Interviews by Decade: 1920s

Interviews from women who attended Brown University in 1920s include discussions of the different social experiences of boarders and day students; the separation of the Women's and Men's Colleges; inspiring professors and courses; Dean Margaret Shove Morriss, who arrived in 1923;  dormitory life; social events; and the Women's College's name change to Pembroke College in 1928. The women also share stories about their families, local communities, and their lives before and after college.

Image: Ivy Chain, 1921.  Ivy Day was a June tradition introduced to the Women's College in 1897. Ivy Day programs included the ivy chain procession, invited speakers, singing, and the Ivy Night Dance, which was the last of the year. More about Ivy Day can be found in the Encyclopedia Brunoniana. Image source: University Archives Photograph Collection.

Emerson tells of her family’s tradition of attending Brown University, which included her mother, her maternal uncles and her maternal grandfather. Like her mother, Emerson became a science teacher, teaching biology, geometry, general science, chemistry and physics. She speaks of her early life: losing her father at age 11 while living in Louisiana, then moving with her mother to Rhode Island to be close to her mother’s family.

In this interview, Ruth May Bugbee ’23, remembers her father encouraging her to attend Pembroke College after high school. She recalls segregation of men and women on campus, the Maypole dance, formal gatherings in Sayles Hall, and Dean Anne Crosby Emery Allinson. She mentions her first job as a psychiatric social worker at Howard State Hospital in Cranston, Rhode Island, and details her twenty-year career at the Rhode Island Birth Control League (later Rhode Island Maternal Health Association, then Planned Parenthood) in Providence, Rhode Island.

Anonymous, class of 1920

Speaking more than sixty years after graduation, this anonymous member of the Pembroke College class of 1920 begins by recalling her childhood, growing up in Providence, and her father’s desire for his children to graduate college. She discusses her reasons for attending Pembroke and shares her earliest memories of the campus.

Helen Julia Thayer, class of 1922

Helen Julia Thayer grew up in North Smithfield, Rhode Island.  She remembers Pembroke as a place of "gracious living," including maids to clean the dorm rooms.  The main pastime was dancing in the living room of Miller Hall to Jazz records.  Rebellious activities included smoking in one's closet, sleeping out on the fire escapes, and sneaking out to the drug store after hours for treats.  Prominent visitors to the Brown campus were figures of importance in World War I, and Helen's interest in music lead her to attend performances as often as she could in downtown Provide

Isabel Ross Abbott, class of 1922

Isabel Ross Abbot begins this interview by describing her parents’ lives in Nova Scotia before she was born. In Part 1, she discusses the family’s move to Providence, Rhode Island and her childhood there, including attending elementary school and happy memories of Christmas and sledding down the hills of Providence.

Helen Anderson Hoff, class of 1923

Helen Anderson Hoff begins her interview by discussing her childhood education in New Jersey and her family background. She explains that a high school superintendent convinced her to apply to Pembroke, making her the first person in her town to attend college. She discusses her experiences in various academic departments and her extracurricular involvement, which centered around the Christian Association. After an unhappy stint teaching, she went on to work for the Young Women’s Christian Association.

Ruth May Bugbee, class of 1923

In this interview, Ruth May Bugbee, remembers her father encouraging her to attend Pembroke College after high school. She recalls segregation of men and women on campus, the Maypole dance, formal gatherings in Sayles Hall, and Dean Anne Crosby Emery Allinson. She mentions her first job as a psychiatric social worker at Howard State Hospital in Cranston, Rhode Island, and details her twenty-year career at the Rhode Island Birth Control League (later Rhode Island Maternal Health Association, then Planned Parenthood) in Providence, Rhode Island.

Charlotte Ferguson, class of 1924

In this interview, Ferguson tells why she chose to attend Pembroke College over Wellesley College; how following a woman she admired, she wanted to become a Boston insurance agent; and that she never felt she needed to be liberated. She discusses the remnants of Victorianism; marching for suffrage before age ten, and always having had a female doctor. She recalls the rules and regulations of Pembroke; mandatory chapel and the speeches given by Deans Allinson and Morriss; and the Brown/Pembroke merger which she opposed.

Elizabeth Lee Young, class of 1924

Speaking more than sixty years after graduation, Elizabeth Lee Young begins her interview by noting her parent’s educational and career backgrounds as well as her own marriage history and family connection to Brown University.

Beatrice Elizabeth Coleman, class of 1925

In this interview, Beatrice Elizabeth Coleman discusses her career as a teacher in normal schools in North Carolina and Pennsylvania; the Black communities in Providence and at Brown and Pembroke in the early twentieth century; and her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. At the time of the interview she was 102 years old.

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