Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Angela Scalpello, on April 22, 2022. I am Kate Rizzi, and I am in Branchburg, New Jersey. Angela, thank you so much for doing this oral history interview with me.
Angela Scalpello: I am glad to be doing it with you. Thank you.
KR: For the record, please state where you are located today.
AS: Today, I am in my office in Manhattan in New York City.
KR: Where and when were you born?
AS: I was born in 1954, November 21, 1954, in Weehawken Town Hospital. It doesn't exist anymore, but that's where I was born, in Weehawken, New Jersey.
KR: We usually like to start off talking about family history in these life-course interviews. What do you know about your family history, starting on your mother's side of the family?
AS: What I know on my mother's side of the family is that her mother and father immigrated here from someplace outside of Naples, Italy, and they settled in New York City, in Manhattan. My grandfather was a tailor, as was my grandmother. She did piecework. In fact, I have a coat. It doesn't have the fur collar, but I have a coat that my grandfather designed and sewed for Bette Davis. He made the same coat for my mother but with a beautifully-detailed collar because that's where the fur would have been on Bette Davis's coat, and I have it. It's so of its time. It's fabulous. I remember my mother telling me stories about--she had two sisters and two brothers--and [she] and her sister sometimes would help my grandmother do piecework because she would sew piecework and I guess get paid by the piece, and my mother and her sisters would help her sometimes. My grandmother died young. I believe she was fifty-four years old, and my grandfather later remarried somebody, I think, in the neighborhood. I never met them. My parents had children late in life--married late and had children late in life--so my grandparents were long gone by the time that I came around.
KR: Did any stories get passed down through your mother about her parents' experiences in Italy, what prompted them to immigrate, the voyage over, those types of stories?
AS: No. I have much richer stories from my father, and I think it's because my mother was first generation. No, I don't have any of those stories, unfortunately. I think as we all get older, that's when we start to think, "Oh, I wish I had asked that question."
KR: We will return to your mother and her upbringing, but let's talk about your father's family history.
AS: My father was born in Valletta, Malta. Malta's history is extremely rich. The island of Malta has been invaded and conquered by, I think, just about everybody, the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the Phoenicians. Most of the time, when my father was growing up, it was a British colony. My father's first language was Maltese, and his second language was English. I believe he also spoke a little Arabic because Malta is very close to the coast of Africa and Libya. My father grew up in Malta. He has an interesting background, and only now, as we go through this pandemic, am I putting some things together.
My father and his brother John were the only children that survived childhood. I believe that my grandfather had some children that didn't survive childhood, and my father used to tell us a story about him being a little boy and the undertaker coming to his house to take his little sister away and him grabbing the undertaker's leg because he didn't want his little sister to be taken away. I think, Kate, if I do the math, it might have been during the Spanish influenza. My father was born in 1904, and that might have been what killed her. The other thing, too, is that my sense is that my father and his brother were raised separately; one of them stayed with the mother and father and the other one went with the grandparents. I'm not quite sure about that.
I didn't know a lot about my father's story until I finally went back to Malta--and my father was still alive then, I'm thrilled that he was--and met his entire family. When I was growing up, all the cousins that I knew were based on my mother's siblings. My father's brother was immigrating to Canada with his family, and he had a brain tumor and was operated on in London. He survived the surgery but never left the hospital. He died. His widow and her children made it to Canada. As a little girl, I remember meeting them once. We've connected now in adulthood, but growing up, it was all my [mother's] family and I didn't really know much about my father's family. I know that he had inherited a house in Malta that he shared, I believe, with his brother's children. I remember that there was some conflict over selling it because, at the time, family was living in that house. But I didn't really have a sense of what his life was like until I went back and met all his cousins and their children finally in 1985.
KR: How old was your father when he immigrated to the United States?
AS: He was born in 1904. I think he immigrated during the depression. He would have been a man in his twenties.
KR: He came by himself?
AS: He came by himself, in the sense that he didn't bring any family with him, but he came with his best friend, Joe Saia. They wound up in Detroit, I think, initially. It's a funny story because he and Joe lived in an apartment. He told me a story about one time there was a couple living above them, and I guess they were having a fight. The wife ran down the fire escape, knocked on the window, my father and his friend let her in, but then that was followed by, I guess, her boyfriend or her husband, who was trying to get in with a knife in his hand. Of course, my father and his friend didn't let him in. Then, my father made his way to New Rochelle and then to Hudson County, New Jersey, which is where he and my mother met.
KR: What do you know about your father's experiences during World War II?
AS: First of all, I always found it interesting that, having been a pretty recent immigrant, he wound up serving on behalf of America in the Merchant Marine. My father, before he came to the United States, worked on the ferry between the island of Malta and Gozo. His background or his experience was working [on] the ship in the boiler and the steam room. When he came to the United States and joined the Merchant Marine, he was what they called a stationary engineer, making sure that the boilers on the ship that he was on were working properly, the right pressure, et cetera. I don't know anything about boilers, but that was his job. He served in the Merchant Marine. He went all over the world. He was torpedoed during World War II, his ship sank, and he managed to live because he made it onto a lifeboat, and a few days later, they were rescued by another ship. He always used to tell that story, not that it was funny, but as kids, we thought it was kind of funny because my father didn't know how to swim and yet there he was, torpedoed in the Persian Gulf during World War II. No surprise, because the Merchant Marine were bringing food and materials and supplies to the troops. In fact, one of my favorite pictures is my mother and father's wedding picture because my father is in his full uniform.
KR: What was your mother's upbringing and education like?
AS: My mother, her family was very working class. As she told the story, there really weren't a lot of options for women at the time. She was born in 1915. She was eleven years younger than my father. She wanted to be a nurse, she says, but her father forbade it because he thought it was not a good profession for a woman because you'd have to be with men and take care of them. But my mother was somebody who was extremely organized, had a really good business sense, had a good head for numbers, and loved to work. I definitely get that from my mother. She loved to work. She started working, I believe--there was a well-known pencil factory in Hudson County, and she became the office manager. I think when my father and she first met, my mother was working and earning an income. She had quite the reputation for being extremely stylish, and she was known for her hats. In fact, it was sort of torture when we were kids because we always had to wear hats, and back then, it wasn't that fashionable for kids to wear hats, but my mother was really stylish. There's some pictures of her as a young woman. She loved fashion. She loved hats. She was always really pulled together. I think she loved being in the business world. She, when she met my father, was working. They met in church because, given the fact that my mother was so organized, my mother was running the annual bazaar, running the bingo, [and] doing the finances for the church. I think at the time, my father might have been working as a custodian in the church, and that's how they met.
KR: What did your parents do for work throughout their careers thereafter?
AS: When my mother and father got married, they didn't have children for a while, and that was a real source of pain. I don't think my mother was working early on. I think my father was old-fashioned enough to think that women, once they got married, didn't work. When I was growing up, my mother didn't work outside of the house for a while. She took in children, so ran a little daycare center at our house. Later on, [she] was a waitress in a local luncheonette in Lyndhurst, and then went back into the business world. Initially, I think she worked for Blue Cross and then became the payroll manager for a factory, I think, in Kearny, New Jersey.
My father was a stationary engineer for a chemical company. I think it was called Diamond Shamrock, in essence, continuing the work that he had done in terms of boiler systems, et cetera. When I was a young girl, and I still believe this now, I often thought that my mother should have been the one working and my father should have been the one staying home with the children, not because I don't think my mother was a good mother, but that I think my father, although he was a good worker and very reliable and [had a] really good work ethic, that he would have been just as happy being home doing the laundry. My mother would be mortified when she would do the laundry, and he would volunteer to hang it out on the clothesline. She would say, "Joe, what are the neighbors going to think?" But the reality is my mother is a great cook, but she was very social, she loved meeting people, she loved talking to people, and I think she would have been happier being outside the house working her whole life.
