sweater on it! 

Liefe is a joint English and Dance major from the class of 2025.5. Her passion for librarianship extends to her current work for Middlebury Library’s Interlibrary Loan department and summer work for the Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes, Vermont. 

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