Carol Canner, class of 1959

Carol Canner, class of 1959

Carol Canner was born in Boston, MA on May 11, 1937. She grew up in Newton, Massachusetts where she graduated from Newton High School in 1955. She attended Pembroke College and graduated in 1959 with an A.B. in English literature. Canner went on to obtain an M.A.T. from Harvard University in 1960, and an M.S.W. from the University of Connecticut in 1967. She married her husband, Atle Gjelsvik, in 1960 and together they had two children, Erik and Annie. Canner retired as the Assistant Director of Head Start of Rockland County, New York, and moved to North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

In this interview, at 80 years old, Carol Canner reflects on her undergraduate experience at Pembroke College in the 1950s.She begins by sharing some family background, including her father’s Harvard University education, and her mother’s Boston University Medical School education that was quickly ended by the Great Depression. Canner recalls that while growing up and when entering Pembroke, her goal was to get married and that post-graduation career assistance was nonexistent.

Canner discusses her experience as a Jewish student on campus, and becoming life-long friends with Peggy Brooks, one of two Black Pembroke students in the class of 1959. She explains that roommate assignments were made with the intent of segregating races and religions. Even so, Canner and Brooks quickly became friends and lived in Angell House.

She also remembers general social activities and attending “Friday Club,” parties held in Brown University graduate student housing, while she was courting her husband, Atle Gjelsvik. She recognizes that strict rules existed, such as curfews and those that barred men from visiting women’s dormitories. Academically speaking, Canner explains that her best grades came from math and economics classes and recognizes Charlie Watts and Barry Marks as her favorite professors.

Canner also highlights her life after graduation. She talks about attending Harvard School of Education and a failed attempt at a teaching career. Following three years in Norway, she and her husband moved to New Haven. She recalls inquiring at the Yale Department of Psychology about a Ph.D. and being told that women need not apply because they never worked and ruling out a psychology program at Connecticut College because of the commute. Graduate work in social work at the University of Connecticut led to a job in community organizing where she protested urban renewal along side the Black Panthers in New Haven, Connecticut. Her last 25 years of very fulfilling and rewarding work were spent at Head Start of Rockland, NY where she eventually became the Assistant Director.  

She concludes the interview by discussing her volunteer work advocating for bees, and commending Brown’s 18th president, Ruth J. Simmons, for her work in bringing Brown’s connection to slavery to the forefront, leading the way for many other universities and institutions.


Recorded on Feb 17, 2017

Carol Canner's home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Interviewed by Whitney Pape