Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an interview with Dr. Ferris Olin on November 15, 2018, in Princeton, New Jersey, with Kate Rizzi. Thank you so much for doing this oral history interview.
Ferris Olin: It's my pleasure.
KR: To begin, can you please tell me where and when you were born?
FO: I was born on June 27, 1948 in St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey.
KR: What do you know about your family history, starting on your mother's side?
FO: Let's see, my maternal grandmother grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Her father was an emigre from the Russian, Hungarian, Polish, we don't know, Eastern European area. His name was changed. She told me stories about, in fifth and sixth grade, going after embers of coal from trains, so that she would have fuel to heat the house. I think she worked in a sweatshop, where she met my grandfather.
My grandfather came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He left that region, after he, as a teenager, was invited to sing for the emperor, Franz Joseph, and when he went to the palace door, as he told me, they wouldn't let him in because he was a Jew. They told him to go in the back door. He had spent his life travelling all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire learning words and singing. He had a very good voice. He immigrated to the United States. He learned English in the first production of Ben Hur on Broadway. He transliterated the lyrics into Yiddish, whatever the language was that he knew, and that's how he learned. He worked in the sweatshop as well, and they got married. He was a pickup singer, and sometimes he was a cantor when needed in synagogues. His family members, who were also singers, were in the Metropolitan Opera. I remember every Saturday when we visited that all the grandchildren had to be quiet and silenced, as he opened up the radio to listen to the Met Opera, Texaco Presents. [Editor's Note: The Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center in New York City broadcasts its Saturday matinee performances live on the radio. From 1940 to 2004, Texaco sponsored the radio broadcasts, representing the longest continuous commercial sponsorship in broadcast history.]
KR: About what year did your grandfather emigrate from Austria-Hungary?
FO: I'm not so sure. I'm going to guess that, let's see, if my mother was born in '22, she had an older sister, so he probably emigrated in 1910-1911. These are maternal grandparents.
On my paternal side, both of them came from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, I don't know, and they ended up in Trenton, New Jersey. Some man arranged their marriage. They hadn't met. My grandmother, I think, was a farm woman, uneducated. My grandfather was working class. He was a roofer. I remember their house and baking with my grandmother on the coal oven and stove. They did not have facilities for bathrooms in their house, among other things.
KR: What was your parents' upbringing like?
FO: My father was one of five, four boys, and the youngest was a girl. They were very tight. The family lore is that he was upset that his father didn't take him on a trip, to visit Israel to visit his family, so he ran away for a year and road the rails as a thirteen-year-old. He was a hobo. I think he was very driven. He was a very smart man. He was the first Jewish officer, class officer, at Trenton High. He was on the 1938-'39 New Jersey State Championship team of basketball. I still have his basketball medal, which I sometimes wear. This was a first-generation emigre family. They didn't have a lot of money. He used to tell stories that he and his brothers would have to go to the local YMHA to shower because my grandmother had carp in the bathroom and every week she made gefilte fish. This is a traditional Jewish household.
My mother was one, the middle, of three sisters, and she has always said that identifies who she is as a middle child. There was the older sister, who was the beauty, the younger sister, who was artistic, and then my mother. Mother is also smart. My mother's still alive. She's ninety-six right now, still living independently. She lived in Hempstead, New York, and her parents bought a shop. It's like a five-and-ten shop, but it was a stationary store with a fountain, so you could make egg creams and other things. That's what they did for their life. They worked very hard. Her younger sister and her husband took over the shop and sort of replicated that same life. My mother and father met as a blind date under the clock at Grand Central Station right after World War II.
KR: Your father served in World War II.
FO: My father definitely served in World War II. I should say that my father, after he graduated from high school, wanted to go to Georgetown. So, he did a PG [post graduate] year as a scholarship student at Pennington Prep in the Mercer County area. He was a three-letter sports person. He played football, baseball and basketball. When the basketball coach from Georgetown came to interview and look over the basketball team at Pennington Prep, the first thing he did, he made all the boys strip and he noticed my father was circumcised. As a result of anti-Semitism, he was not able to go to Georgetown. He wanted to be in the ambassadorial foreign service. He ended up as a triple-letter scholarship at Lehigh.
When the war came, his older brother was about to be drafted and he had just been married. My father snuck in as his older brother to protect--they always protected each other, and the youngest as well. So, he went to war. He learned to drive in a tank in North Africa, chasing [German General Erwin] Rommel, and he survived all that. They sent him to Anzio beach, where he told us, although he didn't talk much about his service, that most of the soldiers, since you have an oral history of World War II, they didn't have enough armaments for the soldiers, so they were given wooden rifles and no ammunition and people went insane. He contracted malaria. He had a lot of shrapnel in his body, and he left the service with a Purple Heart and other medals. It wasn't until he was close to late seventies that he admitted to the VA that he was a hundred percent disabled. When he did that, it provided enough support, so that my mother, who never got to college, fulfilled her lifelong dream and started college at the age of seventy-seven and graduated at the age of eighty, thanks to the GI Bill and we taxpayers. [Editor's Note: On January 22, 1944, British and American forces invaded Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, thirty miles south of Rome on the Mediterranean. German forces counterattacked, resulting in stalemate and heavy casualties until the Allies achieved a breakout in May and reached Rome in June 1944.]
KR: What did your father do for his career?
FO: He had several jobs. He started out, when he and my mother married, owning a delicatessen or some small restaurant in Trenton, and that failed. At that point, he had another name. I was born under another name, and my mother said, "You have to choose which name you're going to use." I was two when my parents changed their name from Olinsky to Olin. My brother was born subsequently and he is Olin, but I actually have a certificate for a name change in my personal papers. It's a funny name that I have, so the whole thing is crazy--you can ask me about that, too.
My father, in the early '50s, was a partner, started a business, which allowed him to work seven days a week and nights, plus having another job. He was an entrepreneur who decided that hospitals had patients who would want to have televisions in their rooms. So, they had something called Telerent, and they had a monopoly for all the hospitals in Trenton, the contracts. They carried in huge TVs into rooms and turned them on for patients. Then, as televisions evolved and as the business evolved, they then put TVs in the rooms permanently and then they just turned them on. Now, anybody who goes to a hospital just calls a number and gives their credit card. They were very entrepreneurial about this. In between, he also worked as a paper salesman for restaurants and school supplies and then ended up working for the State of New Jersey. In Trenton, most people worked for the State of New Jersey because it was a good kind of employer and you got benefits and so forth. His last job was with the Transportation Department. He always worked that job or whatever day job he did, and then he did the hospital TVs at nights and [on] weekends and he worked seven days a week.
My mother worked as well. From the time that I was eight and my brother was six, she was an office manager in Trenton in a lace manufacturing plant and she ran the office. There were two Hungarian immigrants who survived the war whose lace manufacturing plant it was, and I remember vividly the clickity clack of the machines and the looms and stuff, which I think is very funny, because in my later life, I have become enthralled by textiles and how they're produced. I've spent a lot of time traveling and looking at people who use looms and dye. I have a faint memory [of] the clickity clack, although I hadn't put the two together, but I think they're somewhat similar.
KR: You grew up in the Ewing-Trenton area.
KR: What are your earliest memories of growing up?
FO: I have a lot of good memories about that. I lived in Trenton for the first three to four years of my life, and then my parents bought a house in Ewing Township, which was really foreign country in the suburbs, and also compared to the city [of Trenton], the wrong side of the tracks. Every weekend, we spent going to New York to Hempstead to see my grandparents and my mother's sisters and their husbands and their children. In Trenton, because my father's brothers and sister were still there, they had children, so our social life was around those kids. I was basically the only girl among eight boy cousins on the Trenton side, the paternal side, and we were a team. I played baseball, basketball and football with these guys all the time, and we always played together. The families socialized, even on weekends. On the weekends, when we also went to my maternal grandparents' side, it was a long trip because the Long Island Expressway hadn't yet been built. I remember a lot of times when we had to stop for pit stops because somebody had to go to the bathroom. That was making it difficult. On that side, I was the youngest granddaughter, and there were four girls and four boys. As the oldest sister and the only girl on one side and as the youngest granddaughter, the positionality changed a lot. I spent some summers at my grandparents' house when my aunt and uncle were living with them, and then my cousins, on alternate summers, would come to our house.
Some of my cousins came to our house in Ewing, because my mother was always on a diet and they were being sent to lose some weight. Then, one cousin, in particular, used to say, she was from Brooklyn, "It's always better in Brooklyn. The food is better in Brooklyn." She was sent as a teenager and I guess her parents thought that if she came to our house, [she would lose weight]. As my uncle, my father's younger brother who he's very tied with and a joker, used to say [that] you can come into my house and there would be dishes to serve food, but there'd never be any food in the house. [laughter]
KR: When your family moved to Ewing, what was your neighborhood like? Describe Ewing at that time.
