1939-1942 My Years at Hunter

       Hunter changed my life. Influenced by Mrs. Lilienthal, I grew fascinated with Biology and scientific processes generally, and particularly studied the biographies of scientists who advanced their fields. During those three years, stirred by my classmates and many teachers, I began to realize how much more I needed to learn, especially about reading widely and writing clearly. However far I still had to go emotionally, Mrs. Lilienthal helped by expecting better of me, even while she spoke sharply against my lapses.

       I've been amazed ever since to notice how books and concepts that matter most to me still connect with ideas and values that I first discovered at HCHS.


Ruth, 1939
Mrs. Lilienthal in 1939

Fall 1939--Spring 1941

        By simple serendipity I took the test for attending Hunter College High School. As a seventh and eighth grader at P.S. 69 I hoped to become an artist.  I had heard of the entrance exam for the High School of Music and Art but did not meet the first requirement for taking the examination.  I needed a recommendation from my school’s art teacher.  She refused.  My talent wasn’t impressive enough.  My English teacher eased my disappointment by offering to sponsor me for the HCHS examination.

        Before I was graduated from PS 69 in June, I heard from Hunter that I had passed.  After my parents learned about Hunter’s reputation they were pleased.  And they were glad to hear that I was accepted.

        When I entered Hunter as a ninth-grader in September 1939 many rhythms of my days became more intricate and intense. The teachers were more rigorous than any at PS 69. They took for granted that we could be taught to excel competitively, as on the Regents exams, and that of course we would go on to higher education. 

Carolyn Hodgson, 1939 Graduation PS69
1939 Graduation PS 69
       Women as Winners!  My mother believed that too, for me in particular if not all women. I recall how I cringed when she spoke harshly of some lapse of mine.  If I protested, she would say “I only scold you because I want you to be perfect.”

        The demands at HCHS for good grades as well as good behavior certainly contrasted with the scholastic expectations of one eighth-grade teacher at PS 69, who wrote in my autograph book “Be good, sweet girl, and let who will be clever.”

        Even the machineries of attending Hunter were challenging.  No longer did I walk along seven quiet suburban blocks to my school; instead I walked nearly that far to the elevated railway stop, waited for a train and joined the strap-hanging crowd during the morning rush hours.  The train went underground after Long Island City, tunneling below the East River.  After a transfer to the Lexington Avenue Line, I walked from my stop at 36th street to the Annex at 145 East 32nd street.  There I rode an elevator up to our classrooms on the 7th through the 10th floors.  In the afternoons during the reverse trip, I often found a seat and began my homework in transit.

       As the 1939-1940 school year went on, I began to linger for activities after school. It didn’t matter if I got back to Jackson Heights quite late. As a latch-key child with a working mother, I had for years been returning to our apartment before she could navigate the evening subway crunch as she came home from Manhattan. She typed paychecks for Knickerbocker Ice, Coal, and Laundry Company, as assistant to the paymaster.   My parents had been divorced when I was twelve, after some years of quiet estrangement, and finally a trial separation that became permanent.  Divorces were then rare, and theirs left me hurt, puzzled, and embarrassed.

      My classes were more compelling than ever before. The Hunter Handbook given to newly-arriving students detailed the four-year curriculum twice over, once in text and again by charting classes for each of the eight terms.

HCHS Yearbook

       Courses in Art were offered only during the first two years. At the top-right of page 15 I drew a cartoon of myself in tears because those classes would end. My markings show that for the last two years I intended to choose Biology as my elective.

       The first year at Hunter required the study of English, Latin, Elementary Algebra, and Elementary Biology for both semesters, along with six other classes. Five were Art, Music, Health Education, Speech, and Chorus.  The sixth was Hygiene for the first semester, and Civics for the second. In the familiar subjects like English, readings were longer and more complex; also we had  to compose 500-word themes each weekend, handing in a new one almost every Monday. Sunday nights I always stayed up very late, rewriting.   Bells rang for eight periods each day, forty-five minutes each, with forty minutes for lunch between the 4th and 5th periods, so that school lasted from 8:40 A.M. to 4:15 P.M. 

