A History through Letters
In its very first issue the editors of the Alumnae Quarterly invited readers to send feedback, and in its second issue—published in July 1917—letters from alumnae were included.
In the 1930s and for most of the 1950s several issues did not include letters, but it’s no exaggeration to say that the voices of alumnae readers have been an important presence in this publication since the beginning.
As we paged through past issues for this feature, it was impossible to read every letter published during the past century. (And it’s impossible to know how many more were received but didn’t find their way onto the printed page.) There are simply far too many to count, or even to summarize.
So in the pages that follow we offer a look at just a few ways in which letters have played a role in the history of the publication—reinforcing content within the editorial pages, beginning discussions, even sparking controversies. And while at first we considered including excerpts much briefer than these from perhaps twice as many letters as you’ll see here, it became clear that giving you, our current readers, the opportunity to read for yourself more of the original content offered more value. The voices of these alumnae writers are more whole—and more authentic—than can be captured in a brief excerpt. And so, even though most letters still are excerpts, we decided on a longform presentation.
The placement of the letters in the Alumnae Quarterly has changed over the years. In the beginning they were in the back of the magazine, and a single letter could run as long as a page. Often they were printed without a signature. Today our letters policy is that we will include remarks submitted in response to content in the magazine. We run those letters—and blog and Facebook comments, and tweets—in the opening pages of each issue.
However readers want to share with us their thoughts, we are grateful to hear them. And we hope to hear from you.
—Jennifer Grow ’94, editor
“Dangers and needs of their Alma Mater”
The very first letter to the editor, printed in the July 1917 Quarterly, is written by a graduate of the class of 1917, a new alumna who sends a letter that runs more than a full page. Below is the second half of that letter.
Editors respond that they hope the letter will “call out other opinions” and that the “student body should be given new light on alumnae ideals.”
There is something perennially satisfying to our affectionate natures in the thought of our college as our Alma Mater and of all her students past and present as our sisters. Our joy in the sweet analogy sometimes gives us an almost belligerent desire to defend our family. Nothing could be nobler, we feel, than to spread the happy propaganda of praise which has for its purpose letting the world know that Mount Holyoke, though not widely enough appreciated, is the finest of colleges.
On the eve of graduation this crusading impulse alternates with a feeling of disappointment. I suppose that an individual’s college course must always be disappointing; we come with such high hopes; we suppose that college is a place where the conversation is always stimulating, intellectual, and lively; we see ourselves as prominent in college affairs as we were at our high school commencement. Wonderful that we can forget for a short period in our lives that we have any limitations. But when we see our college course in retrospect limitations crowd to the fore, many of them, we realize, entirely personal, but too many of them, on the other hand, set by our environment.
It is not merely that an individual is disappointed because she has not made her college course what she should have made it; she feels troubled because something is wrong with her family. Just as one may love one’s mother supremely without thinking that she is the most wonderful woman in the world, so we may love our college with a quieter and more tender devotion while we remember and are hurt by her defects. Loyalty does not impel us to be silent or to speak only praise; it impels us to speak most about what we think is most wrong. Because we love our college its unlovely qualities and its limitations rouse resentment in us.
I hope that the Alumnae Quarterly and the Graduate Council presage a more unified effort on the part of the past students to think about the college and to bring an opinion to bear which may affect more vital matters than the location of senior steps. I believe that the alumnae always have been thinking about us; and yet the student body connects alumnae chiefly with reunions, building funds, and traditions which have no great influence on the intellectual life of the college.
Just as one may love one’s mother supremely without thinking that she is the most wonderful woman in the world, so we may love our college with a quieter and more tender devotion while we remember and are hurt by her defects.
Why is it that we have no time for the things that are worth most? Can any one who has been learning how to plan her time in business or professional pursuits look back and tell us? Whenever we are reproached for not reading, for not having more information about current topics, for giving so little attention to physical exercise that we often go backward rather than forward in strength, we defend ourselves in our trite but sincere fashion, “I don’t have time.” The chief reason for this difficulty is that we have very little unbroken time for study. With our double rooms I hardly see how we could abolish the ten o’clock rule. Possibly changing the chapel hour would help to some extent. If you want to study in the morning now the breakfast hour and chapel hour break up the time seriously. By having chapel after dinner at night or even at noon or in the middle of the morning we should gain a fresh uninterrupted hour before classes. At any rate it does not seem right that we should have gymnasium work in the morning. Beyond any question if we could find a more ideal arrangement for our work we ought to be able to study as much as we do now and still have surplus time.
