Northrop/Forman Family, class of 1954, 1981, 2013

Northrop/Forman Family, class of 1954, 1981, 2013

Diane Lake Northrop Forman grew up in southwestern Connecticut and graduated from a New Haven high school. She attended Pembroke College and graduated in 1954 with an A.B. in actuarial mathematics. After graduation she obtained a master’s degree and taught math for thirty years. She was active on the Women’s Alumnae Association Board and the Pembroke Associates Council.  Melanie Northrop Forman graduated from Brown University in 1983 with an A.B. in history. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in English from Harvard University as well as two other graduate degrees.

Conducted in 2013, this interview records three generations of Brown University graduates who share their individual and collective experiences at Brown from the 1950s to 2013. Interviews include Diane Lake, class of 1954, her daughter Melanie Northrop, class of 1981, and granddaughter Sarah Forman, class of 2013.

The interview begins with Diane explaining that she attended Pembroke College simply because she was unaware of any other women’s colleges and because Dean Nancy Duke Lewis awarded her a scholarship just before classes began, without which she would not have been able to attend. She discusses the rigorous nature of her high school that prepared her for Pembroke as well as the public speaking and physical education requirements. Diane describes Bates House and Andrews Hall as well as the relationship between Pembroke and Brown University, her coeducational classes, and fraternity parties. She recognizes Nancy Duke Lewis and music professor Bill Dineen as her mentors at Pembroke. Diane also discusses her life after graduation including obtaining a master’s degree, her career teaching math for almost thirty years, and her involvement with the Women’s Alumnae Association Board and the Pembroke Associates Council. She explains the expectations of women at that time and her awareness and participation in the Women’s Movement in the 1970s. 

The interview turns to Melanie who begins by identifying the differences between her mother’s experience at Pembroke and her own. She entered Brown after the Pembroke-Brown merger to a more equal ratio of female-to-male students, coed dormitories, and the new curriculum that eliminated course requirements and allowed for maximum schedule flexibility. She describes the excitement that she felt about the new curriculum but also the lack of guidance available to her to navigate it. Melanie also recalls the socio-political climate of the campus in the late 1970s in terms of the feminist movement as well as the Brown student community uniting to dig out the university and Providence neighborhoods after the Blizzard of 1978. She says that a course titled “Universities – Their Theory and Practice,” taught by Robert Morse, influenced her career decisions after graduation and that Dean Harriet Sheridan and geology professor Jan Tullis were her primary female role models.    

Sarah continues the discussion of the new curriculum by articulating her appreciation that Brown encourages student involvement in administrative decisions and also lauding the curriculum for allowing her to pursue a double concentration in Middle East studies and chemistry. She recognizes women’s rights and environmentalism as the driving social discussions on campus and describes her involvement in the Women Peer Counselor Program, an organization that provides support for resident students in matters impacting women on the Brown campus. She also explains her study abroad experience first in Tunisia and then in France after the attacks in Benghazi and Libya and her fellowship at Cambridge University in nuclear energy.   

The women also recall where their experiences overlapped. For example, Diane and Melanie both took a music course with Martin Fischer, and Melanie and Sarah both took an engineering course with Barret Hazeltine. They all express profound feelings of community and agree that Brown instilled the need to be useful and community-oriented in each of them.       


Recorded on May 11, 2013

Pembroke Hall, Brown University 

Interviewed by Wendy Korwin