HCHS Yearbook

       In Biology I found both the teacher and the subject matter enthralling. Hovering after class I tried to make myself useful, and I joined the Biology club so as to spend more time around Mrs. Lilienthal.   

       Sometime that year my mother began to consult with her, wanting her as an ally in monitoring bad habits of mine, trying to get me to mend my ways. After that, I had both a parent and a teacher criticizing such things as my unhealthy eating, the irregular hours I kept doing my homework, and my habit of reading novels not related to my assignments.  My various health problems concerned my mother.  Our family doctor said I should eat liver regularly, along with iron-rich foods for my anemia. I resisted, especially the liver.  Also insomnia had long troubled me. When I tried to fall asleep but couldn’t, I argued that surely turning to any bookish occupation was healthier than tossing for hours in silence and darkness. With no distraction, what could I do but count my worries as I marked time when I tried to drift off into sleep?

       Like some other girls who were devoted to Mrs.  Lilienthal, I felt very honored when she took time to read some theme I had written, or in later semesters, to look over an article I planned to submit to Argus or Behind the Mike (the literary magazine and the biology magazine).  Once in a while she sat with us as we ate our sandwiches in the lunchroom, which was a happy privilege, and rare. 

       By June, at the end of the 1939-40 school year, Mrs. Lilienthal knew me well enough to let me stay in touch with her by letters and postcards across the summer.  Whatever did I write about?  Inevitably I told her about the books I was reading; along with fiction, some of them were by or about scientists.   Perhaps Orson Welles had a play in progress or some of the Mercury Theater radio shows were aired again.  She and I were both fans of that young genius, and she occasionally borrowed his signing-off phrase to close a letter—“Obediently yours.” My letters probably reported going places with Hunter friends whom she knew, particularly if our get-togethers were at museums or movies.  She never minded comparing her opinions with students’ reactions. Surely I slipped in some references to my adolescent moods.  Late in the summer (8/23/1940) she replies shortly  yet kindly. Her  postcard shows Virginia’s Natural Bridge:

Dear Child Carolyn, thank you for your interesting letters—Greetings to you and your mother.  

RuthS Lilienthal.

       On an August postcard,  Mrs. Lilienthal confirms a plan to let me and a friend assist with processing new students as they arrive at HCHS for the Fall Semester:

Dear Carolyn my aide---I suppose you’ve heard how the schedule has been changed. So---if you’re still available---do come to help on Monday, Sept 9 at 11:00 A.M. in Room 103.   Sincerely, RuthS Lilienthal.

And since I can’t seem to find Lenore’s address--- Will you tell her of the change? (8/29/40)

       In September our class of 1943, now high school sophomores, moved to the 68th street building.  A passageway there linked us to Hunter College. Occasionally we high-schoolers went to an auditorium in the college for lectures and every year for the poetry reading contest.

       During our second year, some of my friends and I grew close enough  that we often found ways to spend out-of-school hours together. That took planning because we lived in different boroughs—Blanche Marten and Jolie Douglass in Manhattan, Marilyn Greenberg in Brooklyn, Mary Moers in Queens.  We could meet on weekend days for outings or for visiting one another at home.

       Frequently we talked on the phone, mixing school topics with teenage chatter.  When we were in the same classes we might puzzle over our math assignments, or practice our French vocabulary.  More casually our subjects were hit songs (the top forty), favorite films and movie stars, and current styles in clothes and shoes (penny loafers).  We told anecdotes about our parents “Listen to this, can you believe …” when they weren’t nearby to overhear our critiques.

       Both by phone and in the halls at school, we got to know each other’s plans for college and beyond.  Having set aside my artistic ambitions, I veered toward the notion that I would become a psychiatrist, even though the required medical education would be hard to afford and take many years.

       My happiest extra-curricular activities were with  the Biology Club, especially serving on the staff of their publication Behind the Mike.  The December 1940 issue was dedicated to “Mrs. Ruth S. Lilienthal who helped to guide the way of an amateur scientist many a time.”  Most of its 27 short articles dealt with scientists, from ancient Greece through the Medieval and Oriental experimenters to contemporary ones. My feature, titled "Medicine for The Multitudes," sums up the career of Michael Shadid, an immigrant from Syria, who struggles to come to America for his medical education.  He stays to found a community hospital focused on preventing disease as well as treating it.