Another thing which sometimes troubles us when we “have time” to think about it is the state of our manners. The explanation of our lapses is not always to be found in carelessness. Sometimes a girl does not realize that things which she does are incorrect because she never in all her life has stopped to give attention to such matters. On the other hand some of us think too much of the value of casual social intercourse for giving social graces and think too little of our studies. Whether it is true or not that the type of entering students is changing so that we have more girls with poise and assurance of manner and fewer girls who study hard because they appreciate the necessity of making everything count, it is true that we are always in danger of not putting a sufficiently strong emphasis on the intellectual side of college life.
If I have given a dark picture of the condition of our college it is because I think that alumnae should realize the dangers and needs of their Alma Mater. Of course there is a happier side; we who are graduating feel the motherliness and kindness of our college as we never have before. She has been generous and she has treated us as individuals. It is due in large measure to ourselves that we are not satisfied with the progress we have made; we have not conquered our own limitations; we have let ourselves be hurried and careless. When I think of my Alma Mater as a pure divinity my prayer to her is this: “Forgive me for not having been able to receive fully the best that you offered me.”
—A Member of The Graduating Class
“Pay her dues and attend the meetings”
Lois Roberts Hallett, class of 1904, sums up how alumnae can support their beloved alma mater in a letter that runs twice as long as what we share here.
At the recent meeting of the Graduate Council, the writer was impressed by the emphasis laid upon the special need of our Alma Mater for the loyal support of every alumna, in special degree as the times of stress lay unusual burdens upon the college.
Most of us cannot give large sums of money to the college, nor can we devote a great deal of time or energy towards helping on the larger efforts of the General Alumnae Association. But the General Association is after all just about as strong and effective as the sum total of the local associations. There are surely two ways at least in which practically every Mount Holyoke alumna can support her local association and by so doing show her loyalty to the college. She can pay her dues and attend the meetings.
Let us not be slackers in our support of any interest that furthers the influence of our Alma Mater.
For the payment of dues is by no means the whole duty of a loyal alumna. A live organization cannot exist without meetings to carry on its work, and these meetings amount to little if they have only a scattering attendance from the local membership.
All Mount Holyoke women worthy of the name are busy. Our time is valuable. Our efforts are needed in many directions, but few of us are so busy that we cannot meet the obligations which are expected of us and which are met by others.
There is a third way in which many of us who live in cities can show our loyalty to Mount Holyoke and prove that her daughters are both willing and able to work shoulder to shoulder with women from other colleges in the general effort for uplift; that is by becoming active members in our College Club. In the membership list of the College Club to which the writer belongs, out of approximately four hundred members, there are four representing Mount Holyoke—this from a local association numbering about forty actual residents of the city. Mount Holyoke women cannot afford not to join with other college women in the organization which avowedly represents the best intellectual, social, and civic interests of the educated women of their city. It does not reflect glory upon themselves or their Alma Mater to stand aloof from such an organization.
Let us not be slackers in our support of any interest that furthers the influence of our Alma Mater.
—Lois Roberts Hallett, 1904
“No college can afford to ignore its past”
The first response to content in the magazine comes from Anna Stevens Reed, class of 1869, who comments on an October 1917 article, “Women’s Colleges in Fiction,” which mentions two of her stories—both of which take place at Mount Holyoke. Below is an excerpt.
The veteran author has become philosophical enough to be gratified that her books are remembered at all, when twenty years have gone by since the publication, but she is moved to inquire whether it is a fair criticism to single out a minor character for condemnation, ignoring completely the purpose and general trend of the book.
No one person can tell all, or suit all. Some who lived through the scenes described, and who were strangers to me, were either great hypocrites or else sincere when they wrote that this was a good picture of life at Mount Holyoke during that period. To have had the warm approval of teachers and missionaries is very consoling. To have been able to give moderate pleasure to a number of one’s own contemporaries is quite enough. If Young Holyoke finds Mount Holyoke Days “fragmentary,” that’s a pity, but one can survive. It is also true that no college can afford to ignore or belittle its past, or any honest effort to portray the same. If you will give this protest a place in your columns it will oblige,
Yours sincerely, Anna Stevens Reed
“I am always thinking of the alumnae”
Florence Purington, class of 1886 and first dean of Mount Holyoke, writes from Tsinare, China, during a trip abroad spent visiting institutions and meeting with Mount Holyoke missionaries. Below is an excerpt.