FO: I lived on Pennington Road between Olden and Parkside. That road was called also Route 69, and then when I was in high school, they had to change it to Route 31 because the college students were stealing the signs. My neighborhood was a residential neighborhood. My back neighbor, backyard neighbor, was a woman from Little Rock, Arkansas who had married someone from Trenton. They were farmers. They, at one point, had pheasant pens and were raising pheasants. I have lots of fond memories of going to their house, and they'd put an egg in my hand and a chick would chip their way out and end up being born in my hand. The husband of this woman was also a hunter, so he provided the pheasant for hunting places. The other neighbors did not like--I guess it stunk--that they had this little farm on their little property in their backyard. Kids in the neighborhood all played together. It was this woman from Little Rock who was the neighborhood mother. People went to their house. I played baseball and everything with them. I took the buses into Trenton on the weekends to go to movies and other things. We had across the street from us a Pillar of Fire school. I didn't know what Pillar of Fire was, I still am not quite sure, but they're in Zarephath and Alma White maybe is the name of the person who founded that sect. I never socialized with them. They were very private, but it was directly across the street. Since I was on the major thoroughfare, there was a lot of traffic going back and forth, and I had to be careful about that. [Editor's Note: Pillar of Fire International is a sect of the Methodist Church. Its headquarters is located in Zarephath, New Jersey. Alma Bridwell White founded the sect in 1901.]
KR: What role did religion play in your upbringing?
FO: It's very interesting. My parents were not religious at all. It was post-Holocaust, post-World War II. I think that they wanted to try to assimilate as much as possible, hence my name, first name, which is not identifiable one way or the other. However, I was a person who really liked to learn. We'd go to synagogue for the High Holy days and so forth. I chose to go through twelve years of Sunday school and Saturday school and Hebrew school, in part because I wanted to learn. I was intellectually curious, and I wanted to learn more and more. I did not get bat mitzvahed. It was Reformed Judaism. I did get confirmed. I volunteered. When I was in high school, I was a teacher's assistant. I learned a lot about truth and morals and ethics. I believe that it, with the help of my parents, firmed up my feeling about life and how I live my life. Again, we're not very religious, but, in fact, when we took off in early September, when there was the High Holy days, it would be my parents and my aunt and uncle and three cousins and we would drive for four days and have sort of a vacation. My schoolmates and teachers didn't understand why we were taking off, because in Ewing Township there were hardly any Jews.
I always felt a little bit odd. Everybody was going to Catechism on Wednesdays. I did Hebrew school. When we were in elementary school, we were required to say the Lord's Prayer, I don't know why, [and] in the Pledge of Allegiance, "Under God." I did not do either. They didn't know what to make of me. I mean, I'm a young kid in elementary school, but I didn't understand why I'd have to say the 24th Psalm or 23rd Psalm and pledge allegiance. I did whatever I could to be acceptable. I had some other issues in elementary school too about gender and stuff like that, which we can talk about because you asked about religion. [Editor's Note: In the cases Engel v. Vitale (1962), Murray v. Curlett (1963) and Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that reading the Bible and praying in schools violated the First Amendment, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."]
KR: What synagogue did your family go to?
FO: Har Sinai Temple.
KR: Where was that?
FO: That's in Trenton. It was across from Mercer Hospital. I think it was Bellevue Avenue or Stuyvesant, Bellevue, I think it was. There was, a block away, a conservative synagogue. When I was a teenager, I was in the youth group, the state youth group, so I met people in the state who were also Jewish and Reformed and some of them actually ended up at Rutgers when I was an undergraduate, so I knew them.
KR: During the 1950s, do you remember discussions that your family had about the Holocaust?
FO: Not too much. I know that my maternal grandparents, certainly, my grandfather's family were in Warsaw and perished, and my mother said she had lost cousins. I read a lot about the Holocaust, whatever child's book you could read. I was an insatiable reader. I spent a lot of time in libraries, so I read lots of stuff. They didn't talk that much about it. Nobody was fearful that there was going to be another period--sort of like we are now--but they just wanted to live their lives. My mother was working. It's unusual for a mother to be working in the '50s and '60s. We needed the money. We were really working class middle class, lower-middle class.
KR: As a child, you were reading about the Holocaust.
FO: Yes. I spent my third grade reading every biography in the school library. I mean, I wanted to know about people's lives. I noticed, even in third grade, there were hardly any biographies about women. I remember Maria Mitchell and Clara Barton but not much else.
KR: Do you feel like there was anti-Semitism present in Ewing, when you were growing up?
FO: I think it's a microcosm of what I've experienced throughout my life, which is there is an idea that people are all the same and there's not a recognition that there are multiple people and multiple classes. Can you turn that off for a second?
KR: Oh, sure.
KR: We are back on recording.
FO: In my childhood, I felt I did experience anti-Semitism. I've experienced it throughout my life, but it has to do not only with my being Jewish, as anti-Semitism, but there's racism. When I was in fourth grade, I had a friend, a couple friends, who were African American. My fourth grade teacher pulled me aside and told me I was not allowed to play with them. Can you turn it off a second? I'm going to cough.
FO: I was friends with a lot of different people in my class, but adults were telling me that it was not appropriate. Also, because I lived in Ewing and I was active in synagogue, there was a difference between people who were Jewish in Trenton and people who were Jewish outside of Trenton. Many of the children in Trenton who were members of Har Sinai Temple were children of professionals and they lived in a particular neighborhood. There was even a sorority at one point, which I didn't join, and it was clear to me, early on, about class issues, not just anti-Semitism. I knew about oppression, whether it's racism, anti-Semitism or class, as an issue very early on.
KR: You mentioned observations you made about gender.
FO: Oh, yes, I could talk about gender as an elementary school student. I played baseball. I was probably the best third base person as a third grader, fourth grader, fifth grader and sixth grader. The girls, by the time you got to sixth grade, had to audition for girls' choir. Although my grandfather was a great singer, I never inherited his voice. I am tone deaf; I sing flat and off key. So, I played with the boys during recess, and by the time I was twelve and in sixth grade, the teachers felt that as the only girl playing with the boys, that was unseeming. [This was] after I'd been rejected, and girls went to choir, boys played outside--I mean, talk about gender--except for me. I was playing and I was very good. So, they had me, when I was twelve, in sixth grade, re-audition, and the chorus mistress told me that I succeeded in my interview and I would now be in the girls' choir, but I was not allowed to sing. I had to lip sync and not to open my mouth to sing.
Similarly, since I played with my brothers and cousins, we played at Cadwalader Park in Trenton all the time. As we were about the same age, they were trying out for Little League and I tried out for Little League, except I was told that girls cannot play baseball and I should go to the refreshment stand and I could sell soda. I knew this early on that there was a difference between me and my brother and my cousins, even though I was a better athlete than they were. There was no Title IX, and there no such thing as coed whatever. There wasn't even a women's softball team. When we just met and I said that I played women's softball on a team, I finally got my best wish to be on a team, a sports team, in my mid-twenties, when I tried out for a women's softball team and got to play and what was the only time I played for a whole year and we were a championship team. It was always those two things, not being able to sing in choir or play ball with the boys, which is what I wanted to do first, and also not being able to try out for Little League, again, raised my consciousness about gender. Why I knew all of this early on, by the time I was twelve, I don't know, but I did. [Editor's Note: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that provides for equal opportunity for women in athletics.]
KR: You mentioned class distinctions between Jewish people who lived in Trenton and people who lived in Ewing.
FO: And Hamilton, too.
KR: Describe Ewing and Hamilton and the families that lived there, socioeconomically and ethnically.
FO: Well, I can't talk for Hamilton because I didn't know very many people. There was one woman I knew in Hamilton through Jewish Youth Group who turned out to come to Douglass, as I did. We weren't very friendly then, but we are friends now, as it happens. I think Ewing was middle, lower-middle class. I don't think most professionals, lawyers, doctors, chose to live outside in the suburbs. They lived in the big homes in Hiltonia, in the western section of Trenton. Their kids went to the public schools. When they got to junior high and high school, most of the boys were sent to private schools. They went to Hun, Pennington Prep, Peddie and Lawrenceville. Some of the high schools had boys, the public schools, but not all. Many of the Jewish boys, even in Ewing, their parents sent them to prep school. I knew there was a distinction by how people lived, how after, let's say, Saturday school, I'd walk into town with friends from the synagogue. The girls who were from Trenton had money to spend. They were given money; there [were] no limits. Whatever I spent, I had to earn. It was a whole different kind of upbringing and very clearly different.
KR: When you were growing up, what was everyday life like with two working parents?
FO: Early on, it was difficult for my mother because my brother and I would fight. We'd call after school to say we got home safely and we're having a fight. I was the big sister. Until my brother aged to about eleven or twelve, I could easily overpower him, and then I had nails, which helped. When he got to be about eleven or maybe ten, we stopped fighting that kind of way. We're very close, but we still had the residual sibling stuff along the way.