In fact, the funny story we always tell is my mother had a group of friends--I loved the neighborhood I grew up in, loved the neighborhood I grew up in. I called all these people aunt and uncle, even though obviously they were just my neighbors. The women used to come to the house, and back then, people smoked cigarettes and they would drink coffee and sit around and talk. That was my view of this great community of women. But sometimes they would stay a long time, and my mother would be like, "Oh, no, I was supposed to do laundry today." She would go upstairs. You have to picture this. The laundry room was in the basement. The first floor was the kitchen, the dinette, the dining room, the living room, the sun parlor. Upstairs were the bedrooms. I'll never forget this. My mother went upstairs, took a lot of sheets and a lot of towels that were clean, and she put them all over the dining room table. That was sort of the thing, you'd do the laundry, you'd bring it upstairs, you'd fold it--socks, underwear--and then you'd put it on the dining room table, and whoever went upstairs would take a pile. She put it on the dining room table. Then, my father came home from work later that day and said, "Oh," he called her Angie, "Angie," he said, "my gosh, you've been working so hard all day. I'll put it all away for you." [laughter] Yes, my mother would've loved it if we had more money to travel. I think she wanted a bigger life.
KR: Let's talk about growing up in Lyndhurst. Tell me more about Lyndhurst. What was the town itself like at that time?
AS: It was very modest. It was very modest in many instances. Moms stayed home; fathers worked. We had a real neighborhood. We had a real community in our neighborhood. We would all go away to a lake sometimes together. The boys would play stickball in the street. People would sit out on their front porches and talk to each other, would swim in each other's pools. If you didn't have a pool, you'd swim in somebody else's pool. I was a bit of a tomboy, so the boys used and abused me to chase balls they didn't catch, get balls out of sewers. We were in and out of each other's houses. Anybody on that block really was granted the right to discipline me, to tell me what to do, and vice versa. I loved that neighborhood when I was little. Me and some of the kids in the neighborhood would make up plays and then we would perform in the garage or people's driveways, and people would give us loose change. [laughter] When I was probably a little bit older, I started babysitting for some of the kids in the neighborhood. My girlfriend in the neighborhood and I started a day camp. We would take kids to the park, or I would get them to sit on the picnic bench that we had on the side of the house, and I would teach them to read, or I'd read them stories, or we'd do crafts.
We belonged to the local parish. My father never learned to drive, and my mother learned late in life, so we walked a lot. We walked to the grocery store. We walked up to the store on the main drag. We walked to church on Sunday unless somebody gave us a ride. My parents were very involved in the church. It wasn't unusual for us to have nuns and priests over for dinner. My mother washed the vestments for the priests. It was a very, very religious upbringing. There's something--I don't know if it exists anymore--called the Block Rosary, where a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary goes from house to house, and then people come to your house and pray the rosary. We would have that at our house. I remember my mother because she was so social, and she loved to entertain, and she loved to bake--she was a great baker--that would be a dilemma because the Block Rosary was not supposed to be a social event, but my mother couldn't bear the idea that people would come to the house and she wouldn't offer them a slice of her pound cake or her coffee.
It's also funny, Kate, that I think, as you grow up, especially if you grow up in a community or a neighborhood where people look like you and sound like you--most of these people were Italian-American--that I thought everybody had statues of the Infant of Prague in their house. I thought everyone had statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I thought everybody's prom picture, like mine, was me, my prom date and the Bleeding Heart of Jesus in the background because that was all we had hanging in our living room. [laughter]
I think I'm a really reliable narrator when it comes to my childhood. There was no trauma. It colored my thinking that every child deserves to have a happy childhood. I always felt loved. I always felt wanted. There was a big responsibility. There were three sisters. I have three sisters still, and we were known in the neighborhood. We were known in the parish because my parents were involved with the church. That was, "Don't ever do anything that would bring shame to our name." There were two ways I could walk home from school. It'd be, did I go this way, that way, or did I go this way, that way? It was nothing big or major. But I would come home from school sometimes, and my mother would say, "You walked home along Ridge Road today." I'd think, "How does she know that?" It's because she had a lot of friends in the area, and I guess when she got on the phone, somebody would say, "Oh, I saw Angela on Ridge Road on her way home." I always felt like there were people looking after me.
I also fell in love with the Lyndhurst Public Library. I love that library. In fact, in addition to endowing a scholarship at Rutgers, we have a bequest to the Lyndhurst Public Library because that was a second home to me. I remember one summer--I was too young to have a job at the time--but the basement was the children's section, a few steps below ground level. The first floor was the grownups, the adults. The third floor was the reference library, and that's where I really became addicted to magazines and encyclopedias. I used to go up there a lot, but in the summer, it wasn't air-conditioned. They had a big velvet rope that they would rope it off during the summer. You couldn't go up there in the summer. But the librarians knew me because I went to the library so often, and they would open up that rope and they would let me spend the morning or the afternoon, whatever I wanted, all by myself with all those encyclopedias and all those magazines. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
The other thing though, and this exists to this day, I'm obsessed with true crime. There was a ShopRite not too far from the library and not far from the post office. Back then, the post office used to have the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] Most Wanted List. I was convinced I was going to somehow run into one of the people on the Most Wanted List. I'll never forget the time I was at ShopRite--again, I was young--and my mother was in the produce aisle, and I was probably in the cereal aisle wandering around. I happen to also love grocery stores. I went up to my mother, and I was tugging on her sleeve. She's like, "What, Angela?" I'm like, "Mom, Mom, Mom." She's like, "Angela, please." I'm like, "Mom, number three on the FBI Most Wanted List is in the milk aisle." She's like, "Oh, my God, Angela, please!" Of course, she didn't do anything about it. I'm sure it wasn't number three on the FBI Most Wanted List, but I was determined. I was convinced that somehow I would help capture somebody on the FBI Most Wanted List because I would stop at the Lyndhurst Post Office at least once a week to see if any of the people on the Most Wanted List had changed.
KR: What was your household like growing up with three sisters?
AS: Well, you might have to edit this. My poor father. My poor father because for the longest time there were four women in the house and there was one man and one bathroom. We would literally walk in the bathroom on my father, and we would say, "Don't worry, Dad, we're not looking, but we have to put our makeup on," or, "Dad, don't worry. I have to run out. I have to brush my teeth." I mean, my poor father. It was hectic, and we fought.
Back then, there was one landline. There might be an extension in my parents' room and there might be a phone in the kitchen, but there was one line. It was always like, "Tell Joanne to get off the phone," or, "Tell this one to get off the phone." My mother, like I said, had two sisters, two brothers; there were five in the family. She was really close to her sister Mary, and her sister Mary and her husband and family lived in Florida. I remember our neighbor next door ringing the side doorbell or knocking on the side door and saying, "Your sister Mary is trying to reach you from Florida. She called me to tell you to tell the girls to get off the phone." The phone was always the area of contention.
There was my oldest sister Mary, and then my mother had lost a child, strangled on the umbilical cord during delivery. Then, there was my sister Joanne, number two, and then there was me, and there was my little sister Loretta. There was a decent difference in ages, but there were things we liked to eat and things we didn't like to eat. For example, none of my sisters liked liver. I liked liver. They hated liver. If I wanted to get back at them, I would say to my mother, "Mom, I think I'm low on iron. Can we have liver tonight or tomorrow?" She would believe me, and then it would be, "We're having liver." Or I'd say, "You know what? We haven't had lima beans in a long time." I'm not a fan, but I knew my sisters hated them, so it was typical stuff like that.
