Live on the Today Show, January, 1961

In January 1961, while I was a freshman at Vassar College studying frantically for my first college exams, and truly frightened that I might flunk out, I got a message from someone official on the Vassar College staff inviting me to come to her office. Once it was clear that I was not about to lose my financial aid, I was still nervous. What would the public relations department want with me?

As a part of Vassar College’s centennial celebrations, the PR person (I wish I could remember her name) informed me that four students, one from each class, had been selected to be on the NBC’s The Today Show (with Dave Garroway, the original host).

I was going to be driven to New York City! And back. And be on live television! Me, little Annie Youngclaus from Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

This was BIG TIME!

The limo picked us up early on the morning of the broadcast. The driver, Harry Brickman, known to all as simply “Harry,” was famous around campus for being an entertaining and reliable ride to and from the train station.

In the back seat we introduced ourselves to each other. The senior was Susan B. Anthony ‘61, a relative of the suffragette. The junior was Mead Bridgers ‘62. The sophomore was Kate Sides ‘63. I am sure we were all very excited and nervous.

At Radio City, a Vassar alum met our limo and led us up to the studio. (I can’t remember her name, either, or what her connection to NBC was.) We were ushered into a very small, dark room where we could watch the show.

And there was Dave Garroway, looking relaxed enough to be sitting in someone’s kitchen sipping coffee, chatting with his guests and making jokes. Next to him was Beryl Pfizer, one of a string of Today “Girls.”

The first guest was Bruce Catton, the prolific and popular Pulitzer prize-winning historian whose latest book on the American Civil War was about to come out. One of the other Vassar girls was excited that we might be able to meet him. Did we? I don’t remember.

Floyd Patterson was charming and handsome. He may have appeared in his boxing uniform; at least that’s how I picture him. He and Ingemar Johansson were about to face each other again for the World Championship title.

According to NBC records there was a singer on the show that day too, but I have no recollection of her. [That person was Meg Welles, a Welch singer of Medieval and Elizabethan music.]

However, I’ll never forget Zero Mostel [who appeared toward the end of the program, after the four young Vassar women]. He was starring in Rhinoceros, a hit show on Broadway that winter. Dave asked him to roar the way he did every night in the show, which he did–loudly enough to make me shiver.

And then we were on, lined up in order, freshman to senior, left to right as you looked at the TV screen. I think Dave asked most of the questions. Susan Anthony explained her relationship to her namesake. I can’t remember what Mead or Kate spoke about, only that I was impressed with their composure and eloquence.

I wince when I remember part of what I said. You have to understand the time. It was 1961. Most women who worked did not have “careers.” They did not go into “business.” They were not lawyers. They were not physicians.

Either Beryl or Dave asked me why someone from Wisconsin would choose to attend faraway Vassar College. I said I thought it was important for a woman to get an excellent education so she could be a good mother and help her husband. I think I added something about a woman working so her husband could go back to school for another degree.

Then it was over. Back on campus my buddies welcomed me with cheers. They had even decorated the dorm room door with paper stars with my name on them. My parents called. My brother called. Lots of people wrote me letters saying they had seen me on TV and were proud of me.

Me, little Annie Youngclaus from Elm Grove, Wisconsin!

P.S. No one ever explained how we were chosen to be on the show. Since the other three were from the East Coast, however, I assumed the “powers that be” decided to include someone from the middle of the country. I have always suspected my Midwestern roots were also the reason I was accepted at Vassar. I guess you could say I owe suburban Elm Grove for my exciting live TV experience and for a wonderful education.

Remembering Noyes on her 50th Birthday

(Written in 2008)

In September of 1960, when I moved into my assigned double – #226 – on the second floor of Noyes, the dorm was a mere two years old…all bright and shiny, with no sprinkler pipes to mar its pristine precast concrete ceilings. As a would-be Art History major and daughter of an architect, I knew the work of Eero Saarinen and could appreciate its modernist aesthetic. Looking back as an architect myself now, I realize that compared to Saarinen’s Stiles and Morse dorms at Yale, which took their cues from the towers of the Italian hill town San Gimignano, Noyes had no traditional antecedents and there was a certain cache attached to residing in Vassar’s newest dormitory. As freshmen, we were all placed in the double rooms that faced onto the circle. The triangulated window bays transmitted vertical sound quite effectively so we were often privy to dorm gossip from above and parlor talk from below.