We were latchkey kids before there were latchkeys. Again, the neighbor behind, we could go to if there was a problem, and most of the mothers were not working. My mother was the only one working. We did our homework, we wrestled, we played, until she got home, and then she started dinner. My father came home at five, five-thirty. He walked in the house. We had dinner for twenty minutes, because he had to turn around and go out for work again and didn't come home until nine-thirty or ten. I had the experience of single parenting in a way and co-parenting as well.
KR: What schools did you go to, and what were your academic interests in school?
FO: I went to public schools only in Ewing. I went to Parkway School, which we call Parkway Pigpen Penitentiary. [laughter] I went to Antheil Junior [High] School, which I was in the first class of students to enter that school. I learned about George Antheil, the New Jersey composer, since it was he that it was named after. When I looked out of that school, there were still farms around the school, so I could still see the cows and sheep and stuff, and now that area is all suburb and tract housing. Then, I went to Ewing High. My interest, academically, was anything and everything. I remember in tenth grade, a high school teacher, biology, had me teach a class because I seemed to know more than most. Math was not my best subject. We had a spelling bee. I won the spelling bee. Everybody was surprised because I was the most quiet, introverted person around, and they didn't know me. I graduated third in the class of, I don't know, four to six hundred.
Well, it's interesting, my SATs were very poor. In fact, I got not even five hundred in either math or English, but I was third in my graduating class. I didn't test very well. I actually, ironically, worked at ETS [Educational Testing Service] in summers and during Christmas break a couple of times over high school, besides working at the State Museum, which you should ask me about.
I worked at ETS with the National Teacher's Exam, where I had to answer letters from teachers, mostly from the South, who could barely write English and try to help them pass the exam. I used to collect crazy names. My favorite name of a correspondent was Mrs. Bertha Fartwagon [laughter], and I kept thinking, "How can Mrs. Bertha Fartwagon be a kindergarten or third grade teacher and have students call her Fartwagon?" It was very funny, amusing.
I did not test very well, and I was limited to the schools I could apply for, for higher education. Although my security school was Monmouth University, Monmouth College, I didn't get into Monmouth College. I didn't get into American or George Washington. I applied to Bard. My parents did not want me to go there. It was too artsy-fartsy. I didn't get in there. The only school I got into was Douglass College. Because of my rank in class, I was able to get a dormitory room at Douglass. Douglass did not have enough dormitories for their women students, and so anybody within twenty-five miles had to commute unless you were in the top ten of your class. I believe, now that I understand my thinking patterns and what I've achieved, that I think those kinds of tests, like the ACTs and SATs, are good for some people, but it doesn't test intelligence in any way. I was active throughout high school in clubs, also in my religious group and doing all kinds of things and working. I did them again for the GREs for graduate school; I was consistent. You get two hundred for signing your name, and I had 250 more for the English exam and 250 more or less for the math exam. It's embarrassing, and yet I'm a Ph.D., Dean's List, all that stuff. So, it just tells me that these tests are not accurate, and there's no way to even figure out who could succeed and who could not.
KR: When we are off the record, I will tell you a funny joke my sister and I have about the SATs.
KR: Before we go into your Douglass years--and I will ask you lots of questions about Douglass--I just want to ask you a couple more questions about childhood.
KR: Who were strong influences on you when you were growing up, mentors?
FO: It's really funny. I didn't really have many mentors. I think that the woman from Arkansas was the most consistent woman that I saw in terms of life, you know, here's a farming woman who's uprooted and now in Trenton in the suburbs, raising her family. She was even-handed with all, even when people were making trouble, and she taught me a lot about people I would not have met otherwise. She was Lutheran, so I learned a lot about Lutheranism. I was very interested in religions of all kinds. I went during my high school years to Quaker meetings, to Catholic churches. I was always interested in religions of all kinds. I just thought that she was--there was no Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver family that I knew of, but they were very upstanding, solid people, she and her husband. Her name was Dorothy Fell. Her husband was Bob Fell. Sadly, her older son, who was my brother's best friend and playmate, died while he was in college from cancer, and their youngest son, who I remember bathing and babysitting for, ended up at Rutgers and stays in touch with me. He's brought his family to see me within the last two years, so I should know his kids, who are now out of college and so forth.
KR: Okay, we are back on.
FO: I thought it's very interesting that he sees me as a big sister, and he writes in that kind of way. I don't know why he feels that way, but I'm happy to have him in my life, along with my cousins and all the other people who are around.
I don't think there were too many mentors. The teachers were not helpful. They didn't know what to do with me. I asked a lot of questions sometimes, but I was also quiet. There was a teacher--talk about gender--in high school, who said to the girls in the class, we were just going to college for our Mrs. degree, and I didn't know what that was and then I understood it.
I have been meeting monthly with some group of women who were in my high school class, but most of them were not in my classes. I think I was probably on the college-bound side of things. We talk sometimes about some of the things that we observe. I was not dating in high school. Pretty much my parents only wanted me to date Jewish people; that was in that time period something they wanted. I had to get permission for senior prom to date somebody who wasn't. As a result, my brother then could do whatever he wanted to do, because I laid the way. They subsequently changed their whole viewpoint, but that was, in that time period, Jewish girls and Jewish boys were supposed to meet, because they're concerned about replicating who was lost and so forth and so on, even though my rabbi was hell, fire, and brimstone. He used to preach that dating led to mating among other things. [laughter] This was in high school. I laughed about that as well.
In terms of mentoring, the teachers, they didn't know what to do with me. They had their own issues, if I wasn't a sports person, I wasn't a cheerleader. I was quiet. I just observed the couples around, whether it was the back neighbor or my aunts and uncles, my parents, but nobody mentored me. Even in college, I don't think I necessarily had a mentor. I spent a lot of time mentoring people as a result of that.
KR: You mentioned your teacher who said young women were going to college to get their Mrs. degree. What were the messages being sent to you in the 1950s and the early 1960s about what you as a woman could go on to do in your life?
FO: There were messages, basically, that I was supposed to get married, not so much from my parents, although my parents did say to me--Mother is a person who lived through the Depression, so was my father, but my mother, the Depression really impressed itself on her--so she told me I had to be a teacher because teachers didn't lose their jobs. I didn't want to be a teacher. They also told me I had to stop being a tomboy because if I got any more muscles, she'd get very upset. When I was growing up, as I'm thinking about this, because my father was not handy, my mother and I were the handy people. We changed lightbulbs. We'd spent every weekend at the Rescue Mission and Salvation Army, buying furniture, refurbishing it, taking it down to the original. I still have some pieces here from that period. We wallpapered with fabric in our house and did paneling and stuff. She did tell me, when I was about fourteen, that I should forget everything, including electrifying lamps and stuff, everything I learned, because I would get married and I'd be able to hire somebody to do the work for me, which I think is very funny because she calls herself a feminist and I remind her of this sometimes but she can rewrite history too. [laughter]
KR: What did you parents expect of you in terms of college?
FO: Well, first of all, my father went to college for three years and left and then contracted malaria and never went back. My mother never went to college. She always wanted to go to college. Again, it was a Depression, and her parents could ill afford to send her to college. I think she was pretty smart. So, she did a secretarial school, curriculum, that basically takes a year and a half; she did it six months because she had to earn money. They wanted me to be as educated as I can. It was clear that I was smart. I was a bookworm. My nose was in the books all the time. My family made jokes about the fact [that] I'd be with the family and everybody's yacking and doing things and I was engrossed in the books, as an escape.
Also, because television developed during my early childhood, I spent a lot of time watching television. It got boring because they were all formulaic, and I could figure out everything. I remember lots of different TV shows, like the Andy Devine show. I remember 77 Sunset Strip because I thought those detectives were very cool, and when I went to library school, I decided that being a librarian is like being a detective and I always said things about that. I remember many shows. I watched a lot of old movies. To this day, I still watch old movies, even though I've seen them before. I also went to movies a lot. As I said, I went into town after Saturday school, and I'd go to movies. There was a double bill and I'd never know when the movie would begin, so I always went in the middle of the movie and sat through twice over to see the whole thing, but it also gave me a chance to think about, "Well, what happened before and what do I think is going to happen again?" So, it helps to develop critical thinking skills.
KR: What movies stick out in your mind that you saw?
FO: I remember seeing Peyton Place and being told that I should not have seen that. The same thing when I was in sixth grade, I chose a book in the public library, Lolita [by Vladimir Nabokov], and the librarian called my mother and told me I shouldn't be reading that. The first movie I remember seeing, I was very young. It scared me to death. My older cousin brought me to it. Maybe it was The Fly or Arachnia, something with spiders, and to this day, I don't watch horror movies. I've never seen Francis Ford Coppola movies because they're too violent. I've never seen The Godfather. I took my kids to see Alien and Jurassic Park, but they watched them and I was in the bathroom because I have a vivid imagination and I just don't want to see that stuff. [laughter]
KR: What were political discussions like when you were growing up with your mom and dad?