My sister Joanne, who is my best friend now, we hated each other growing up, she was afraid of her own shadow. I would do whatever I could to scare her. If she had to go down to the basement, if my mother yelled up to her to do something where she had to go to the basement, I'd go down ahead of time, and then I'd jump out from behind a cabinet or something. She was afraid to go to the bathroom by herself. I'd have to go with her. There was a window above the toilet bowl, and I'd go, "Oh!" She'd say, "What? What?" I'd go, "Nothing. Oh!" "What? What?" I'd say, "Nothing. A witch just flew by, okay? It's nothing." In silly, stupid ways, we were mean to each other.
My parents were very religious. My sister Joanne was very regimented in that she studied a certain amount of time. She had to go to bed by a certain time. She and I shared a bedroom. I would be annoyed because she'd want the lights out, and I wouldn't want the lights out. I'd want to read. To get back at her--and she needed to go to sleep, she needed her sleep--I would start singing a religious hymn. I would start singing "Ave Maria," and then she'd say, "Shut up. Shut up." Then, she would call for my mother, and my mother would come up and she'd put the light on. She'd say, "What's going on in here, girls?" Joanne would say, "Angela won't stop singing." I would say to my mother, "But Mommy, I'm singing a song to the Blessed Virgin Mary." Then, my mother, of course, I'd put her in an untenable position because she wants to satisfy Joanne because she needs to go to bed, but now I pulled this out of my little bag of tricks, "I'm trying to sing to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mom." We would do things like that. We didn't have many other tools to use.
KR: From your parents' backgrounds, from the Italian and the Maltese backgrounds, I am wondering what traditions and cultural practices got passed down, food dishes, language. What was present in your upbringing?
AS: To my great regret later on in life, [I did not learn Italian]. My mother spoke a dialect from outside of Naples. My father spoke pure Italian. They only spoke Italian so that we wouldn't understand what they were talking about. I remember that one of the first expressions I had realized and recognized was, "Talk to me in Italian, so the children don't understand," which meant we never learned Italian. My sister Mary, the eldest, took Italian in high school. It wasn't an option when I went to high school.
I didn't know much about my father's food traditions, although his background was Maltese and Italian. There's a lot of Italian influence in Malta. The things I remember that, to me, are very ethnic and working-class ethnic are dishes like pasta e ceci [pasta and chickpeas], pasta e fagioli [pasta and beans], escarole and beans. They're healthy and extremely economical. On our birthdays, we could pick whatever we wanted our mother to cook for us, and it would often be stuffed shells, ravioli or lasagna. My mother would make a really nice antipasto. We called it gravy, it's Italian sauce, her red gravy was wonderful. She would make the meatballs, and then she would make little meatballs because when you make lasagna the Neapolitan way, you make little, little meatballs that you roll. Even when she would just make spaghetti and large meatballs, she would make the little meatballs. She'd put a toothpick in them, and she would call them meatball lollipops. I think that those were some of the traditions.
I have a vague recollection that we did something at Easter. Again, the religious influence, on Christmas morning--which is when we opened up our presents--on Christmas morning, before we could open our presents, we had to kneel in front of the crèche [the Nativity] and sing happy birthday to the Baby Jesus. Without fail, we went to church every Sunday. All of us were baptized in the church, received our first Holy Communion, our confirmation.
My story about First Holy Communion was that we went to Catholic school, and so we had the Baltimore Catechism and then we were quizzed on it and then we had a practice penance before our First Communion. I'm all of seven years old, and I know about venial sins and I know about mortal sins. Mortal sins are the really bad things. In my seven-year-old mind, mortal sins are really a big deal. You have to remember, Kate, my parents knew all the priests, and all the priests knew us. I remember that my practice confession was with Father Hajduk. I can still picture him. He had dark black hair. I can remember where the confessional booth was in Sacred Heart Church. I went in there and, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned." He said, "Okay, child, when was your last confession?" I said, "I've never been to confession. This is my practice confession." He said, "Okay. Confess your sins." I said, "Well, I had an argument with my sister, and I talked back to my mother." Those are my venial sins. He says, "Is there anything else?" I said, "Yes." I figured I need to throw in a mortal sin. I said, "I committed adultery." I had no idea. I know I didn't commit murder. I knew what it was. But this adultery thing, I thought I'd throw that in, so I said I committed adultery. He said to me, "That's a very serious mortal sin." I go, "I know." He said, "For that, you have to say two 'Our Fathers' and three 'Hail, Marys'." Then, he blessed me. My mother said, "How was your practice confession? Who did you go to?" I said, "Father Hajduk." "How was it?" I said, "Good. I said that I committed adultery." My mother was so mortified, so mortified, that now Father Hajduk probably thought she had an idiot for a daughter. [laughter]
KR: What was your education like?
AS: When I was a young girl, I had problems with my throat. I used to get strep throat a lot. I'm going to sum up my grammar school and my feelings toward school in this way. I would get strep throat, and I would have to stay home. I remember one time running to the door to try and escape and get to school, and my mother finally had to sit on me until I stopped fighting her. I loved school. I remember my kindergarten teacher. I remember almost all my teachers. The convent was near the playground of the school because the school was sort of attached to the church and the convent and the rectory. I'd get to school early to wait outside the convent, so I could carry one of the nun's bookbag into the classroom. I loved school. I loved school. I loved grammar school. I had some good teachers. Yes, I loved learning. I loved reading. I think I was class president in fourth grade. I did the milk delivery in third grade. I wasn't great in math, but I loved school. I really did love school. I loved school. Some of my grammar school friends went on to high school with me.
KR: What was the name of your grammar school? Was it the same name of the church?
AS: Sacred Heart, yes. It was Sacred Heart. It was a relatively new school, but yes, Sacred Heart.
KR: Were the teachers there a mix of lay teachers and nuns and priests?
AS: I didn't have any priests, but they were Dominican nuns and lay people, so, yes, definitely a mix.
KR: You talked about the influence of religion on your upbringing and you talked about your neighborhood and your town. What were other formative experiences for you growing up?
AS: I think the fact that my neighborhood was a community really influenced my belief in the importance of community and connection. That I saw writ large, and that was really important to me. I think that the other thing was that there were things growing up that I could not have just because we couldn't afford it. I think that also fueled my ambition--I don't disrespect the life my parents had--that I would want something more for myself. I think the other thing that really influenced me was the stories that I was told as a child were always stories of strivers and my father coming here to this country and living here with a group of men, and my parents' belief and focus in higher education was something that was drilled home all the time. They would never think of missing a parent-teacher conference. They would never think of not signing our papers.
When I was growing up, we had chores to do. Somebody set the table. Somebody cleared the table. We never had a dishwasher. There were chores we had on the weekends. The only thing that would get you out of doing the dishes, drying the dishes, clearing the table, putting the food away, was if we had a lot of homework, and then my father would take over because nothing was going to get in the way of education. It was a given that we would apply ourselves to school and that we would get good grades, that we'd be respectful. I think my parents' focus on education, the fact that I grew up in a really supportive community where people looked after each other and where there were real connections, especially connections with the women, was really important to me. I think also knowing that I wanted more than living in this small town. It never dawned on me, I never thought, "I'm going to go to school and then I'm just going to come back here and live in this town." I always wanted something more.
I also had a first cousin. My mother's closest sister Mary had a son, Walter, who became a well-known art director--is a well-known art director--Walter Bernard. He was older than me by about twelve, fourteen years. He took me to my first art exhibit. I saw an Andrew Wyeth exhibit. He took me to the magazine he was working on at the time. He really showed me that there was a life outside of New Jersey, because my parents rarely wandered into Manhattan. In fact, I'm thrilled that I went to Rutgers, but, really, my first dream was to go to Columbia. My parents were like, "No way is our daughter going into Manhattan to go to college." Plus, we couldn't afford it. But, yes, I knew there was something bigger out there, and I wanted it.