The rules of dormitory life have certainly changed over a half-century, but in our “simpler, gentler” time, there were no encoded locks on our doors. However, a “white angel” guarded the entry enforcing a midnight curfew. No televisions broadcast the daily soaps or blared out late night entertainment. We watched Kennedy’s inauguration, the news of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the confrontation with Khrushchev on the family television that our Professor in Residence plugged into a parlor outlet. Bereft of male company the majority of the time, we still optimistically named the circular sunken seating in the parlor “the passion pit.” The upside of our celibate life was breakfasting in our respective robes in the in-house dining room, an especially welcome ritual on frosty winter mornings. What none of us welcomed was the institution called “scrape.” A left over from WWII when male workers were at a premium, female students were assigned KP duties in the kitchen; namely, scraping detritus off an endless number of dirty dishes as a parade of trays passed by on the conveyor belt. It was steamy work made especially onerous by the mandatory attire – hairnets, aprons and cotton socks – ensembles no one wanted to be seen in, especially when the weekends brought the opposite sex to campus.

By mid-fall of our freshman year, friendships had begun to solidify, some that have lasted fifty-plus years. But by the end of our first year, attrition had affected the comradely costumed group posed for this Halloween photograph. Barbara Reynolds Wiener ‘64 (in the beret) lost her roommate Carol Marchand Hope ‘64 (in the lamp shade), [who went west to the University of Rochester to be closer] to Cornell, the home of Rickey Hope, her high school sweetheart. I, with the bat on my forehead and arm draped over my suitemate’s shoulder, lost the brilliant Susan Strome ‘64 (or St. Rome, as she preferred to be called). Susy returned to campus for our Vassar graduation picnic with her first husband in tow and much later matriculated at Harvard. Jane Baum Rodbell ’64 (holding the pumpkin) joined our rooming group sophomore year citing freshman roommate incompatibility. Our guitar playing pre-hippy friend, Naomi Ware ‘64 brought musician Joan Baez to campus for one of her first concerts outside the Boston coffee houses where her mercurial singing career began. Some years later, standing under our maturing class tree at a distant reunion, we were saddened to hear Naomi’s name read off the necrology list.

Maine camp mates, turned roommates, Ellen May Galinksy ‘64 (left) and Karen Stein Diamond ‘64 (photographed sprawled on the lawn of the Noyes circle at the start of our sophomore year) rounded out the rooming group that remained together for the rest of our college years. Three of us reassembled in Chattanooga coincidentally on Noyes’ 50th birthday. Ellen and I, joined by fellow dorm mate, Virginia Caspari Gerst ‘64, traveled to Tennessee for a mini-reunion with Karen.

These last photographs record us celebrating the rites of spring at the close of our junior year. For spring weekend, we staged a mock escape of knotted sheets for the benefit of arriving dates. My single room overlooking the parking lot was a perfect venue for this escapade and of a size suitable for a quick toilet papering prank instigated by my so-called friends.

On that lazy Saturday afternoon of spring weekend, while sitting in the grassy circle that encompassed the fledging tree (which today would be shading the majority of the onlookers), we watched an impromptu coed soccer game which ended abruptly with a contact lens search. That Sunday morning, we woke to find that some of our bicycles had found their way on to the top of the “mushrooms.” Blame for this “desecration of the canopies” appeared to be attributed to students from Wesleyan and their alleged ring leader, roommate Barbara’s future husband, Alan.

Shortly after that spring weekend, our time in Noyes came to an end. Sometimes at class reunions, I stroll through our dorm on a summer’s day and remember a time when it and we were young.

On Noyes’ special April Saturday in 2008, some of us toasted a dorm that, for three of its fifty years, was our home.

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