This interview with members of the Pembroke College class of 1956, highlights the under graduate experiences of Gretchen Gross, Jane Elton Hamlett, Jennifer Davis Morgan, Marjorie Jane Jenckes, Geneva Carol Whitney, Margaret Ann Devoe, and Barbara Ann Perrino, at their 50th reunion.
The alumnae begin their interview by reminiscing about their reasons for choosing to attend Pembroke, citing the coordinate education system as an important part of their decision. They remember their dormitories, sledding down College Hill in snowstorms on trays they stole from the Ratty, and the food at the dining hall. They voice their distaste for their honor council, and how it institutionalized a double standard for the sexual activity of men and women, while teasing each other about their respective levels of flirtation and rule breaking. When the discussion moves to gracious living and Dean Nancy Duke Lewis, Hamlett remarks that it was an era where the administration felt very responsible for the morality of Pembrokers. After discussing posture pictures – a practice that included taking photos of nude students ostensibly as part of a eugenics project assessing social hierarchy; and the standards at Pembroke, the interviewees warmly agree what an intimate community they found in Pembroke, and laughingly and lovingly tell stories of each other when they were younger.
The alumnae move on to consider the suitability of “silent generation” as a term used to describe women in the 50s. Gross thinks the stereotype “has been overdone. I get upset today with the younger women who complain about how they have to manage children and a job and this and that. We did it all.” For Gross, who went on to earn a Masters and a PhD, it was never clear that she was supposed to be confined to domestic life, although she found acute gender discrimination in the workforce. But Devoe - who was criticized for teaching and pursuing a professional life when she had children - disagrees, finding truth of the mandate of domesticity in her own experience. All of the interviewees agree that they placed more value on education and career than marriage, but were very limited in terms of job opportunities. They cite secretary, nurse, and teacher as the three professions available to women and remarking on the difficulty of getting anywhere in a man’s world. Morgan maintains that it is still a hot issue, and Hamlett synthesizes that times were changing in the 50s.
The interviewees reflect on the political environment at Brown, with Hamlett summarizing that it was more a time of interest and discussion as a precursor to the activism of the 60s and 70s. The alumnae end their interview by reflecting on the intellectual awakenings they experienced at Pembroke, their pride in Pembrokers, and their lasting friendships with each other.
John Hay Library, Brown University