KR: What was high school like for you, and where did you go to high school?
AS: High school was in the town over, in North Arlington. It was Our Lady Queen of Peace Girls' High School. It was also Our Lady Queen of Peace Boys' High School, but we weren't integrated. We were on different floors. We had different teachers. We weren't allowed to sit next to each other in the library. You would get detention watching the boy's football practice. High school was a good experience on a number of levels. High school was where I really flourished creatively. I was the literary magazine editor. I was the page two editor of the newspaper. I was the editor of the yearbook. I wrote the junior play. I was in the senior play. Yes, I was writing a lot. I was student council president. I had good grades, not in chemistry. I had some nuns who if there was psychological screening wouldn't have passed. I took Spanish. I loved languages. I still do love languages. Overall, it was a good experience. Overall, it was a really good experience because I felt that I really flourished in terms of creativity.
I think the downside was that by the time I got to college, I was burned-out. In retrospect, I realize I was burned-out. I would work all day in terms of school. Then, I'd have the yearbook meetings, et cetera, and then at night, I'd be at rehearsal for the play. Then, after rehearsal, I'd come home and do my homework. I think by the time I got to college, I was burned-out, and so some of the things that I might have gotten involved in in college, I didn't because I thought, "I just can't have that schedule anymore." But high school was a good experience.
I was very boring though. I have no wild tales of drinking and drugs. In fact, I was invited to a party, and I went with some of my friends. When I got there, I realized two things. One, there was alcohol. We were underage. Somebody older had gotten it. Two, her parents weren't home. I literally left. I thought, "My parents will kill me if they ever found out that I was someplace where there was alcohol and someplace where parents weren't home." That was the question they always asked when I'd want to go out, "Will the parents be at home?" My mother would always say to me, "Don't ever get in a car with somebody who is drinking." Yes, I have no stories of cutting class, drinking or even being places where people had alcohol or drugs.
KR: What did you think of the educational setting in high school being around all women?
AS: I liked it. You know what, it didn't feel that restrictive in the sense that there were boys. You could see the boys. We knew the boys. We were friendly with the boys. There was a group of us who were friendly. There was a mixed group of us. It was fine. I contrast it with what it was like then to go to Rutgers as the first class of women and have men in the class and men who really didn't want to give us a lot of air to speak. I almost didn't notice it, like, "Oh, my goodness, look at this, there's all girls in this class."
KR: I want to ask you about gender roles. You are growing up in the '50s. You are coming of age in the '60s. It's a time when traditional gender roles were being reinforced and then, as we get into the '60s, were being challenged. You talked about your parents, with this emphasis on education and you were going to go to college. In a larger sense, from your parents, from your community, from your town, what messages were being sent to you as a woman about what you could do in your life?
AS: Okay. One of the messages was very direct, and it was, "You go to college. You become a teacher. That's a really good job because then you're home at three o'clock when the kids come home." Honestly, Kate, as you probably know from my website and stuff, I've spent a lot of time working with women who are trying to make their way up in the world. I speak in special interest group communities of women. This idea of understanding all the opportunities and all the different roles out there--I think when I was growing up, there were two things. One, I didn't see a lot of other roles in my neighborhood, and there weren't a lot of them. Even back then, it wasn't like, "Oh, I just didn't know that there were female astronauts." Well, there weren't any. I never had a female doctor. In ways large and small, my descriptive bias was very much shaped by the fact that all my doctors were men, that there were men in certain roles. Some of the men on my block were in manufacturing. The women, for the most part, stayed home. I can't think of any woman on the block who had a job. My mother was one of the rare exceptions. That would be one way.
When I was in high school, I remember that we had guidance counselling class. It was terrible. The nun would play records about careers, careers in hotel and motel management. I mean, it was just bizarre. The only thing I thought that maybe I could be is, I wouldn't just be a teacher, I'd be a professor at a university, or I'd be a writer and I'd write books or I'd write for a magazine. In fact, it was in high school when I started submitting short stories to magazines. I wanted a glamorous life, but I didn't know what that looked like and I didn't know what kind of careers gave you a glamorous life. But, yes, the message [was] sent very clearly: you can be a teacher or a nurse. By that time, it was okay to be a nurse. In fact, a lot of the women I went to high school with went to nursing school or became teachers. I'm friends with them now on Facebook, and it's interesting how many became teachers or nurses.
KR: What historical events do you remember? Maybe they impacted you, or they were just ever present.
AS: Definitely John F. Kennedy's assassination. I was fascinated by John F. Kennedy. He was assassinated in '62, yes, right?
AS: '63, okay. I was nine years old, and he was assassinated on November 22nd, I believe. This is how shallow I was as a just-turned nine-year-old. I'm like, "Why couldn't he have been assassinated on my birthday?" My birthday was November 21st. I thought, "Well, that would've been interesting." I was definitely affected by that. I definitely remember that procession. I remember little John-John saluting the flag as the casket went by. I remember seeing [Lyndon B.] Johnson sworn in on Air Force One. I remember Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.
I remember all the space stuff, early on in the space program. Interestingly enough, in grammar school, we had TVs in our classrooms on these big stands. The nun would turn the TV on, so we could watch anything that had to do with our space program. That was really a source of great pride.
I don't have a memory of the Korean War, but I know of the Korean War because there was a man who lived up the block from us who actually was an usher at our church, in our parish. He had a little dog, and he used to walk the dog. I won't say the man's name, but my mother would say to me, "If Mr. So-and-So ever stops and talks to you, be nice to him because he was shell-shocked in the Korean War." I wasn't exactly sure what this war was and I didn't know what shell-shocked meant, but my mother said to be nice to him. I was always nice to him, and he molested me under a bridge when I was twelve years old. I remember it was a Monday morning. Remember, my mother always told me to be nice to him, so I didn't want to hit him. I didn't want to do anything, but I pushed him off of me and I said, "Did you see Bonanza last night?" I thought if I could get him talking, he'd get his tongue out of my throat. The Korean War was something I'd heard of, and then ultimately the Vietnam War as I started to get older.
KR: Do you remember if the Vietnam War had an impact on the young men in your community?
AS: The boys I grew up with were older, so I don't remember that at all. By the time I got to college and then there was a lottery, that started to have meaning. It's funny, I was thinking about this interview, Kate, and I don't want to say I slept-walked through college, I didn't, but the person I am today is much more attuned to current events, global events, than I was growing up. Now, I remember there was a young man in my grammar school, and I remember thinking--again, this is going to show how shallow I was--I was like, "What is his problem? He knows how a bill gets passed. How would he know that?" or "He knows who his senator is?" My parents were Democrats. They were Roosevelt liberals. I always knew who the Governor of New Jersey was, but that was about it.
KR: One of the things I wanted to ask you was--you used the words being attuned to current events--to what extent were you attuned to the social movements going on, first, the civil rights movement and, later as the '60s went on, the women's rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the LGBT movement, which would have started in the later '60s?
AS: A couple of things. One was that, unbeknownst to me growing up, at the time, my small working-class town of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, had a practice of--I guess in cahoots with the realtors--there was not a Black family in that entire town, and that was a town where housing could have been affordable. We didn't have a lot of money. Stop and think about it for a minute. We were thirty minutes outside of New York City. We were twenty minutes outside of Newark, New Jersey, and there was not one Black family in my town.