       Among other enthusiasts for biology, I met girls who had known Mrs. Lilienthal for some time.  When they told me that December 5th was her birthday; I selected earrings as a gift. Her note of thanks quickly turns from appreciation to objection as she says she would rather I sought immaterial gifts, not what money can buy.

Dear Very Good Girl---

            Altho I love them very much and all that and that, you Must Not spend any more $ and [Cents] on material gifts. I am more than happy about those intellectual gifts that you may feel you are buying these days.

My bestest
to You—

       With this message of at least partial praise and a bit of mail from her holiday travels, my Christmas was merry.

       During the holiday season, when the Lilienthals went to Florida, she sent me a postcard from Tampa. The picture on it is an aggressive-looking alligator.

Mama Doll and Carolyn
Mama Doll and Carolyn

       Her message plays on the cliché “Wish you were here,” and advises me to keep regular hours.  Dear Sniffles ---Wish you were here with me in the sunshine --- also wish there were sunshine. (Sleep when a good girl sleeps)  Fond Greetings to You and Mama-doll. RuthS Lilienthal (Tampa, FL. 12/24/40).       Calling my mother Mama Doll was not an invention of hers, not playful like calling me “Sniffles” in her salutation.  My mother’s name was actually Dolly. When I was just learning to speak she taught me to call her Mama Doll. The usage never changed as I grew older.

       Early in 1941 I brought my mentor a note about my progress toward keeping resolutions for self-improvement. Mrs. Lilienthal answers with some encouragement, but only after expressing annoyance at whatever I said as I gave her my self-assessment.

Monday

Will-ful Carolyn 

       Altho your aspect this morning showed the incontrovertible, biological, gratifying results of improved living,---you irritability also denounced your need for bigger and better and longer and deeper practice of such habits.

       Since you were very cautious lest you might commit yourself on what those “accompanying revertings to other former customs” (as you so archaically put it) might be---

       I cannot answer in any Q.E.D. style at all. But if you were to be specific, as I always urge you to ---. My pulse beat with pleasure whilst I read of your “large portion of homework” completed (I hope that you and I would agree on what size a “large portion” might be.)  But I do not approve of the extra-curricular chapter, and I frown on your knitting, and I look in vain for some statement on that 10:00 P.M.Lifeline.

       May I in my own humble way, offer you some pleasant bribe for your unbreakable  promise that you will go to bed at 10:00 P.M. eat proscribed amounts for the next 30 days ?

Yours IF
RuthS. Lilienthal

       Beyond offering some conditional rewards if I continue a healthy regimen, she adds a curious postscript that softens her tone and, in a roundabout way, suggests that we compete in limiting our appetites.  Shall we have lunch together on Thursdays and vie with each other as to capacity?           

       As she read some other outpourings of mine that term, Mrs. Lilienthal's comments typically just noted flaws, like run on construction.  Yet at the end of these pages (ramblings that I myself described as “Adolescent in Eruption,”) she commented on my style.  You show signs of the influence of, or a development into, The Stream of Consciousness school of writing. When I asked what that was, she named two authors, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, adding that I could not yet grasp Joyce.  Among  Woolf’s novels, she recommended The Waves.  During the summer, I did devotedly read it, though it was often slow going. (I could put it down.)  Yet I liked a number of passages in the thoughts of the six characters, three women and three men, whose interior monologues run through the novel.  Indeed I could relate to them as kindred spirits. The young Susan was the one I most identified with.  She was temperamental, independent, and responsive to Nature.  I could later say to Mrs. Lilienthal, “Like Susan, I notice . . .” then describe impressionistic observations of my own.

       During that 4th semester, I tried another kind of extracurricular writing---- poetry; a grim piece that I wrote in French was later published in Marianne.  Titled “La Mort Triomphe,” it describes doomed sufferings of people, plants, and the earth itself during the heat of a summer- long drought.  I probably got the idea from John Steinbeck’s description of the dust bowl in The Grapes of Wrath (1939).  My mother let me read her copy; the book scandalized some of her friends because of situations in it that they thought no 15-year-old-girl should hear about, especially the suckling scene near the end.       