FO: I don't remember so many discussions, but I know that my father voted Republican and my mother voted Democrat. She used to say she would negate his vote, and at one point--so it must have been in the '60s--he voted, he was a Barry Goldwater Republican, and she said, "Well, I'm going to ex that one out." He came to change his mind for some things. [Editor's Note: Barry Goldwater served in the United States Senate from Arizona from 1953 to 1965 and then again from 1969 to 1987. During the presidential election of 1964, Goldwater, the Republican candidate, lost to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.]
KR: Did your parents have debates?
FO: No, not about that. They had lots of arguments but not those.
KR: I am wondering what historical events stick out in your mind from your childhood.
FO: Well, certainly going into space. I think it must have been seventh grade or eighth grade when we finally got the satellites up and then the astronauts up. That was a big thing for social studies. I remember when Kennedy was assassinated because I was in tenth grade teaching that biology class. My brother was about to be bar mitzvahed that week. School was closed, and we watched all of the proceedings. His bar mitzvah, unlike most bar mitzvahs, which were on Saturdays, was Thursday, so we had to deal with all of that. [Editor's Note: On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while traveling by motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. ]
I remember people voting for Ike [Dwight D. Eisenhower] because the voting machines were in my elementary school, and I'd watch people go in. I remember Adlai Stevenson and Eisenhower, and I always sort of paid attention to elections. [Editor's Note: Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956.]
I remember getting the polio vaccine, Salk, early in elementary school. Those are kinds of current events that I think that you might think about. I'm sure there are many other things I could think about. Of course, the Vietnam War, but I was an adolescent and adult. Popular culture, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. [Editor's Note: In 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio. After clinical trials took place in 1954, a nationwide inoculation campaign commenced in 1955. Actress Elizabeth Taylor and actor Richard Burton were married twice, first from 1964 to 1974 and again from 1975 to 1976.]
KR: You mentioned the Stevenson-Eisenhower mock election. Did you have a preference at that time?
FO: No, I was probably five or six or seven at most. I remember the "I Like Ike" buttons. We were in the school cafeteria where the machines [were], and I was very curious. My mother used to say that they were upset because I'd ask questions and pronounce things that were absolutely accurate and they shouldn't be coming from an eight-year-old.
KR: Do you remember when your family got its first television?
FO: Well, it probably had to be early on, since my father was doing the television business. I'm trying to think. It would've been in the '50s. We never had a lot of electronic stuff. We didn't really have a phonograph or music, even though my mother liked music. I remember once, we bought a phonograph for Chanukah, so she could listen to opera and we listened. We had it early on. For me, talk about television, my father came home. We were in a two-story house. He would sit in the TV room, which was the sun porch, and he would yell for me to come from upstairs to come downstairs to change the television station. When I got to be older, I rebelled against that, and he was telling me that it was very disrespectful. I couldn't make him understand. He was traditional masculine, and my mother did the wife's role. It was so interesting that as they aged, when my mother had, let's say, surgery or something, my father had to learn how to use the microwave and cook and he started washing dishes. I learned early on that you can teach an old dog new tricks. He made breakfast, too.
KR: You mentioned that your brother got his bar mitzvah, but you did not get a bat mitzvah.
FO: It wasn't really something girls did at that time and probably cost too much money. We were always watching our pennies. I wore clothes that were hand-me-downs from my cousins, boys and girls; I wore boy clothes as well as girl clothes. Nowadays, if I did that, someone would question my gender fluidity. I didn't really get new clothes until I was going to go to college. I remember traveling with my mother to what was then a discount Villager store. Villager was very popular at that point, tweedy sweaters and round collars and skirts, and we bought clothes on sale. We always bought clothes on sale, but we bought those on sale. I had them for a year, but I wasn't allowed to wear them until I went to college. I remember going to sales, July 4th sales and other sales, with my mother to buy clothes. That was the only time we bought new clothes. When I was about five or six, my mother and father decided they would splurge and I would get a new dress for the High Holy days, and they took me to Saks Fifth Avenue. I have fond memories of Hamburger Heaven, which is across the street, was, from Saks Fifth Avenue, and I loved those hamburgers then. We went into Saks, and they chose a dress for me, which I hated. I told them I didn't like it. They bought it anyway. I wore it one time, and it hung in the closet. My mother realized that I did have some opinions after all.
KR: What part-time jobs did you have when you were young?
FO: Okay, I was a babysitter, for other people though. My father insisted that we have babysitters for me, even though I was babysitting other people as a teenager. It took a long time for my mother to get him to stop being worried. The last time we had a babysitter for me, the girl came from across the street. She was afraid of our little miniature Schnauzer, so I stayed up with her to protect her from the dog and my father finally agreed that I really didn't have to have a babysitter. So, I babysat for people. I worked as an assistant in the Sunday school.
Then, when I got my working papers, I was hired as a summer assistant at the New Jersey State Museum. There was a new curator, who came from Tulane, who then became a director. My first summer there, they were still in the State House moving to the building they now have on West State Street. I helped them move. Among other things, I washed leaves of the plants. I helped them set up their inaugural show, which was with Ben Shahn and Jacob Landau, artists from Roosevelt, New Jersey. They had me unsupervised, among other things, go to a satellite place, where they had Edward Marshall Boehm birds and colonial artifacts and I had to sort of catalog them and handle them. Now, you should never send a teenager to handle these porcelain, delicate birds. I did the best I could. I hope I didn't break anything, but you never know. I was paid a dollar thirty-eight an hour in that first job. I also organized their art library, which was not very much. So, I spent two summers doing that. As I said, a high school friend's mother was in personnel at ETS, and she got me a job as a seasonal assistant. [Editor's Note: Edward Marshall Boehm (1913-1969) was a sculptor known for his porcelain sculptures of birds.]
KR: The job at the museum, was that when your love for art was born?
FO: Yes, I don't remember my parents taking me to museums. Well, I know my mother never took me to libraries. She was against all that, and she didn't have time for it. I don't remember them taking me to any museums at all. I don't know where I got my love of art and history. I think I was very visual anyway, and I was interested in history. I could have been an anthropologist or a cultural historian. When I went to Douglass and I started taking art history classes, I realized it was easy because you only had to memorize. There wasn't so much analytical stuff, and my analytical skills were evolving over time. Most people probably wouldn't have done memorization because it's difficult to do, but that's what I could do. Once I was introduced to art history, it was clear that that's where I was going to focus.
KR: In high school, what were your favorite subjects?
FO: History and English, humanities primarily. We didn't really have art classes. Gym was not the best subject for me. I mean, it was fine, but I wasn't in that sphere. It was basically the humanities, social studies, geography, which is no longer taught. I was very much interested in the world at large and leaders, world leaders, political science and borders and the changing histories of countries.
KR: I have heard other women from your generation talk about in high school if they wanted to take math or science classes that they were turned away from them, and I am curious what your experience was.
FO: What I was turned away from is I didn't want to do home economics because I kept flunking it. I can't read those directions. I wanted to do woodworking, and I wasn't allowed. That was one thing. We had first-aid; I flunked that, too. That's manual dexterity. I wasn't deterred. I remember, as I said, tenth grade biology. Math and science were not my strong points. That was not my interest, but, yes, that's very true, and it happened in ensuing years as well because I was involved with projects at the Training Institute for Sex Desegregation of the Public Schools, in which it was clear that math and science was not perceived as something that women would go into. [Editor's Note: The Training Institute for Sex Desegregation of the Public Schools, better known as Consortium for Educational Equity, was a federally funded sex equality assistance center based at Douglass and Rutgers.]
KR: Tell me about the youth group that you did when you were in high school.
FO: It was a way to socialize, even though I was very introverted. I think I was active in it enough that I understood about leadership and learning how to talk to other people, so that when I went to college, I told one of the deans I was majoring in meetings and minoring in getting an education because I was so active, although I can't remember all the things I did. It was very clear that I was always creating programming and finding ways to collaborate and so forth, which I still do until this day and I've always thought that it had to do with what I did in youth group. I probably was an officer. I don't remember. It's funny that I did that considering I was so introverted, but so be it.
KR: What type of travel did you get to do in high school? Perhaps, through your high school, maybe through your youth group.
FO: We may have done with the youth group, some travel throughout the state and maybe to New York. In high school, I started taking French and Spanish, the audio-lingual method, and I went to Europe at fifteen or sixteen on a If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium tour. I don't know if you knew that movie. It was a movie with Suzanne Pleshette. It's basically where you spend a day or two in each of a country, and you go through five or six countries over a week and a half or something like that. There were other high school kids and some teachers on that trip. I remember being in England and in Paris and Switzerland, Germany, just getting a little touch here and there, France, of course, as well. Also, it was the first time I had a kiss from someone who was a little bit younger, but that's okay, on that trip. [Editor's Note: If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium is a 1969 film directed by Mel Stuart and starring Suzanne Pleshette.]
KR: Was that the first time you flew?