The only people of color I ever saw were the sanitation men. I remember one day, as a young girl, it was brutally hot, brutally hot. You could hardly breathe, the humidity was so high. We could hear the garbage trucks coming down the block, and my father said to me, "Help me, Angela." There were two men in the back of the truck and one man driving. My father got big glass goblets, and we filled them with ice and with water. He held two, and I held one. We went outside, and when the sanitation men--we called them garbagemen back then--came to get our garbage cans, my father said, "We brought you some ice water." This is long before the days of bottled water. One of the men looked at my father and just very quietly said to him, "Are you sure you want us to use your glasses?" I was so confused that I went to say something, and I could feel my father pressing my arm. He handed the glasses out. We gave one to the driver and one to each of the men on the back of the truck. Then, of course, they drained them. They were really grateful. We went into the house. I didn't understand. "What was that question about?" I was thinking. I went in the house, and I said to my father, "Daddy, I don't understand. Why did that man ask you if it was okay that he drank from our glasses?" He said, "You don't need to know anything, Angela, except one thing. Never forget that everyone has human dignity. You have to treat them that way." I had no idea about the fact that maybe some people wouldn't let a Black person drink from their glass, wouldn't care that it was hot, would think, "Well, they're the people taking our garbage. Why should I care about them?"
My sister had a job in Newark at a shoe store, my oldest sister. One day I was going to go to work with her, and I said, "I'm afraid to go." She said, "Why?" I said, "I'm afraid of Black people," and she slapped me across the face. It was only because, at that time, there were riots in Newark, and all we saw were Black people setting fire to things. I had no context for what was going on. I just knew that in my world of behaving and doing the right thing, you wouldn't set fire to something. I had no idea of the context in which these riots were happening.
I was aware of the civil rights movement and aware that it was people saying that people are created equal and they should be seen as equal under the law. My parents explained to me that in some places, they couldn't use the restaurants, they couldn't use the same bathrooms, and that that was not right. I mean, that was such a violation to my parents of what it meant to be Christian. If we're all children of God, then who says one's better than the other?
I was definitely aware of the women's movement, definitely aware of the women's movement. Yes, I gobbled up everything: Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan. I was one of the founding members of the Brooklyn Women's Political Caucus. I became the political director for the Brooklyn chapter. I went to the National Women's Political Caucus meeting in Washington, DC. For a while, I thought I might run for local office. When I went to Rutgers, I took a women's studies certificate. Definitely very aware of the women's movement. I worked for a while as a volunteer in Manhattan at a women's newspaper. I can't remember the name of it. It was down in the Village. Yes, definitely.
KR: Was that when you were in high school, working at that newspaper in the Village?
AS: It was probably in college. I think it would have been in college, but definitely when I was in high school, [I was] starting to read things, starting to be very aware of things that held women back, myself included. This expectation that I would get married, it really, for the longest time, made me adamant that I would never get married. I would say, "Marriage is an institution. I refuse to be committed." I remember as a young girl, in addition to what I said about loving this community of women in my mother's kitchen, there were two things I was determined I would never want to do, Kate. I would never learn to make coffee, because then you had to make coffee for everybody all the time, and I would never learn to cook, because then you had to cook meals for people all the time. I thought that was tyranny. Well, obviously, that changed, but that's how I felt. Those domestic responsibilities held you down because, again, descriptive and then prescriptive bias. This is a woman, and this is what a woman does. In fact, I was the last sister to get married, and they didn't believe it when I said I was going to get married, because I was like, "No, I'm not going to get married. I'm going to have lovers. I'm going to be a professor at a university. I'm going to travel. I'm going to write books. I'm not going to have the life that my mother lived."
KR: You talked about writing short stories, and you started submitting them to publications when you were in high school. Tell me about your aspirations to be a writer.
AS: I loved storytelling, and I still love storytelling. I think it's why I do the podcast. A lot of my training programs are about storytelling, or they're done in a storytelling kind of way. I loved making up stories. I love stories. I'd write stories. I had a teacher in high school. What was her name? It'll come to me. She encouraged my writing. It just so happened that her daughter worked at Redbook magazine. Redbook was well known for short stories. She submitted one of my short stories for me in high school, and I got a really thoughtful response from Redbook with suggestions for changing the story somewhat and resubmitting it. But, sorry, I liked the story the way it was; I wasn't going to change it. I had files and files and files of stories. In fact, in seventh grade, we had to write a story, a short story, and it had to be Halloween-themed. Everybody was writing these stories about taking kids out trick or treating, blah, blah, blah, and my short story was "The Bloodstained Ghost." I was in seventh grade. I'm, what, twelve years old. It's the story of a man who murders his girlfriend on Halloween and then puts a sheet over himself to escape, to blend in with the trick or treaters, but because, in stabbing her, the blood has spurted onto him, when he puts the sheet on him, he's soaked with blood, and that's how the police find him. I had a very active imagination.
I remember one of my short stories was a story of a young girl whose mother is dying the summer between eighth grade and freshman year, just as she's sort of entering puberty and realizing that she's not going to have a mother by the time school year starts. I'd go up in my room and just write. Then, my mother would yell upstairs, "Angela, why don't you want to be with the family?" If you talk about an influence for me, my husband will tell you because, yes, I did eventually get married, that as gregarious as I am, as much as I'm willing to share, I have a real core of privacy, and that's because of my family. The idea you would want to be alone, you wouldn't want to sit and watch television with the family, you wouldn't want to sit and have time with the family, was seen as aberrant behavior. I would love to go to my room and just write and write and write or even go up in the attic and write. We had an attic, and there was a little room up there.
KR: You talked about going into New York City. To what extent did you and your family travel when you were growing up?
AS: I can remember two vacations my entire childhood. One was down the shore, the Jersey Shore, and one was to Florida to visit my mother's sister, and that was it. We never traveled. We didn't go on vacation really. We didn't have the money. My mother used to always say, "Joe, I want to go to Malta. I want to see where you grew up. I want to go to Malta. I want to see where you grew up." But we could never afford it, and so we never did it. Then, my mother wasn't healthy and was on total Social Security disability by the time she was fifty-five. Even if they could've afforded it, she couldn't have done it. Back then, there weren't accommodations for people who either had difficulty walking or whatever. But, no, I didn't travel when I was a kid.
The other thing, too, my mother and father got married late in life. My mother was twenty-eight; my father was thirty-nine. They didn't have my sister for a while. By the time they had me--now, you're talking about back in the '50s, Kate. This is not like nowadays where Tony Randall has a baby when he's seventy. My mother is forty when she has me. My father is fifty-one. They then had a surprise when my mother's forty-five and my father's fifty-six, and they have my little sister Loretta. In fact, my mother thought she was going through the changes, and she thought she had a virus because she felt ill in the morning and she wasn't getting her period. It wasn't until she couldn't shake this virus that she went to her doctor, and her doctor said to her, "You don't have a virus. You're four months pregnant." When my sister was born and the neighbors came over and they would be passing around my sister, they'd say, "Can I hold the virus?" They thought it was hysterical that my mother had no idea she was pregnant. But think about that. My sister is going to kindergarten, and my father is sixty-one years old. When I was in high school, somebody dropped me off. I wasn't driving yet, but they were. Somebody dropped me off. My mother and father had a rose garden in the back of the house that they loved and took great pride in and took great care of. Somebody dropped me off and said, because they didn't know my family, "Oh, look, your grandfather is in the garden." I was so mortified; I didn't correct them. I was mortified, because when I was in high school, my parents were much older. My friends had parents who were only in their thirties, late thirties. My parents were in their sixties, late sixties.
KR: I would like to talk about your college application process and then move into your Rutgers years. Before we do that, is there anything you would like to add about your family or about your experiences growing up?