       In May 1941 I celebrated my 16th birthday.  My Hunter girlfriends cheered me on toward the career in psychiatry that I then aspired to; they pitched in together to buy me the weighty Modern Library edition of Selected Writings of Sigmund Freud (Brill’s translation). That tome took me a great leap forward from the popular psychology of the 1930’s, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of my mother’s favorite how-to-do-it books.

       After two years at HCHS, I could appreciate the ways that many of our teachers coached us toward awareness of the arts, current events and politics.  They alerted us to events like public lectures and musical performances, exhibits at museums and halls of the permanent collections related to our studies.  From 68th and Lexington we could reach the Frick Museum readily, and Central Park was just across Fifth Avenue—good for rambling when the weather lured us outdoors.  We could venture to the museums of Manhattan and Brooklyn on weekends.  My favorite destination was the American Museum of Natural History.  Some Saturdays I spent with my father, and he would take me to places with fees, like the Planetarium.

       Politics began to be significant.  Before Hunter, I heard of elections and disasters on the radio, paying little attention.  And I saw newsreels at the movies, shuddering at war scenes and the explosion of the dirigible Hindenburg.    During the New York World’s Fair (1939-40) General Motors constructed a huge three-dimensional panorama of the USA, displaying superhighways as predicted for half-a-century ahead.  As we viewers left, we were given buttons with the slogan: I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE. One of our teachers explained her amusement as she wondered if G.M. got the idea from Lincoln Steffens’ famous comment in 1921 after he toured the new Soviet Union “I have seen the future and it works.”

       I began to grasp the contrast of liberal viewpoints and conservative ones.  On Mrs. Lilienthal‘s recommendation, I went to see "Medicine Show," a play that contrasted the sufferings of people unable to afford decent health care with the benefits that socialized medicine could bring.  My conservative father let me know that he disagreed with anything socialistic. In connection with the play, however, he avoided much argument because he approved of Mrs. Lilienthal’s influence on me. While I gave greater attention to serious matters and liked to join adult conversations about them, I still floundered emotionally.  How readily I cried!  Tears welled up so often that I could sometime tell myself “this doesn’t really count,” for instance when I cried over scenes in books or films.  My mother was exasperated by such reactions to fictional grief.  She would say “It’s only a movie, can’t you hush?” The weeping annoyed me too because a friend might discount the tears when real sorrow beset me.  Mostly, however, I cried when alone or with one trusted person. 

       So while Mrs. Lilienthal knew me as weepy, other teachers noticed that I was given to day-dreaming.  When I gazed off abstractedly in a French class, Miss Zack spoke sharply: Mademoiselle Hodgson, vous revez.  One English teacher requested “Please come back from Hollywood.”  That insulted me because if I were drifting into fantasies of stars, the dream world would have been on Broadway, not at M.G.M. I drew in my notebooks constantly, doodling when I should have been taking notes.  Or, more productively, I wrote letters to my cousin Sara in Alabama on the back pages while making a few class notes on the top pages—multitasking before we had a term for it. Sara and I had long corresponded; we traded book advice and shared our uncertainties about what to make of our troublesome families and how we could fit into the world after college In June and July I was still in Queens working as an office assistant, doing routine tasks of record keeping and dealing with telephone calls. Later that summer I would visit Sara’s home and many another “old homeplace” in Alabama and Mississippi.                                


Summer and Fall—1941

       Across the summer of 1941, Mrs. Lilienthal often took time to reply to my letters topic by topic and to tell me more about events in her life.

       Her letter of July 5, 1941 begins with a critique of a “dream paper” I had written probably near the semester’s end, and sent to her in June.  She doesn’t hesitate to explain why she finds it flawed.

Perhaps years of observing [two male symbols] and [two female symbols] leave me too well-informed , and perhaps years of observing pleasing geometric patterns leave me too objective-minded --- You antediluvian mid-Victorian, well at least prudish female! 