FO: Yes, probably, because when my parents took us on a family vacation to Florida, we took the twenty-four-hour train and sat up. They couldn't afford the sleepers. On that train, the train was stopped because some guy fell into some woman's lap and she cried rape, and so the train was stopped while the police came. It was probably in South Carolina, and it was delayed while they interviewed people. I don't think she was raped. I wouldn't have known what rape was. My parents were trying to whisper about it, but I asked questions. They conjectured that the train was moving at a clip and the guy didn't have sure footing or probably was drinking and he stumbled on this woman, not unlike things [that] have happened in this century.
KR: What particular recollections do you have on your trip to Europe?
FO: Men following me around. I had to be very careful, especially in France. Hearing Beatles songs in other languages. I'm thinking about that. Watching television, observing that crappy U.S. television was being exported to Europe, so that Europeans would understand who we were in a way that's not accurate, as a teenager. Watching the changing of the guards, things like that. We didn't go to many museums. It's not how I travel as an adult, believe me.
I should say that I wanted to get away from high school, and I found an exchange program where I could go to high school in my junior year in Israel. I don't know why Israel but Israel. My principal told me he would not accept credit for a junior year in high school in Israel and that I wouldn't be able to graduate with my class, so I didn't go. However, we did have Experiment in [International] Living, and I had classmates who went to Germany and Japan for exchanges for short term in the summer and we had exchange students come to the high school. Again, I don't say that that's anti-Semitic, but I thought it was a very narrow point of view. Here's somebody who had arranged for travel abroad for a year. I'm sure my parents, behind my back, were breathing a sigh of relief, because between the expense and the fact that a girl was going to go by herself to some foreign land, which they had not been to, although they had travelled a bit, which probably was scary too then. My father was a very over-protective dad.
When I went to the high school prom, after getting permission, with a Christian guy, who later came to Rutgers and is now a minister, my father was very careful about the boys and this minister was doing, thirty-forty years later, an interdenominational sermon in his community in Florida, where he was based, and he gave a sermon about his experience on a date with me, for senior prom. The only reason I know this is that when I was going up for promotion to full professor, I Googled myself and I discovered the sermon online. I read it, and I was appalled by the whole thing. First of all, it was very anti-Semitic. This minister is not very evolved. He started the piece with every other name, a Christian student, a Jewish student in class, in our grade. Then, he said, "I never thought of people as being Jewish or Christian." Okay, he never asked anyone's permission to use their names. Then, he described his experience dating me in his senior year, where my father didn't talk to him when he came to pick me up and he ascribed that to the fact that my father was Jewish and he was Christian. He went on and on and on. He used my name, which is a very unusual name. I stewed about this because I thought, "This shouldn't be on the Internet, and he didn't ask me. It's an invasion of my privacy." About six months after I discovered it, he, by happenstance, contacted me, because it was the forty-fifth high school reunion and asked would I like to organize it because I lived nearby. I wrote him and I said, "Well, this gives me an excuse." I said to him I was very upset to discover the sermon on the Internet with my name, which is a very unusual name, and these other people without having given my permission to use my name. He misinterpreted the whole thing because I said [that] if he were a father of a daughter, he would have known that a father of a daughter is very over-protective. It doesn't matter who comes to pick up your daughter for a date; they're very weary of the person. I thought this was a terrible thing that he had done. He didn't understand about interdenominational anything. He wrote back to me, he said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. Let me change your name." He changed my name from Ferris Olin to Ferris Cohen. I wrote back, "That's not what I had in mind," which tells you that he doesn't have a consciousness. He doesn't know. He may think he knows, but he doesn't. As I told him about being the father of a daughter, he wrote and said, "Oh, you're right. I am the father of a teenage daughter and I feel that way." He says, "Okay, I'm going to tell my tech person to take this down from the Internet." I said, "That's great, except that it's always going to be on the Internet, but thank you and just remove it." I have not had anything to do with this man since, but he did apologize and said he would call my father, if I gave him the number, to tell him he was sorry, "If he were mad." I never said anything about my father one way or the other. Then, he sent me pictures of the thirtieth year celebration of his ministerial duties at the same church with pictures of all these people who were celebrating him and so forth. Again, we have different perspectives. I respect his perspective, but I would never suggest that he has any understanding of what interdenominational really means.
KR: I asked you about part-time jobs before. You might have answered this. I am wondering what you did the summer before you went to Douglass.
FO: Yes. What did I do the summer before? I think I was working at ETS.
KR: Did you visit Douglass before you went for your freshman year?
FO: When I chose to go to Douglass, they had some kind of orientation program in the spring before and I went and visited then.
KR: What do you remember about the visit?
FO: It was a college campus, and since I had no choice--I couldn't apply to the Ivy League; I mean, I had the ability, [but] we couldn't afford it anyway. Most of the people actually who went to Douglass were girls who were either admitted into the Seven Sisters schools or whose parents didn't want them to go out of state. They were very smart. I must say that the Douglass students in my class were particularly intellectual and high achieving in many ways, even though we were in the cusp of you get married or not kind of time period, which I could talk to you about, too. [Editor's Note: The Seven Sisters, historic women's colleges, consisted of Mount Holyoke College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Smith College, Radcliffe College, Bryn Mawr College and Barnard College.]
KR: Your classmates from Ewing, were there any other people who went to Douglass?
FO: One girl, who I was somewhat familiar with, also went to Douglass, and she got into a dormitory, too. Her experience was different than mine in Douglass. She hooked up with a fraternity group and spent a lot of time drinking and doing things because she came from a very cloistered family, and so this was her time to sort of break out and discover herself. I came from a cloistered thing too, but I didn't do that.
KR: Then also about your Ewing High School class, what percentage of people went on to college?
FO: It is hard for me to say, but all of the people in my classes all went on to college. The people I see now for breakfast, most of them were in vo-tech, secretarial or whatever; they didn't go on to college. They also, as I've observed, are living in the houses they grew up in or haven't moved away or they married high school classmates and they're still together. Their worldview has not been exposed to very much. They're very limited in what they've experienced, and when I meet with them, I never talk about what I did or have done because I don't know how they would feel. I never say I live in Princeton, but they're in Hamilton or Ewing still and other places, and I'm very conscious not to be different in that kind of class setting. I just don't see it's important.
KR: I want to ask you about your freshman year at Douglass.
KR: What was it like when you moved in?
FO: Well, it was really interesting because I was living in Katzenbach on the fourth floor, Katzenbach G. I lived next to the payphone. My roommate was a woman from the Lambertville area who didn't last even the first semester in school. She had a high school honey, and she wanted to be with him. So, I ended up having a single. I was surprised at the number of Jewish people at Douglass, having come from not Northern New Jersey or New York, but a place where there's hardly any Jews, and the variety of the kinds of Jews. There was a girl from South Jersey who had never met a Jew, on my wing, who wanted to know where my tail and horns were.
We were required to take a speech test because they wanted everyone to be public speakers, and that girl who spoke with an accent, "Git on from here" [spoken with a South Jersey accent], managed to be exempt from the speech class. My friend, who became my roommate subsequently, came from Bayonne and spoke through her nose, and she had to do the remedial speech. I had to do the regular speech class, which was very funny because when I did take it, which was between my sophomore and junior year, it was like spring of sophomore year, I had an entire semester of upper respiratory infections, ear infections, laryngitis, bronchitis and so I spent most of that time whispering my speeches because [whispering] I had lost my voice most of the time. That teacher lives in Princeton. I see her all the time. She participated in the Black on the Banks Conference at Rutgers two years ago, for the 250th Anniversary. Cecilia Drewry is her name. She was an adjunct. I see her all the time here, and we get together once in a while.
Let's see, freshman year, oh, yes, there was phys ed [physical education]. I chose fencing, and it turned out that they only had one breast plate per girl while we were using our foils and épées and so forth. I had to walk from Katzenbach down the hill, pass Eagleton and Neilson and so forth, and it rained all the time. So, I walked to classes being soaked. I went through so many umbrellas; my bra was wet in classes. You ask me what I remember; that's what I remember among other things, the weather.
I remember meeting boys and having dates all through college. Some boys I told--it was cruel, I couldn't believe I did this--one boy I didn't want to see after the third date, so I told him I was busy until April 1st and he called me on April 1st. I remember the freshman mixers. I met lots of nice boys and girls there. I remember the girls, the upper-class woman, in my freshman dormitory. One of them was dating someone at Yale or Harvard, and she fixed me up once or twice. That was an interesting experience because the first time I told my parents I was going to a weekend at Yale, they wanted to know where I was staying, the telephone number, "What is the name of the guy? What is his telephone number? Where is he from?" After that weekend, the next time I went on a blind date, which was to Lehigh, to Sammie fraternity [Sigma Alpha Mu], which was where my father had pledged; I knew that if I told him I was going, he would've been upset, so I had to tell him after the fact.
The other thing about my freshman year is that my parents wanted to stay connected and the only way they could reach me, they felt, was Saturday morning at six-thirty. Luckily, I was next to the payphone, but they oftentimes awakened people. I tried to get them to understand they could not call me then, even though they were up. This is the social life part.