AS: I think the one thing I would say is that growing up, it was a childhood full of imagination, and that's part of the storytelling. That's also for the fact that one of the boys in my grammar school, who then went on to high school, who then became a well-known playwright in real life--his name is Mark St. Germain--he and I started a detective club. At the time, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, that show, was on television, and I made a little card for myself that said, "This is to certify that Angela Scalpello is a member of U.N.C.L.E." Then, Mark and I started this detective club. We lived in this little town. This wasn't like Murder She Wrote. You wonder why this little town in Maine, everybody's--Cabot Cove--is dying and being murdered. But Mark and I were convinced that there were mysteries to be solved in this little town of Lyndhurst.
Our first case came to us, the case of the stolen bicycle. I remember that we were on Stuyvesant Avenue, and we thought we had found the stolen bicycle and there was a kid on it. We grabbed the kid, and we threw him to the ground. Then, his father came up to us and said, "What the hell are you doing?" Obviously, that was the end of our detective club. Now, the reason I mention this is because years later, in fact, during the pandemic, Mark St. Germain and I reconnected. I said to him, "Do you remember that detective club?" He's like, "Oh, my God, Angela, I can't believe you remember that." I said, "Yes." It wasn't long-lived because of our first case, the case of the stolen bicycle. He goes, "What I remember"--and I didn't know this--"what I remember is we passed around flyers in the neighborhood"--his neighborhood, my neighborhood--"saying that we had a detective club." We put his phone number--remember everybody had landlines then--we put his phone number down. My mother and his mother were friends through a church group. A woman called his mother, and she didn't know it was two eleven-year-olds running the detective club. She said, "I think my husband's cheating on me. Can you follow him?" [laughter] I remember his mother said to him, "This is not a good idea, Mark."
KR: Apparently, you had excellent marketing skills.
KR: What was your college application process like? What sort of counseling did you get about possible options for colleges?
AS: My counseling about colleges was from nuns, and the nuns wanted me to go to a Catholic college. I did not want to go to a Catholic college, so I ignored any counsel that they gave me. I did not want to go. I had had thirteen years of Catholic education; I was done. As part of the school newspaper in high school, we always submitted our newspaper for--it was part of an awards program that was held by the Columbia University School of Journalism. I either wanted to go to Columbia, or I wanted to go to the University of Missouri in St. Louis. They had a really excellent journalism school, too. There was no way my parents were going to let me go out of state. I couldn't afford it. My parents also had a funny relationship with money. They didn't believe in debt, so the idea that I would run up a lot of student debt wasn't even part of my lexicon. It wasn't part of their lexicon.
I had been to Girls State in high school. I don't know if you're familiar with that, but I'd been sent to Girls State as a young woman, so I knew about Douglass. I thought I'd go to Douglass, because when I was in high school, Rutgers was still all male. Then, I found out somehow, and I honestly don't remember how, that Rutgers was accepting women. It was the only school I applied to. I knew I didn't want to go to--a lot of schools that my friends were going to or applying to were Montclair or William Paterson. Nobody was doing anything interesting, or they were going to nursing school, or they weren't going to college. Rutgers seemed a little exotic to me and so unlike the way things are now. I never did a college visit. I applied. I wanted to get in, and I got in. That's all she wrote until I showed up for orientation.
KR: I think I saw in your pre-interview survey that your sister went to Douglass College.
AS: She went to Douglass, so I did visit her. Again, back when she was in Douglass, it was like, "We're going to a party at Rutgers," because Rutgers is where the boys are, or the boys from Rutgers are going to come to this dance at Douglass. Also, I said earlier that I didn't feel aware of the fact or it wasn't always at the top of my mind that, oh, I'm in a classroom full of girls. I don't think I wanted to be in a college again all full of girls. I also, at that point, I saw myself as a feminist, and I was like, "I don't think this is such a great idea. How are we going to work and maneuver in the world of men unless we start to work and maneuver with them in college?"
KR: Do you remember what you did the summer before you started college?
AS: Yes. The summer before I started college, I needed to work. I'm trying to think if it was that summer. It might have been that summer. I think I worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Newark. This is the irony. It was either that summer or the summer between freshman and sophomore year, but one summer I worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Newark, New Jersey. Because it was a good job and because my mother's good friend and her sister worked there, I was there a week before they went on strike. I was the only college student who walked out on strike with the regular workers because I couldn't cross the picket line if my parent's friends were on the picket line. The irony for me that summer was always that a friend of mine had gotten an unpaid internship in Washington, DC, and I had wanted to apply for a similar internship and my parents said I couldn't because I needed to earn money for college. Then, the irony of not making money really that summer because for a good part of the summer, I walked a picket line. I either worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield that summer before college, or I worked at the Viking Book warehouse off of Route 17. I had a lot of jobs during high school and during the summers of college: factories, warehouses, Blue Cross.
KR: When was orientation at Rutgers?
AS: If school started in September, it might have been late August maybe. I don't remember. I remember being in the gym and being like--here's the other thing, too. My high school graduating class, I don't know, was there a hundred people in it maybe? Now, all of a sudden, at Rutgers, I'm like, "Where did all these people come from? Whoa." That was both heady and frightening at times.
KR: What do you remember about your first days and weeks at Rutgers?
AS: Rutgers did some things--I mean, there's a lot of things they could have done better for the women, but one of the things they did and one of the things they did well was we all had a big brother. I had a big brother. His name was Fred. He was a Russian language major. He met me that summer before my first semester, and we went to a Mexican restaurant in the Village that's still there. He met me when I first came to campus and walked me around. I remember meeting my roommate, Maura Quinn. I remember thinking, "Oh, my gosh, I had been to an all-girls high school." Back when we started at Rutgers, I think the odds were like fourteen men to one woman. We were so [outnumbered]. The men just stared at us, especially the upperclassmen because they had been on campus without women living in the dorms.
It was the first time I had lived away from home. I thought it was great. I loved it. Once again, it wasn't because I was going to do anything wild and crazy. I just thought, "This is freedom. Nobody knows what time I go to sleep. Nobody knows what time I get up. Nobody knows whether I sit on a bench." It's that privacy thing. "Nobody knows that I'm in the library for an hour. Nobody knows I'm going to the Student Center to listen to music in the music room. Nobody knows the choices I'm making in the cafeteria." It felt totally liberating. Then, there was all the excitement of registering for classes and seeing who my teachers were going to be. Given the story I told you about how much I loved school, new books, new notebooks. My husband became a professor later in life. That was his second career after he was an attorney. I remember times going out to his campus out in Eastern Illinois and talking to liberal arts students about why I still believe in the humanities degrees. I came out of that school with different perspectives on things, a better thinker. Rutgers was game-changing for me. College was game-changing.
KR: Where did you live your freshman year?
AS: In Hegeman Hall. Freshman year, Hegeman Hall. Sophomore year, Hegeman also. Third year, off campus with three other women in a duplex. Fourth year, on Livingston [Avenue], right off of George Street.
KR: That first year, how was Hegeman set up in terms of being coed?
AS: It wasn't.
KR: The whole dorm was women?
AS: The whole dorm was women.
AS: Yes, I think Hegeman Hall was all women, at least my part was. I think I was in Hegeman Four. We were all women, yes. There was one phone, and there was the bathroom. Now, remember, again, talk about being culturally ignorant. There were no Black families in Lyndhurst. In high school, there was one Black student. I don't think he lasted the whole semester. There were Black women in my dorm, but, again, I didn't have much interaction with people of color, and so a number of them had Afros. Again, I didn't know anything about Black hair grooming. One day, I went downstairs to the bathroom, and I was with somebody in my dorm, a white person from my dorm. There was all this Black hair in the sink, and it was kinky and it was short. I said, "Are you telling me that the men came in here and were shaving?" because I didn't know that one of the women in my dorm had been fixing her hair over the sink, and some of it had gone into the sink. I was so naïve. I really was naïve. Even at the dining hall, there were things I had never seen. I didn't know what a bagel was. We didn't have bagels growing up. There were just things I didn't know. We didn't have bagels. If we were going to have something toasted for breakfast, it would be a slice of Italian bread.