Surely no two travelers ever had a more wonderful trip than Miss Greene and I have had through Japan and Korea and China. When our ship docked at Yokohama there were three Mount Holyoke graduates on the pier waving a large blue banner, and from that time on we have arrived in only one or two places where alumnae have not been waiting to greet us and to give us assistance. Moreover, they have had our sightseeing all planned for us, so that we need miss no important places, nor lose time in finding them.
We have been fortunate in being able not only to see the usual sights that attract the attention of tourists, but our Japanese and Chinese friends have made it possible for us to see the homes of the better class and also of the very poor. We dined one night at Aya Ebina’s home in Kyoto. We had truly Japanese food served in Japanese style and eaten with chopsticks, and after dinner Mrs. Ebina played for us on the koto. Aya also took us one day to a ceremonial tea that was served in the home of a descendant of the man who invented the ceremony.
Our four Chinese girls in Tientsin entertained us most royally, and gave us several elaborate Chinese dinners.
Nora Hsung’s parents invited us to visit their orphanage in the Western Hills near Peking, and to have tiffin with them. There we ate bird’s nest soup for the first time, and had other delicacies such as shark’s fins. The orphanage of 1,500 boys and girls we found most interesting, and we were carried about from building to building in chairs borne on poles, each carried by four men.
It has been our good fortune to visit, among other institutions, the Women’s Christian College in Tokyo, Kobe College in Kobe, Ewha College in Seoul, and Yenching College in Peking.
I wish I could tell you of all the alumnae I have seen and of the interesting things they are doing, for there are many others who are as worthy of mention as those of whom I have spoken, but time fails me.
I must add a word about the very interesting private school of which Yoshi Kajiro, 1897, has been principal for 28 years. She is a regular General, and everything moves with order and dispatch. Her methods are modern and progressive, and her 600 girls have the greatest admiration for her. The regard in which her alumnae hold her is shown by the fact that they have built her a home for her own use. I was looked upon by the pupils with veneration, because Miss Kajiro told them that I used to be her teacher and called her “Yoshi.” We sang the Holyoke song—“Long ago she rose and stood” for them, and they were greatly entertained.
You will want to know about our College missionary, Miss Hoyt. Our last visit in Japan was on her, at the Matsuyama Girl’s school. It is located on a beautiful green hillside. The hill is capped by an old feudal castle, and the city lies at its foot. Miss Hoyt has plans completed for new buildings, which are greatly needed, and I presume by this time ground has been broken for the Gymnasium and Home Economics building. Her broad educational policy, her strong religious influence, and her wise foresight in planning for the school filled me with admiration. She is living in very inadequate quarters, but she has already partly enough money to erect a comfortable house, where it will be possible for her to entertain the friends of the school. She spoke most warmly of what the Mount Holyoke girls were doing for her and her school.
I wish I could tell you of all the alumnae I have seen and of the interesting things they are doing, for there are many others who are as worthy of mention as those of whom I have spoken, but time fails me.
I am always thinking of the alumnae, and thanking them in my heart for making this rich experience possible.
Sincerely yours, Florence Purington
Tsinare, China, Nov. 3, 1926
“War came in earnest”
Margaret Adriance Withington, class of 1920, writes of the effects to her community as a result of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Below is an excerpt.
The startling news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor came to us from Sunday School children and at first unbelievingly we went on with church as usual. Then the ominous reality sent us to our tasks—Arthur and I worked at Red Cross on our church grounds and Ted assisted the head of Civilian Defense [OCD]. While Arthur and I climbed on chairs blacking out with blankets for the first night of 344 succeeding ones, Ted had his first experience in blackout driving as he took the OCD head over the island checking on the communications centers. It was nearly 3 a.m. when he returned.