Oh, here's the other thing, "Western Civ." I had an eight o'clock "Western Civ" class, Dr. Becker, who was in the History Department. Howard Becker taught it. I think he's a Russian historian. It turned out that the class text was the same class text that I had in my senior year of world history. So, I went and said to him, "Dr. Becker, I know the stuff. I just spent the whole year on it. Could I be exempt?" "No, you have to go." In the middle of my first semester, they announced that they were going to do an "Honors Western Civ" class, did they anyone want to volunteer? I volunteered, which was very fortunate because it gave me an experience unlike I would have had otherwise. They hired an adjunct who lived in Princeton, Mrs. Meservey, whose specialty actually was Middle Eastern history, and the entire semester we talked about current events. Now, this is the time when people were marching. This was a time where there were communes in New Brunswick. There were protests in New Brunswick. There was civil rights going on. The race riots in Trenton and Camden and Newark were happening, and in New Brunswick. That class had a lot of smart women in it, and it was the most intellectual class that I remember at Douglass. I was really impressed that we could talk about so many issues and current events. I was, by the way, glad to get out of "Western Civ," eight o'clock class.
KR: Mrs. Meservey, she was an adjunct.
FO: Yes. I subsequently learned that she was the first Ph.D., woman Ph.D., from Princeton, I think, in history. There's a book that came out--I'll have to remember the name of the woman--about coeducation at Princeton and then Harvard. She did the Ivy Leagues [that] ended up going coed. Something [like] Get the Damn Women Out was the name of the title. She was here in Princeton. She gave a talk here in Princeton, and she talked about Mrs. Meservey. That's how I knew that she was the first woman Ph.D. in history from Princeton. [Editor's Note: Sabra Follett Meservey enrolled in the Oriental Studies program in the Graduate School at Princeton in 1961. "Keep the Damned Women Out:" The Struggle for Coeducation is a 2016 book by Nancy Weiss Malkiel.]
KR: Did you go and visit Yale and Lehigh your freshman year?
KR: How did that work? Where did you stay, and was it supervised?
FO: It wasn't supervised. The girl who fixed me up introduced me to my date. We were in hotels I think, and it was very awkward. Yale was okay. The guy was pretty okay. He didn't force himself on me in any way. Lehigh, those boys hadn't seen a girl for a long time. I spent the whole time trying to get away. I wasn't really drinking then. I wasn't into partying, and they expected, if you went, that you were supposed to give sex, which I wasn't interested in at that point. All through college, most of the boys expected [that] if you dated, you should have sex with them. It was a sexual revolution. I learned a lot about how to avoid [it and] what I knew was best for me.
KR: What were the discussions that went on about birth control?
FO: Oh, everybody was concerned about getting pregnant. Many of them were not using birth control, nor were they using condoms. I couldn't understand why people would make themselves nervous that way. I think Planned Parenthood was already in existence. A couple of them were trying to get IUDs [intrauterine device]. The pill was only just getting marketed. Nobody was talking about syphilis and gonorrhea, because at the time that I was a high school adolescent, there was a big deal in health about talking about venereal disease and then showing a movie of someone giving birth, which our parents had to sign permission that we could see, in order to deter us. That was high school.
KR: What about abortion? What were discussions about abortion at that time?
FO: Several of the older classmates were talking about abortions. After graduation, I had some friends whom I accompanied to abortion places because they needed abortions.
KR: At that time, it was pre-Roe v. Wade.
FO: Oh, yes.
KR: What were they doing?
FO: They just found these places where they thought [it was] safe, and they needed somebody to go with them.
KR: Were they safe?
FO: Nothing is safe. It's just that simple, but nobody was using hangers as far as I know, at least in my experience. There were, but not in my experience.
KR: You mentioned the freshman mixer. Was that with Rutgers College?
KR: Tell me about that. What was the interaction between Douglass women and Rutgers men?
FO: No, Rutgers was single sex and Douglass was single sex. We were Coopies, as they called us, because of Cooper Dining Hall. There is a joke that said that a teacher would come to Douglass and talk and say good morning, and the girl students would write good morning. They were very studious and word for word and trying to get good grades. The boys would talk about that. This was all part of orientation, so you went to football games. I remember going to football games, probably on dates. I think I took studio art class then too, because I remember the studio class and going with a friend from the dormitory, who had a boyfriend at that point, to his apartment to get stuff from his refrigerator. My assignment was to make a piece of art that changed over time, and I decided to get a red-and-white checked tablecloth, like an Italian restaurant would use, and dump all kinds of smells on there from food to see what would happen. That was not as creative as the student who came with a box with his turds. [laughter] I also remember, we had to build something. I remember I took Dixie cups and built a tower of Dixie cups, and I had to get from Katzenbach down, carrying it all the way--I couldn't take the campus bus because it was so tall--to get to the art building, to carry it.
KR: Who was the professor for the studio art class?
FO: Oh, that's a good question. The professor for the studio art class was named Geoff Hendricks, Geoffrey Hendricks, who just died this summer, who became a colleague and friend of mine. He was into happenings. He worked with Yoko Ono. He did a lot of happenings, and he was known, and did then, paintings of clouds. His overalls were clouds, everything was clouds. [Editor's Note: Geoffrey Hendricks began teaching at Douglass in 1956 as an art professor and continued to teach at Rutgers University until his retirement in 2003. Hendricks was a renowned artist in the Fluxus Movement.]
What I remember about the art professors, they were almost all male. I had one or two art history adjuncts who were women. They only showed work by male artists and white artists. It wasn't until 1971, after I had left, where Joan Snyder founded the Women Artist Series to counter that. We never saw any role models for women artists or anything like that, and even in my art history classes, I remember sitting in "Impressionism" and saying, "Where are the women artists?" I used to sit next to a very good friend, who died before he was thirty of AIDs, but he was a Rutgers student who was my good friend, also an art history major, and we'd write notes in the blue books and I'd keep tallies every time there was a woman mentioned. I mean, there were queens, they were the models, but there were never discussions of women artists. [Editor's Note: Joan Snyder, DC '62, MGSA '66, is a renowned painter and leader in feminist art who founded the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series in 1971 at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library at Rutgers.]
KR: You were questioning the curriculum at that time.
FO: Yes. Actually, you asked me about freshman year. We had to do "English Comp" ["English Composition"], and we had some snotty Princeton graduate student teaching English. We had to do a term paper, and I decided--why, I don't know--to do a term paper on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt, suffragettes and feminists early on. I did all the research, and he couldn't believe that I was doing this as a term paper. I don't even understand why I even knew about them, but I did.
KR: How did the term paper turn out?
FO: It was okay. He had a little thing for me because I once was mocking him and he was behind me, only I didn't know that, because he was so supercilious to girls. He also made statements about how we were just there to get a husband, and I just found it very offensive.
KR: How well prepared were you for your studies at Douglass from high school?
FO: I think I was very well prepared. I had good study habits. They didn't teach that, but I was pretty laser focused. As I said, my "Western Civ" class had the same textbook as my high school. The only issues I had were the requirement for math. I didn't do very well in that class, but my brain has never been a math brain. I mean, I don't understand it. I was hoping in retirement I might develop that skill, but it hasn't happened yet. I think I was very well prepared early on, really more than some of the other students.
KR: I am curious about Douglass traditions during your freshman year. What sticks out in your mind?
FO: Dinkies and Sacred Path, Yule Log, all those things. We were required to go to chapel a couple of times a month, where they brought in speakers, Mrs. Edward R. Murrow. I remember her being named as Mrs. Edward R. Murrow, which I don't know why they did that. There were other speakers as well. I became one of the chapel--what are they called? The people who help people in. [Editor's Note: Janet Huntington Brewster was a radio broadcaster and philanthropist who was married to news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow.]
KR: An usher?
FO: Usher. I was a chapel usher, which was an honor. I remember the honor code, and I was on the Honor Board during the time I was at Douglass. I was on a lot of things. I can't tell you all that I was on, but I was. I wasn't exactly a class officer, but I was involved with many groups. Dean [Margery Somers] Foster insisted that we wear skirts at dinner, especially on Sunday. So, sometimes there were extra skirts around just in case somebody didn't, and maybe gloves. Freshman year, we had curfew. I think it was eleven o'clock at night certainly for the weekends and maybe nine or ten during the weekday. Sometime during the four years I was at Douglass, they agreed that girls could be in boys' dormitories as long as you have the door a book width open, so the boys had matchbooks to go around. There were one or two girls who had boys in their dormitory rooms, which they weren't supposed to do. I was a house chairwoman too for Jameson my senior year.
KR: You mentioned the dinks. You did have to wear costumes your freshman year.