KR: What were your classes like your freshman year? How well prepared do you think you were for college?
AS: I think I was well prepared in terms of I was always somebody who did her reading. I always did my readings. I took homework seriously, and I had pretty good time management. I wasn't like, "Oh, this paper's not due until next month." I had pretty good work habits. What I wasn't prepared for was men in my classroom. Yes, I wasn't prepared for men in my classroom. I had a women's history class, and I remember the professor would call on the men basically. I thought, "This is ironic." He called on the men, and he hit on one of the women in the class.
I had a communications teacher--that's why I changed majors--that I was so turned off by. It was a really interesting class. It was about human communication, and it was about why viewers give male voices and male commentators and newspeople more credibility in studies they had done around it. So, we wanted to replicate it in our classroom. There were men who were going to be saying something, and then there were some women who were going to be saying something. I have a vague recollection of this. What I do remember clearly is that when it was time to call one of the women in, he said, "Go get that lesbian out of the hallway and tell her it's time to come in." First of all, I had no idea. I don't even know that he knew she even was a lesbian. I don't know if she was a lesbian; I don't know. He was so demeaning towards women. I thought, "If this is what it's going to be like to be a communications major or a journalism major, I want no part of it."
The other classes, Barry Qualls was one of my professors. Barry Qualls is my friend to this day. He's on the Board of Advisors [of the Institute for Women's Leadership] with me. He signed my marriage certificate down at the Middlesex County Courthouse. He baked my wedding cake. He became my advisor. I loved Barry's classes. [Editor's Note: Barry Qualls is a Professor Emeritus of English who served as a professor and administrator at Rutgers from 1971 to 2017. He served as the Vice President for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Humanities in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.]
I loved my course on immigration. I thought the variety was great. I thought the classes were wonderful. I did terribly in--I did "Biology: Issues and Man." I was accused of cheating because my girlfriend and I studied together, and so we both misunderstood the information. We both answered the question the wrong way, and he was convinced that we had cheated and we hadn't cheated. We just both didn't understand the material.
I went to coed parties. It was a very rich time of my life. Years later, when college wasn't an experience that my son enjoyed, it almost broke my heart because I so wanted him to have the same college experience I had, where I felt like it was like being a kid in the candy store. I could learn so much about so many different things. I could write for the school newspaper. I would go to the theater and write reviews. I would read books and do reviews. I'd see foreign movies and do reviews. I could hear concerts. I could hear people who came to campus and talked. I thought it was great.
KR: You gave a statistic before. There was a fourteen-to-one ratio of men to women in classrooms at Rutgers College. Overall, at Rutgers College, it was six hundred women to 4,800 men. What was it like for you to be in the first year of a college going coed for the first time in its history since 1766? What was it like for you to be a woman in that environment?
AS: I felt under scrutiny all the time. I also became friends with a woman who was really stunning. We got a lot of male attention, not because of me but because of her. It was also a little bit sexist. I don't know how this ever came to be, but I remember--now, remember I said to you I was a budding feminist--there was a movie that they were showing in Records Hall. I don't know how this came to be, but it was a movie and it was called something like The Liberated Woman, or something like that. I'm like, "Whoa." I got a bunch of women from my dorm to go see it. It was porn, or it was soft core. I remember when I came back to the dorm--and of course, we didn't want to stand up and walk out because, let me tell you, there were very few women there--I said, "All I will say is that I never knew that you could do certain things with cucumbers." I think to myself, "How did that even happen?"
It's funny, when Melanie [Willoughby, RC '76] and I were talking about--when this group started to convene and talk about what it was like to be part of the first class and how hard they had vetted the candidates, I hadn't realized that. I hadn't realized that they were looking for a certain type of woman who could be resilient enough to be on this campus that never had women on it before. But I think back to what I had presented probably on my application, all my achievements in high school, whatever my essay was about, Girls State. It didn't really faze me. I wasn't intimidated by it. I also had some really great experiences with some of the men that I did [meet] and still have as friends.
KR: You talked about Barry Qualls as a professor and becoming close with him. What about other professors? How do you think professors treated women in the classes?
AS: My "Women in History" professor was horrible. My communication professor was horrible. Barry was great. Mr. DeCarlo, who was my Spanish teacher, I became friendly with. I went to his house for dinner. [He] was absolutely wonderful. I had some female professors; they were wonderful. I never felt as if the bar wasn't as high, or that we were being talked down to, or that less was expected of us. I had a work-study program at the Labor Education Center. I think it's called the Iger Labor Education Center. I don't remember what it was called. I got to do this incredible piece of research interviewing women from the first school for labor workers at the turn of the century. We actually met some of the women who were still alive and interviewed them about their experiences. I didn't feel as if I was being restrained in any way, and that felt great. That's what I wanted college to be. I think I was sensitive enough--like I was in that history class, like I was in that communications class--to spot it when I felt it, and I didn't feel it in other ways. I know that other women have talked about the fact that, "Oh, there weren't tampon machines," or whatever. It never dawned on me to have an expectation of certain things.
KR: What do you remember about Rutgers traditions?
AS: First of all, I would like to go on the record to officially say I detest American football. If I went to a Rutgers football game, maybe I went to one. Maybe I went to two. I remember Michael Lasky, I think it was, he was our mascot. He dressed up as the Scarlet Knight, so I remember the Scarlet Knight. I remember the Rutgers song, which of course didn't have much meaning when it said, "On the banks of the old Raritan, where my father sent me to become a man." For me, what I thought of as a tradition was the pizza parlor, which was right behind Rutgers that everybody went to, Patti's Pizza, I think it was called. The roach coaches on College Avenue. But the only traditions that I can think about were the song and this Scarlet Knight as our mascot. [Editor's Note: The lyrics of the Rutgers alma mater, "On the Banks of the Old Raritan," have been changed several times. In 1989, seventeen years after Rutgers became coed, the phrase "my boys" in the first line of the chorus became "my friends." In 2013, the lyrics were revised again. The first verse now reads: "From far and near we came to Rutgers /And resolved to learn all that we can," instead of: "My father sent me to old Rutgers /And resolv'd that I should be a man" ("On the Banks of the Raritan: Music at Rutgers and New Brunswick," Rutgers University Libraries exhibit, 2013-2014).]
KR: What sorts of activities did you get involved in at Rutgers?
AS: I got involved in the student newspaper, and I wrote reviews, Broadway, off-Broadway, fiction, novels, and also movies because I also took writing classes and film classes. I took a film production class. I loved film. I still love film. I also got involved--and I don't know if this still exists or not, Kate--it was a counseling center called 56 Place and it was staffed by volunteers. It was a hotline for students to call. We were trained on what to do if someone called threatening suicide or somebody called because they were in an abusive situation or whatever. I was trained, and I did that for a while. I was a counselor at 56 Place. I also, like I said, worked for the student newspaper. I look back on those years and wish I had gotten more involved, but, again, I was determined that I was going to have a really rich college life, really get into my classes, and didn't want to repeat high school, where I felt I was really burned-out by doing so much. I never ran for office. I didn't get more [involved]. In retrospect, I would have gotten involved in the radio. We had a radio station.
KR: What was it like being on The Targum?