Our very mixed racial community changed overnight. The lazy fat Hawaiian with a flower lei on his hat could be seen with an OCD band on his arm, guarding bridges. An old Portuguese woman taught the local bakers how to make potato yeast when there were only two days’ supply of yeast on the island. Filipinos started filing bolos (long knives) which they were allowed to use in Kauai volunteer drills. The Boy Scouts, many of them of Japanese heritage, worked hard as messengers with all available bicycles.
As you probably know, no bombs landed on this island that day, but an enemy plane did land on a small island off our coast. I later met the Hawaiian woman who killed the pilot with a rock. She is an average-sized, sweet person and not the heroic Amazon that one might expect.
Our first alert came when we were on our way to have Carols at the Tubercular Hospital. As we drove along with our group—sirens screamed, mill whistles blew and guards ordered us to take cover. Few completed shelters existed then so after some worried time under trees at the side of the road, we proceeded and sang in the darkened wards the old familiar Christmas music, and drove slowly home in darkness.
War came in earnest, in the middle of the night when Kauai was shelled, probably from a submarine. Waking suddenly, we only had a minute’s thought of thunder until we heard the shining and crashing of shells. Arthur got himself calmly dressed, put Skippy on her leash while Ted and I with an attempt at calming words, groped with flashlight for our “not so neat” clothes. Star shells and moonlight illumined outdoors as we gathered in the air-raid shelter with neighbors, Japanese maids, church janitor with his wife and baby, a motor corps girl reporting to Red Cross, etc. Soon the firing stopped and so did our trembling stomachs and legs. Ted finished his A.R. [air raid] warden’s inspection and we tried to rest with our clothes on. We all learned that night to have everything in readiness on a chair by our beds. The next morning, we went to inspect the damage to the road, the burned cane field, the shrapnel holes in our friend’s house (no one injured).
As a family, we have learned new ways of living under strict martial law. Each trip to the store discloses some new lack of food, and then again we are surprised that a shipload has come in. We had no apples for ten months, eggs are $.95 a dozen when there are any, potatoes are a feast or a famine, and so it goes. Arthur’s five hens have helped us. We also have our own papaia trees, limes, avocadoes and bananas. We have added an electric roaster as tank gas is shipped in. Arthur has equipped our shelter with even paper cups for water and a waste basket to throw them in. He drills regularly at school for gas attacks and going into the shelters. Any child who comes to school without his registration card and gas mask has to go home and get them. We each have evacuation kits ready: clothes, blankets, and food for “four days in the hills.” We each carry a thumb printed registration card, ration card for butter, rice, poultry feed, gasoline, a statement that we know how to disable our car, and new paper money with Hawaii printed on it.
—Margaret Adriance Withington ’20
Lihue Union Church; Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii
November 15, 1942
“Mary Lyon would be ashamed”
Louise Blodget Mitchell, class of 1927, writes after hearing Dean Harriet Allyn speak to the New York Club about the new curriculum. Below is an excerpt.
In the same issue, Alumnae Association President Jessie Scarborough, class of 1925, responds, saying, “As organized Mount Holyoke alumnae, I believe our responsibility is that of seeing that the best possible education is available at Mount Holyoke for those best qualified to put it to serviceable use.”
I was struck particularly by what Miss Allyn said in relating this most modern version to Mary Lyon’s curriculum. Mary Lyon, we were told, wanted hers to be both “serviceable and satisfying.” It reminded me of the emphasis in Miss Woolley’s day on the idea of service—an idea many of us as undergraduates found it fashionable to poke fun at. Speaking for myself, I don’t find it funny any more.
The rest of the Quarterly’s pages—the “front of the book”—bear eloquent testimony to the many ways in which individual alumnae are serviceable. And many, less spectacular than Eleanor Mason in India, function well in community and national groups of various kinds. But as organized Mount Holyoke alumnae we do nothing.
Dean Allyn made it clear how difficult a job the re-thinking of the curriculum was, for faculty and administration. It would be difficult to rethink the function of the Alumnae Association and its satellite clubs. But this is an age which, above all else, demands re-definition and clarification of thinking. As our function is now understood, it seems to me a pallid and stultifying thing. I am grateful in the deepest sense for a splendid education, and want to continue supporting the institution responsible. But I’d like the chance, as a Mount Holyoke graduate, to do something besides sing the songs of dear old Alma Mater.