FO: I had to have a dink, yes. They assigned a sophomore sister. She was the first person I met who was not traditionally dressed or looked like a female. I will not say that she was a lesbian or transgender; she just had a different look. When I went to the bathroom the first day, I saw somebody next to me, I mean, you have the stall door closed, with male shoes with a belt buckle and pants dropping down, and that was my sophomore sister, who had very short hair and wore masculine clothes. I, my freshman year, wore skirts and miniskirts and short dresses, miniskirts, which were short, because my mother early on decided, when I had a small pox vaccine, that I should not have a small pox vaccine on my arm because it would show if I wore sleeveless clothes. She had it done on my thigh, and where it was on my thigh was the length which all of my skirts could be shortened to. I thought that was a little too short. She also wanted me to wear makeup, and I didn't want to wear makeup. I remember those short skirts and the tights and all that stuff. Going to art class in a dress, studio art class, why would you do that? That's just how I was at that time. I think it wasn't until junior year that I wore jeans, and by then there were head shops in town and you could get lots of clothes and stuff like that.
KR: You said you were on the Honor Board.
KR: What went on with the Honor Board?
FO: Okay, one other thing, freshman year, I walked out of "English Comp" class, went to a jewelry store, not far down from (Lasoletta?) Pizza, which is no longer there, and had my ears pierced and came back to go to another class in between classes. So, I have one piercing in each ear. Now, everybody has many piercings--this one--and I did that during classes. [laughter]
Honor Board, it was really an interesting exercise because people cheated, people stole, and we were supposed to judge them. I don't know why I thought I could judge anybody. In the senior year, there was a case in which some students, who happened to be African American, took furniture out of the dorm lounge to put in their room. When they were asked why--they were accused of stealing--asked why, they explained that that was a common room and they figured they could just do it. We were supposed to judge whether there had been a theft or not. I couldn't understand why we'd be judging them at all. Yes, I understand the rules with the furniture, to stay there for everybody to use, but they didn't interpret that and also maybe from their experiences, that's not necessarily wrong to do what they did. That made me question some of the things we were doing culturally as well. I don't think we understood enough.
KR: What was the outcome of that case?
FO: I can't remember, and even if I did remember, I shouldn't be telling you for that matter.
KR: Okay. [laughter]
FO: I mean, it was confidential. I remember Dr. Quaintance, Richard Quaintance, was on the honor board with me. I can't remember all the other people who were on it, because I saw him subsequently as I became a faculty member.
KR: What would happen if somebody broke curfew?
FO: I don't know. It was the dorm resident counselor who had to deal with them. We had cards with our parents' signature saying whether we could stay overnight when that was the case. We had to get permission. When I went to Yale and to Lehigh, there had to be something that somebody would sign. Now, my parents didn't know I was going to Lehigh, but they might have signed that I could go out, away on weekends, or something like that, because there [was] still in loco parentis, as a theme, during that time period. This is '66 to '70. Those people who broke rules in the dormitories didn't come before the Honor Board. The Honor Board is more like cheating because when you took exams they were not proctored. You had to sign saying that you were not cheating.
KR: What sticks out in your mind about the riots in New Brunswick in 1967 and throughout the state?
FO: I remember marches. I remember food co-ops. I remember, at that point, the black students in our class segregated, self-segregated. I never got to really talk with them very much. When I was a class officer, after graduation, and had to organize reunions at five-year intervals, I reached out to some of the students and they helped. They became part of that planning committee, and [it was] the only time, in all the years that I've been involved with planning, the only time that the African American students were involved. There were a bunch of them. At that particular reunion, they got themselves together. They came, and then they left to go off. In fact, one of those students who was one of the leaders ended up becoming very good friends with Dean Foster, and she hired her. I'm not saying she co-opted her, but she helped her to be involved with the institution. That's Maxine [Vaughters]-Summey. She was just honored two Saturdays ago by Douglass alumnae. She was the one who ran EOF [Educational Opportunity Fund] after she graduated, and she's done a lot of work for the University. We were colleagues and acquaintances and friends, but to a point. There's another student, a black student, who was in the class, who I now see on a once or twice a year basis. We also became friends along the way. I didn't understand, but I did understand about self-segregating and black power and so forth. On campus, we noticed that as well. Well, some of us did.
That's why I was very interested for the Blacks on the Banks Campus Conference. I thought that was really amazing. I thought it was terrible that no one from the administration was there to say welcoming remarks. I'm putting this in this oral history. I listened to what people say. I remember some of the students who were speakers. I didn't know a lot of them. I found it very amusing that one of the athletes, African American, who ended up in a Jewish fraternity said, "Rutgers was," I think he said, "forty-five percent or ninety-five percent Jewish." That was not my experience, but that was his perception and I thought that was really interesting. Can we turn this off for a second? [Editor's Note: The Black on the Banks Conference occurred on November 6-7, 2015 and focused on the experiences of African American students at Rutgers College and Douglass College during the 1960s.]
KR: Okay, we are back on. We were talking about your classmates who were African American at Douglass.
FO: Yes. As I said, they were our classmates, but they chose not to have anything to do with those of us who were Caucasian. I can't say about the international students. There were some, but I never got to know them, to my dismay now. I should have, and I didn't. I should say also that as a student at Douglass, I knew lots of people. I was never in any one clique. I never have been in a clique. I like to do intersecting circles or concentric circles. Either I was accepted or not accepted for whom I am.
KR: What type of diversity was there in terms of the faculty?
FO: I don't think I ever saw anybody who wasn't white. There was a German woman teaching German. That's diverse, and she was very, "Achtung." She wouldn't pass me. I had German as a pass/fail course because I had taken German during summer school and aced it in eight weeks, "German I." The German Department insisted that I had to go to "German III" after eight weeks of "German I." They had me reading Mutter Courage [Mother Courage by] Bertolt Brecht in German, and I couldn't pass. I told her I couldn't pass. I could get "Ds." She wouldn't pass me. I dropped it, or I would have failed it. I don't remember any diversity in the faculty at all.
KR: In the Art History Department, who was on the faculty?
FO: All men. In this time period, as a Douglass student, you could take courses on Rutgers College Campus if the art history courses were not being taught at Douglass. I took some art history classes at Douglass. I don't think many of them were art historians. They were artists teaching classes. I took "Mesoamerican Art," "Primitive Art," the non-Western ones. The person who taught "Primitive Art" was Miss Rudy, who also was from Princeton, as an adjunct, and she had a nervous breakdown in class. It was clear to me. She came in with her clothes on backwards and people laughed, and I'm sorry that she had that problem. All the teachers were male. There was one woman, Mrs., it was a Russian-Polish name, something like Petryshan, but it's not, who taught "Impressionism," also an adjunct.
I took most of my classes at Rutgers College, which meant I was in a lot of coed classes for art history. I had the art history faculty, two of whom had been a couple and had broken up and were nasty that year to all the women. I observed them making Douglass women cry in class. They were not very nice. Those people became my colleagues after I graduated and ended up on the faculty. I didn't understand why they were so nasty to women, but they themselves were having a problem, I think, that year. I never took classes with them again, as I observed them treating--they were looking to mock and make mincemeat out of students rather than respect them. It gave me a way of not emulating them when I taught.
KR: Were they doing that to women students or to everybody?
FO: Women students.
KR: This is the federated college period, so the for art history faculty, there was the Douglass faculty and then there was the Rutgers College faculty. Where was art history at Douglass, and where was it at Rutgers College?
FO: Art history was in the Art Department, and it was taught in the building that then became, I think, anthropology. Maybe it's Ruth Adams Building. It was on campus, and that's where the gallery was in, I think, the lower level.
By the time I took art history at Rutgers College, the Rutgers Art History Department was in Voorhees Hall, which had originally been the University Library, and the museum was a gallery and it was attached in that building. The art department, the studio department, was still [INSERT]. [Editor's Note: The telephone rings.]
KR: I had asked you about where the Art History Department was on Douglass, and you were describing the Rutgers College setup.
FO: The Rutgers College Art History Department was in Voorhees Hall, which it remains to this day, and, as I said, the art gallery was there. The art gallery became the Zimmerli Museum. Actually, I was on the committee, the first committee, to develop the museum building. It's funny. Because I did an undergraduate degree in art history, I went back and then did a master's in art history. I graduated with an art history major in '70, and I did a master's in art history. You have my CV [curriculum vitae]. I think I finished in the fall of '75, but in between, I took a library degree because I had to support myself. Then, I went back in '87 to do my Ph.D. in art history. [Editor's Note: The Rutgers University Art Gallery was founded in 1966. In 1983, the gallery was expanded and renamed the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in honor of the mother of Ralph and Alan Voorhees, the benefactors of the museum's expansion.]
KR: At one point in your years at Douglass, did you choose art history?
FO: Probably the end of sophomore year. You had to declare a major by junior year, so, yes.
KR: Why art history?
FO: I found it very easy. That's one thing. I was in the first movie class. I found that easy too, first "Cinema Studies" class. I'm visual. I could memorize. I was always interested in cultures, so it was a way to get into cultures, although I did realize that when they say art history, they meant western art history. When they said "Intro to Art History," it really meant only Anglo-European and men. As I said, I noticed that there were hardly ever women included in the curriculum.
KR: When you were an undergrad, did you take any classes that had any sort of focus on women studies?