AS: I didn't feel that I was on Targum because it's almost like today the way you'd look at a contributing editor, if you're a staff writer at The New Yorker versus a contributing writer. But I felt like there was a group of people. A friend of mine was on The Targum's staff, and so she had real relationships with all the largely men who worked for Targum. I didn't as much because it would be like I would get an assignment I would do, I would turn it in. I wasn't a part of the regular cadence of the publication. I was there to write a review of something. But I thought that that was great fun. Somebody would pay for me to go to the theater. I'd get to take the bus or the train into New York City. I'd get to read books, and they were often books I'd want to read. I would read Fay Weldon books. I would see movies, often foreign films, because I also took French and Spanish in college, and I took film classes. That's when I became very close friends with Godelieve Mercken-Spaas, who was a professor there at the time and didn't get tenure. She and I became really good friends. I babysat for her daughters. I became her research assistant, and then we became friends. I was friends with her until she died a number of years ago and would visit her yearly, if not more than once a year, in Oxford, where she lived.
KR: With this Pioneering Women of Rutgers College '76 Oral History Project that is going on and the women who are involved, how many of them were you friends with as undergrads?
AS: I knew some of them. Some of the women we've gotten involved so far, I would say, were acquaintances. One of the women that we want to get involved couldn't attend one of the focus groups. It was somebody I was friendly with and was friendly after college for a while and would still, from time to time, be in touch. I'm going to reach out to somebody I was really close with in college and see if she'll be involved. She just did the Scarlet Speaker Series, Marian Calabro. I want to reach out to Maura Quinn, who was my roommate. I want to reach out to Jennifer Pakenham, who was my apartment-mate both junior and senior year. Those were the ones I would say I was closest to.
KR: Tell me about your major and what your course of study was like.
AS: After I decided I wasn't going to be a journalism major or a communications major, I switched to English, and I did a women's studies certificate. I also minored in film and film production. That was fine. By the time I was in college, I think I really hit a crisis point because I thought, "Now, what do I do?" because back then, it was still a situation where you learned how to type and you'd become an editorial assistant and work at a magazine. It's not something I really knew how to do. I took a lot of English classes. I took a decent amount of history classes. I never fell in love with "The Bard" [William Shakespeare]. I liked English literature, loved American literature post-World War II. I didn't really specialize in anything. I was pretty eclectic. I took writing classes.
It's funny, Barry was my professor. A couple of years ago, less than three years ago, I came across almost all my papers I had written for his classes. I sent them to him. I said, "Barry, you can toss these when you're done." He's so sweet. He read all of them. I said, "I just want you to see that I saved all these papers." He would write in the margins; I would get a grade. He would make all these comments. I said, "You were such a great professor. I want you to see how much care you took." Anyway, he might be the sweetest person in the world. He read them all, and he said--he's got that accent--"Oh my, Angela. That paper I gave you an A-minus, I would have given you an A-plus today." He also became my advisor, and I did an independent study with him. One of my dearest friends, Tom Johnson, we would go up to Barry's office on the Old Queens Campus. It was somewhere high up that we could look over all of the quad in that area. It was also during a time when I was obsessed with baking bread from scratch. I remember one time, we were up in his office doing our independent study, and I had just brought a hot loaf of Swedish caraway bread. We had the hot bread with butter and a cup of tea or coffee, and we were discussing D.H. Lawrence. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. D.H. Lawrence, I was a big fan of, big fan of Women in Love, Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterley's Lover. My fondest memories are of my classes I took with Barry.
KR: What led you to pursue the women's studies certificate?
AS: I think because it spoke to my interest in learning more about this thing called feminism. It wasn't just something happening today. We were standing on some broad shoulders, and I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to learn more about the characters. It was probably the only time I thought, "Oh, I wish I was at Douglass now," because Elaine Showalter was there at the time. So, I think that's what it was. It was saying, "Okay, I want to learn more about this. What's the history behind this? Why didn't things change after women got the vote? How did rules about property laws and inheritance impact the lives that women had and their financial independence?" [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.]
KR: I am curious about the women's studies certificate because this would have been the very early years of women's studies getting into the curriculum. Was this in the English Department at Rutgers College? Was it a Rutgers College certificate? Do you happen to remember?
AS: I honestly don't remember, but you have to remember the college has shaped itself differently. When I went to Rutgers, it was actually Rutgers College, so I believe it was a certificate from Rutgers College. I don't know if it was cross-disciplinary because the courses I remember were history courses. I don't know, I'll have to see if I could dig something up. I don't remember. I just remember that when I graduated, I had a certificate in women's history, or women's studies--I could be wrong, Kate--maybe it was a certificate in women's studies.
KR: You mentioned having some women professors. Do you happen to recall them?
AS: Yes, I remember the woman who taught the immigration course. Her name was Carol--was it Gable? She had dark hair. I remember because my grandparents being Italian immigrants, it was the first time I really understood something I had heard about growing up, which was the Padrone System--in essence, it was almost like indentured servitude to the person who got you here--and being fascinated by immigration. My father, I would say to him, "Why did you come here, Daddy?" because it wasn't until I went back to Malta in 1985 that I realized what a big deal it was for my father to leave that island. At the time, he had a lot of first cousins. His mother, I think, was one of nine siblings, but they all stayed on that island. Nobody left that island. It was very insular. At a relatively young age, my father, who was a very modest and quiet man, knew he wanted something bigger than this little island of Malta and left to come to the United States and left his family behind. He went back once. Malta got an award for being the most heavily-bombed place during World War II. My father's ship stopped in Malta in port. It was the last time he saw his cousins, and it was when he found out that his parents had died. So, he wasn't even there when his parents died. It wasn't until I went back that I realized what a big deal it was for my father to have left that island. I was fascinated by immigration. What makes people leave their country? What was it about the United States that drew so many people here? My father said, "I know it sounds silly, Angela, and I didn't literally think that money grew on trees, but I thought money grew on trees. I thought if I wanted to make something of my life, that the only place to really do it would be this place that they called America." He came here really with his friend but not knowing anybody.
It became an issue with my mother's parents because, now, think about it. Right now, if you meet somebody, you can go on Google; you check on all their friends on Facebook. Here's a man, thirty-nine years old, who comes from a place that my [mother's] family has never heard of. Does he have a wife and children in Malta? Why is he not married? He's thirty-eight years old, thirty-nine years old by the time they get married. Who is this man? Who's his family? We can't meet them. It wasn't until I went back to Malta that I realized that when my mother and father used to tease about my mother having married up that she really had married up, because my father's family was more like the merchant class in Malta, and my mother's family wasn't.
KR: How does it sound if we do one more question for today?
KR: What was the campus climate like in regards to activism?
AS: It's almost mortifying to say this; I have no recollection of any activism. Now, you might tell me, "Well, that's interesting, Angela, because you got there in '72. You left in '76. There was a student sit-in. There was a protest for gay rights." My husband will tell you if he was here now, "Yes, Angela was too busy listening to the light sound." Honestly, I don't remember because I don't remember being a part of any of it. I'm also not a big fan of crowds, so that could've been part of it. I'm not agoraphobic in any way. I go to baseball games, et cetera, but the idea that I would want to go someplace where a thousand people were congregating, it's probably not my style, and I don't remember being part of any of it. Now, I could always go back, because I've been keeping a diary since I'm twelve years old and I'm sure I kept a diary in college, so maybe I did, but I honestly have no recollection of it.
KR: How does it sound if we stop the recording, and then we will talk for a minute off the record?
KR: Okay, great. Angela, thank you so much for doing this first oral history session with me. It's been an absolute pleasure.
AS: Thank you, thank you. It's been fun talking about it.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 4/29/2022
Reviewed by Molly A. Graham 5/23/2002
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 9/26/2022
Reviewed by Angela Scalpello 4/17/2023