Here in New York we are in the final stages of a heartbreaking last-ditch fight to save publicly-supported child care centers, for the children of working mothers, from the political reaction current in Albany. Not a single group of college women has given us any support. I use this only as an example. You could name almost any civic enterprise and get the same answer.
Tom Paine said long ago: “The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the options of men change also. . . . That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another.” I think Mary Lyon would be ashamed of us.
—Louise P. (Blodget) Mitchell ’27
“Get down to basics”
Beginning in winter 1960, the section of alumnae letters is titled “Speaking Up.” And this alumna—who signs her name “Bewildered”—does just that. Her letter is shared in full.
It was with profound interest that I read Mary Emerson’s article on the challenges facing the liberal arts college for women, since this has been a subject of deep concern to me for some time. A history major at Mount Holyoke, steeped in the curriculum of philosophy and the arts, the trauma of marriage and raising three small children has almost been more than my system could bear. I really must have believed that life was going to be all gracious living, lectures, intimate seminars, and creamed chipped beef after graduation. To discover that my education had totally unprepared me for the harsh realities of living was a rude shock. (It might have led to schizophrenia, except for an understanding husband.)
Mrs. Emerson is certainly paving the way to a vital change in the curriculum when she suggests such freshman courses as Dating, Choosing a Mate, Personal Hygiene, and so on. Obviously, the Administration is not going to do anything about it if it persists in its intransigeant position that liberal arts means history, music, art, chemistry, and other subjects which immediately prove to be worthless to young brides and girl mothers.
To discover that my education had totally unprepared me for the harsh realities of living was a rude shock.
But it seems to me that she herself skirts the real issues. What Holyoke must do for its students is get down to Basics. The following, then, is my own list for the ideal freshman curriculum:
Baby Salad Tossing—Introduction to Garlic Salt
Choosing an Obstetrician
History of the Diaper Rash in the Near East
Analysis of Husbands as Men—Basic Sex
Very Personal Hygiene
Once having mastered these basics—and I certainly feel that an independent piece of research should supplement the classroom lecture—students could go on in junior and senior years to a more enriched curriculum:
Advanced Salad Tossing
Applied Refrigerator Defrosting
Intellectual History of Bleaching and Bluing
Advanced Analysis of Husbands as Men
Choosing a Marriage Counselor
It is a little disturbing to read Mrs. Emerson’s statement that “catalogues have been notably neuter in the past.” Up until now, the sex of the Mount Holyoke catalogue hadn’t bothered me; now I realize that here indeed is a whole new fertile field for redevelopment. Actually, why not state in the catalogue that every girl is required to do a four-year independent project on “Fertility and the Modern Cake Mix”? Then if we changed Holyoke’s colors to pink instead of blue and white, our feminity would go unchallenged forevermore.
“Does this mean that these women do not work?”
The following letter from Jill Dardig ’69 elicits an apology from the Quarterly editor: “[We] goofed! The wives of our trustees should have been given equal credit.”
In reading the biographical sketches of the current MHC trustees, I was surprised to note the following inconsistency: In all ten (out of 12) sketches of female trustees where a husband was mentioned, his job was also briefly described. In contrast, in the 15 sketches of male trustees, only four wives’ names and two of their jobs were noted. Of these, every woman had some connection with MHC. The other women were referred to only as wives and no positions were described.
Does this mean that these women do not work, either in or out of the home? Perhaps you can explain and remediate this omission in a future issue.
—Jill C. Dardig ’69
“Change the tone of things”
In this letter, Marla Allisan ’78 suggests a change in language on reunion registration forms.
When I received my first notice of a reunion at Mount Holyoke I was delighted as well as concerned. After reading the registration card which says, “Does husband hope to attend?” and “Does husband plan to attend?” I suddenly saw the long road ahead to fifty years hence when the little card will still inquire after husbands rather than lovers or life companions.
I am one of many alumnae who feel quite joyful at the thought of never marrying, and who would like to write of her companion or lover in the class notes (husband is no different), and who might like to bring her or him to reunion. I am speaking for those who are lesbian, who are single with close friends, and who live with a man but not in wedlock. I am sure there are many happily single women who see that card or who read the overwhelmingly marriage-oriented class notes and who wonder when Mount Holyoke will acknowledge that there are “significant others” besides husbands.
