Stories including Evalyn Clark

A Question That Changed My Life

I was a history major at Vassar, and took all the courses I could—American history, Russian and Chinese history, European history. Because I was the first generation in my family to go to college, I didn’t know what kind of career I might have beyond Vassar. I didn’t know how good a student I was. I just loved to learn.

I was in the honors history seminar senior year, and Evalyn Clark was advising me on my thesis. One day during our regular meeting she asked, “Where are you going to graduate school?”

I replied that I wasn’t going to graduate school; I was getting married.

She asked, “What difference does that make?”

That single question changed the course of my life. I did get married, and I did go to graduate school. I completed my Ph.D. with a dissertation on the French Revolution, a subject I first studied in Clark’s course at Vassar.

The academic job market was glutted by the time I finished my degree, so I never had the scholarly career I aspired to. But I never regretted going to graduate school, and I have always been grateful to Miss Clark for changing my life with her question.

Choosing a Major for Fun

My memories are mainly the Drama Department and the choir under Mr. Geer. He always whispered a whistle of the next note we were supposed to sing, and I could never hear it, so I’d have to carry the last note I sang all through the sermon so I’d sing the right note next, after the sermon. But I loved the choir and the music he chose.

Mary Virginia Heinlein’s direction of plays in Avery was challenging and very different from the silly fun of plays and Soph Party in Students’.

There’s also a story about Bibs Muhs and a conference in the arts my freshman year (1948, I think). Some young man from another college called out during one of the sessions that “art has got to stop being elitist; we have to bring art down to the people.” Bibs, who used to go around campus in her black gown, as a lot of people did (to avoid getting dressed for an early class) often riding our bicycles, stood up and said, “Wait a minute; I’m a people. I don’t want art brought down to me. I want to reach up to art.” She got a big applause.

Another story is of Evalyn Clark asking me why I wasn’t majoring in drama. When I said, “I didn’t think you should major in something that was just fun,” she said, “Well, for me, history is just fun.”

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