FO: There were no classes in women's studies, so I was very happy when women's studies came as a program and that I was hired to be at the Institute for Research on Women and the Laurie NJ Chair. I had an interest, obviously, as I've told you, having done some of the research. I did it in "English Comp" and then as I was studying art history to know more. Feminism was evolving, and the anti-war movement was evolving, so all those--and civil rights--were all coming at the same time. [Editor's Note: After the Blanche, Edith, and Irving Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women's Studies was established by the state legislature, philanthropist Irving Laurie endowed the chair in 1985. Olin was the first Executive Officer of this chair. The Laurie NJ Chair was designed to bring scholars of women's studies to Douglass College to conduct their research and interact with students. The chair is now called the Blanche, Edith, and Irving Laurie Chair in Women's Studies at Douglass Residential College and is affiliated with the Department of Women's and Gender Studies and the Institute for Women's Leadership Consortium.]
I do remember, in my junior and senior year, I think it was senior year, there were a lot of bomb threats whenever we needed to take tests, and for finals, they weren't announcing where your finals were going to be because they were afraid there'd be bomb threats. Eventually, there was one year where students took over Old Queens--it might have been '69, I'm not sure--and we never had exams. We all got pass/fail grades because the school was in an uproar. [Editor's Note: In May 1970, students occupied Rutgers President Mason Gross' office in Old Queens to protest the invasion of Cambodia.]
KR: Is that the famous Old Queens takeover with Mason Gross?
FO: Yes. I think David Burns led it, and he became a vice president of the University.
KR: What else do you remember about activism on campus?
FO: Oh, there was SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. I remember a lot of the girls going to marches, to march on Washington, and marching around in New Brunswick. I refused to go because the girl said to me, the students, my peers, they were going so they could find men and I thought that wasn't really what I thought that should be about, being a too serious person that I was. I didn't do it, but I remember that. I remember some of my friends who were involved; some of them have become instead very co-opted and very institutionalized and mainstream and not interested in social movements since. I don't get it, but okay.
KR: What was happening with the women's movement on campus?
FO: There wasn't much of a women's movement on campus. Our class graduated--I don't think we wore gowns--we wore black armbands and carried daffodils or something for our graduation. We chose Susan Lester as our class speaker. Susan was in our class. She has become a television producer and has been brought back to campus. I don't think she was an activist per se, but she was into media and speaking. There were some other women who were class leaders. Susan Bernstein, I remember her. She wasn't an activist either, but it was Susan [Lester] who was the class speaker as I remember.
KR: What was the year that you graduated from Douglass?
KR: What was the significance of the armbands and carrying flowers?
FO: Well, anti-war, more than anything else.
KR: Was that representative of the national strike in 1970?
FO: Probably, yes, it was right after--well, I don't remember when Kent State was. It was spring of '70. [Editor's Note: On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen fired upon students at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine others. Some of the students had been protesting the United States' entry into Cambodia, while others had been passing nearby or observing the demonstration. On May 14 and 15, 1970, students at Jackson State College protesting against racial harassment were fired upon by state and city police, resulting in two deaths and a dozen injuries.]
FO: It was part of that. I remember that.
I remember studying for exams when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered and the mood on campus as far as that goes. Activism is also having bomb threats and stuff. It's all part of the same thing. Then, there were communes and food co-ops and so forth. [Editor's Note: Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968.]
KR: What was your personal political involvement at that time?
FO: None. I was conscious of it. I didn't really feel I needed to be in a group to be active frankly. I have experiences on the faculty where I chose to be the single person, one of four, not signing a group letter, asking for a dean to be unseated, for the very same reason. I can speak for myself.
KR: Was that the transition between Deans Marjory Somers Foster and Jewel Plummer Cobb?
FO: No, this is not at Douglass. This is after I was on the faculty.
KR: Okay, so this is later.
FO: This is much later.
FO: This would have been in the late '70s or maybe early '80s, yes. The dean of the University Libraries, Henk Edelman. [Editor's Note: Hendrik Edelman served as the University Librarian at Rutgers from 1978 to 1985. In 1985, he became a faculty member of the Department of Library and Information Science. He retired in 2002 as Professor Emeritus.]
KR: I see. During your undergrad years, the deans of Douglass were Ruth Marie Adams and Margery Somers Foster.
FO: Ruth Adams had already gone by the time, so it was only Dean Foster.
KR: What was your interaction with her?
FO: Not very much personally, but I remember very vividly the discussions about whether Douglass should remain single sex or go coed because Rutgers had decided to go coed. I remember being in the chapel--there are some images around--and the discussions. I thought it was very interesting that the feminist faculty and the old guard faculty became aligned against the liberal faculty. The liberal faculty wanted to go coed. The feminist faculty, Elaine Showalter and some others, Mary Hartman, and some of the older women faculty became strange bed fellows who voted to remain single sex, which I was happy for. I chose a single-sex school for a reason. I got a very good education. I was able to have conversations with people. I didn't have the distraction necessarily of men or worrying if I looked right. That was my choice to do that, if I wanted to be concerned about how I looked or whatever. I remember that year very well and the vote in chapel. [Editor's Note: Douglass College existed as the women's college of Rutgers University from 1918 to 2006, when it became a women's residential college. Many colleges and universities shifted from single sex to coed during the 1960s. On April 14, 1970, the Douglass faculty voted 3-1 to "reaffirm its commitment to coordinate education" and keep the college as a women's college. On September 10, 1970, the Rutgers Board of Governors voted to admit women to Rutgers College, which had been all male since its founding in 1766. The first coeducational class at Rutgers College, which included 475 women, began studies in the fall of 1972 and graduated in 1976.]
I remember Kate Millett had just finished her dissertation, and she had written Sexual Politics. They invited her to come and do a lecture, one of the chapel lectures, because they decided that Douglass should be the first feminist college on the East Coast and there were discussions about that. I remember all of that stuff very well. Elaine came just towards the end of my studies. She started teaching "Women Writers." One of my classmates, in my senior year, took a class with her and told us stories that she got to meet The Band and Elaine was fixing up people with The Band, students and so forth, but that was about it. I didn't get to have any feminist courses, which I was very sad for because I had already had a consciousness, which is why I went back and did a graduate certificate in women's studies. If they had had a Ph.D. at that point, I wouldn't have gone into art history. I would've gone into women and gender studies. [Editor's Note: Elaine Showalter is a feminist literary scholar who served on the faculty of Douglass College, before becoming a member of the faculty at Princeton University. Mary S. Hartman came to Douglass College in 1968 as a history professor. Hartman founded the Institute for Research on Women (then called Women's Studies Institute) in 1976 and went on to establish the consortium of the Institute for Women's Leadership. Hartman served as the Dean of Douglass College from 1982 to 1994.]
KR: The beginning of women's studies at Douglass was about 1970.
FO: After. No, it wasn't there. Elaine Showalter was the first person to teach "Women Writers." There's a beginning of that. Mary Hartman, I don't remember when the first Berkshire Conference was, but she and Lois Banner, who were both on the faculty, organized it, and that was the beginning of a coterie of women faculty who began interdisciplinarily to talk about each other. The Women Artists Series started in 1971 in the fall. I think that's the time that some of the other faculty were getting together. The Institute for Research on Women started in the '70s, but it wasn't called that. Mary was in charge of it. [Editor's Note: With the American Historical Association excluding women from its membership, a group of women historians met and established the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in the 1930s. In 1973, Mary Hartman and Lois Banner organized the Berkshire Conference, the inaugural "Big Berks," at Douglass College.]
KR: Do you remember what it was called then?
KR: Mary Hartman headed that.
FO: Yes, there's a whole group of women faculty who met informally, had lunches, and tried to support each other. That's a whole era I wasn't involved with, and so you'd have to ask people who were there before me as faculty.
KR: What type of personal interaction did you have with Dean Foster?
FO: None, unlike Maxene.
KR: What was hers?
FO: Well, she must've gotten to know her and become friendly with her even as they were advocating separation from the white patriarchy and matriarchy, or whatever you want to call it, and obviously they became very good friends. There's pictures of them that you can find, and as I said, Maxene ended up on the staff at Douglass.
KR: I think the question that we can end with today is what are some of the activities that you were involved in over your four years at Douglass College? What sticks out?
FO: I can't remember. I know that I spent a lot of time at meetings with Nancy Richards, who was the dean of students and she was the dean--I said I was majoring in meetings. I was doing so many meetings. I was on a lot of committees. It wasn't just Chapel Usher and Honor Board. I don't know what else I was doing, but it was other things, too. I don't think I was a class officer. In fact, I'm sure I wasn't. I was a house chairwoman. We called it chairman at that point or chairperson, because language hadn't been changing that much.
KR: If you think it is okay, we can end at this point today, and we will schedule a second session.
FO: Okay, that's very good, thank you.
KR: Okay, I want to thank you so much for doing this.
FO: Yes, it's my pleasure, and I can't believe I remember this stuff so vividly.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 11/30/2018
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 3/20/19
Reviewed by Ferris Olin 7/6/2019
Reviewed by Zach Batista 8/12/2019