It is incumbent on us as alumnae to change the tone of things. Therefore, my note on my return card said that I plan to be at reunion, and my companion plans to be there as well.
I invite my sisters to join me in writing honest class notes (as honest as is comfortable and appropriate). I don’t want to have to wait until reunion to know how you wonderful “single” women really are.
—Marla Ruth Allisan ’78
“The reader shifts uneasily in her chair”
Here Elizabeth Wade Grant ’47 shares a sentiment that we continue to hear today.
A special word of congratulations for your decision to include the articles on depression and alcoholism in the last two issues. And special appreciation to the women who had the courage to provide the material for each subject.
You must know that readers of the alumnae magazine open each issue with ambivalent feelings (and this attitude, I find, is widespread!). On the one hand it is exciting to read about the truly remarkable women and their varied accomplishments, and the reader feels a certain pride in the College because of these outstanding alumnae. On the other hand, the reader sometimes feels overwhelmed by one relentless success story after another, with no indication in any of the accounts of a bout with defeat, doubt, or even just dry, routine stretches of life. The reader shifts uneasily in her chair, wondering how she could be such an underachiever, or a downright failure, and still be a graduate of the same college. The courage of the women who wrote about depression and alcoholism, and their will to conquer, are every bit as strong and admirable in them as in the parade of successful and charming women about whom we usually read.
—Elizabeth Wade Grant ’47
Durham, North Carolina
“I will computerize and order the list”
The origins of Lyon’s Pride can be traced to a letter from Donna Albino ’83, who now serves as president of the group for queer alumnae/i.
There is a need for lesbian alumnae to be able to find each other. Any lesbian alumna willing to be a contact in her area, please send name and address and/or telephone number to me. I will computerize and order the list, and anyone wishing a copy can get one for the small price of a self-addressed envelope. For confidentiality, this list will not be available to anyone not listed herself, and should not be used for mailings, ads, chain letters, housing, or pen pals.
—Donna Albino ’83
“Educate students about their sexual differences”
The letter below by Ann Fry ’85 is only one of dozens on the topic and ran in the same issue as this note from the editor: “We have aimed to include at least a portion of every letter on this subject received before our deadline. Because we have covered such a broad range of viewpoints in the past two years, our editorial judgment is to publish no further letters on the matter. Letters to the Alumnae Office or the Alumnae Association board are of course always welcome.”
I have been following with interest the discussion about lesbianism at Mount Holyoke in recent issues of the Quarterly. I applaud Mount Holyoke for taking steps to open dialogue about lesbianism and for helping to educate students about their sexual differences.
—Ann E. Fry ’85
“Hope that some of the old elegance returns”
Karen Muller ’70 shares feedback about the magazine’s design, a common topic over the years.
I agree that the Quarterly was probably due for a new look. . . . But . . . I found the new design off-putting because it’s a jumble of type styles and page layouts. . . . Just because graphics can enhance a page of text, and our new typesetting programs enable us to do nearly anything, doesn’t mean we have to use all the bells and whistles. Simple can still be the most elegant—and the most readable. I understand you can’t change the design back quickly, but I hope that some of the typographic frills disappear from frequent use and that some of the old elegance returns.
—Karen Muller ’70
“Neither should the opportunities in higher education be the same”
Elizabeth Dippel Archambeault ’65 is one of many alumnae who write in response to a winter 1998 letter from Ellen Cochran Hirzy ’70 calling for Mount Holyoke to go coed. Below is an excerpt.
I have always felt, very strongly, that MHC should remain a women’s college . . . the primary reason [being] the need for choice. Just as all individuals are different, so are their educational requirements, especially with regard to philosophy, ambiance and personal support. Both my daughters wanted coed colleges, but I did not. For the small minority of women who would like a single-sex school, choice must be available.
Secondly, I believe single-sex education works more effectively at the college level. For me, the daily social interaction with males was needed in high school, but college was primarily an academic undertaking. Having members of the opposite sex present all the time would have been a distraction. Also, as studying was the main activity at MHC, my peers regarded working hard as perfectly acceptable.
For the small minority of women who would like a single-sex school, choice must be available.
Third in importance are the unique attributes of a women’s college—beginning with the strong, lifelong friendships one makes. Approximately half the friends made by a female student at a coed college will disappear eventually after graduation—because what man keeps up with women friends after he (they) are married to someone else? Also, although the phrase “supportive atmosphere” is overworked, the professors and administrators at MHC do genuinely care about students, and, in my case, their concern made my four years there among the best of my life.
Certainly the skills to deal with the world as it is can be learned many places—even a coed campus—but they can also be acquired on the job or any women’s college, provides is [sic] a unique and rare women’s world which cannot be encountered elsewhere. Such an experience does change one’s life. After many years of operating in the “real world”—working, rearing a family and volunteering, would I choose Mount Holyoke again? Emphatically, Yes!
There are many excellent, small, coed, liberal arts colleges, but there are few women’s colleges of the caliber of Mount Holyoke. Higher education today must be a potpourri of small, large, urban, rural, liberal arts, technical and single-sex or coed. Just as all individuals are not alike, neither should the opportunities in higher education be the same.
—Elizabeth Dippel Archambeault ’65
“These may be unpalatable truths”
In the same issue Townsend Feehan ’84 shares an opinion in support of a coed Mount Holyoke. Below is an excerpt.
It was my experience that single-sex education was already an anachronism when I arrived on campus (autumn 1980), at least in the liberal arts. I found a stark contrast between the theory on which the system was based—that young women would flourish in an environment in which they could develop unhampered by competition from male colleagues—and the reality, in which sometimes brilliant professors lectured to classrooms of interested but largely passive students.
During my junior year at Wesleyan, and at classes taken at Amherst . . . I had the chance to make comparisons. It was true that the presence of men in the classroom could have a distracting effect on female students (and vice versa). But the same distractions are there in real life, and I am deeply convinced that the earlier a young woman learns to deal with them, the better.
Furthermore, the fact of the school being single-sex is bound, increasingly, to deprive it of top-quality high-school graduates for whom this is a turnoff. It was my observation already in the early 1980s that, with notable exceptions, the caliber of my peers was not what it appears to have been in my mother’s day at Smith (nor, in terms of intellectual curiosity, confidence and seriousness of purpose, could Holyoke compare with Wesleyan).
These may be unpalatable truths, but I for one would be a much more engaged alumna if the College took . . . the cryingly logical step of going coed.
—Townsend Feehan ’84
“The editor does not respond”
A 2001 reorganization of the Alumnae Association eliminates the position of editor of the magazine. The letter below from Margaret Dealy Griffel ’45 is one of nearly a dozen sent to the magazine expressing disappointment. For seven years—twenty-eight issues—the magazine is led by a managing director of print and online magazines, until, in spring 2008, the position of editor is reinstated.
I find many aspects of the revamping of the Alumnae Quarterly attractive and attention-getting. The magazine has immediacy. I was pleased to see the essay of appreciation for the work and dedication that Sabine [Haberland] Cray ’72 brought to the editorship of the Quarterly, and also the note of thanks to Sabine from the Association board of directors. However, I see no clear explanation for the dismissal of Sabine as editor, nor for the elimination of the position of editor.
I have a weird feeling that comes from the apparent disembodiment of the center of the Quarterly. I do not write to the editor; the editor does not respond. This concerns me, because the Quarterly is an extremely important link between the alumnae and the College, and this link needs to remain personal.
—Margaret Dealy Griffel ’45, class president
Albany, New York
Beginning with the summer 2005 issue all letters—indeed, all content except class notes—can be viewed online and easily accessed from our website, alumnae.mtholyoke.edu. In fall 2013, the letters section was renamed from “Viewpoints” to “Lyons Share,” in part to reflect the different ways in which alumnae today respond to content across several platforms, many digital. We receive emails, comments on our Facebook page and website, tweets and retweets, in addition to the occasional typewritten—or more rarely—handwritten notes that arrive via the US Postal Service. With our most recent redesign, alumnae opinions were captured around the College’s never fear/change campaign, which debuted shortly before the magazine was printed.
In her brief letter—one of many received—Phyllis Altrogge ’57 eloquently represents the sentiments of both sides of the issue expressed by our fearless alumnae.
Invoking an unqualified call for “change” implies a rejection of our history and traditions. Yes, the future must welcome change, but we need also to have a decent respect for continuity with our past.
—Phyllis Altrogge ’57
This article appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
April 7, 2017