From these remarks, not from any memory of the essay, I deduce that it revealed views of mine that she found too prim and too romantic.  Whether the assignment called for a persuasive paper or a fantasy about men and women, I don’t know.  But I do recall an instance highlighting evidence that my views on sexual mores were old-fashioned. In Mademoiselle (a magazine published from 1935 to 2001) I took a quiz designed to measure a respondent’s attitude toward sexual behaviors.  My replies added up to a score that put me at the extreme for conservatism, and merited this comment:  “You belong under glass in a bell jar in a museum, labeled ‘Victorian Lady.’”

       RSL replies hastily to my recent reports on movies, books, and grooming.

Of Citizen Kane – I know I shall agree with you; of A.A. Milne --- no comment is made, Emphatically.  I told you his forte was Winnie-the-Pooh! of cutting your hair --- let me know; and of Swann’s Way --- shall be puzzlingly disappointed if you don’t like it very much.

In her own news she mentions good times but also uneasiness.

Since my release from ye 68th St. Institution I’ve been intermittently gay in finding more time with my spouse, and agitated about the outcome of this new war phase.  We dashed into the Ramapo Mts. a few days ago, but the broadcasts came thru the trees.

El medico says I must be hospitalized for surgery next week so comes not the summer without its blight.

Oh no!
Obediently yours!
Ruth Slilienthal [sic]

       Although I rarely dared to phone her at home, I did bravely ask to visit her in the hospital, and she gave me directions to her room in St. Catherine’s. [At that time she did not tell her students why she needed surgery. Years later I learned that an ovarian tumor had to be removed.]  When I visited her, I took her a library copy of a book I admired by Jan Struther, not foreseeing that it would become a nuisance for her to return, as she explains when she writes about it.

July 23, 1941

My Good Madam,

            I was about to phone you to ask you to renew Mrs. Miniver’s existence for two more weeks (since you can’t come during the day and I’m still too much visited as Exhibit A in the evening)---when I noticed the dynamic words PAY COLLECTION.  It seems that altho l read the book the day after you so kindly brought it, it has been settling an endowment on itself daily, for the benefit of the N.Y. Public Library system—which surely needs it badly.  So I called Marilyn---the very same Marilyn “who always does anything anyone asks her”---and she will omit none of the details. [My classmate Marilyn Greenburg lived near the Lilienthals' apartment in Brooklyn.]       

On top of such trouble to return it, she found the novel shallow and distasteful.

La Miniver could be better titled, n’est-ce pas? Good light magazine stuff.  A little on the ‘precious’ side for my digestion.  The ‘amazing illuminations’ are of no great depth, The gems are very tiny and far apart.  I’ll take Virginia Woolf or Proust or Mann for reflections on Time and Atmosphere.

       Next she writes about her impatience while convalescing.  Yet she lists quite pleasantly what she has been doing during her stay with her parents.

Although El Surgeon discharged me in the most minimum time possible, he admits that it will take at least 6 weeks before any feeling of fitness returns.  So Mater and Pater insist that I stay with them and lead the protected life; so I read like a rapacious raven, eat like an idling eagle, and shuffle around like a penguin.  But muscular powers return very slowly and will determine whether at the end of August I can enjoy life with the Mexicans, or must take Health with the Cows and Chickens.

Her further comments respond to passages from my recent letters.

Your monologue on ‘How to Sleep while the Cannons Play’ leaves me very sad.  We shall have to sit down quietly, very quietly some day and just talk—quietly ?!?!

And now to the editing of previous journals:  Broadcasting thru trees = radio news program that come to ones ear’s even in the country where there are radios for ‘wether.’  I have already referred you to Milne’s  “Winnie the Pooh” and “House at Pooh Corner.”  Ramapo ‘arts” is not so but Ramapo mountains. (Editorial confession: I have an uncle who was once an officer in a Federal Prison.  He said he had to get the aid of 2 forgers to read my writing.)           

Marilyn hand-carried this letter to me.  On the envelope RSL lists my coming itinerary, the places I’ll soon be staying during my weeks away from New York and its heat.

Miss Carolyn E. Hodgson
Of Jackson Heights
Alabama
Mississippi
Washington
And all points if South

       And indeed when Mrs. Lilienthal next addresses a letter to me at my uncle’s and aunt’s home in Alabama, it has to be forwarded to a cousin’s place in Mississippi.  These travels in the summer of 1941 continue a long practice for me. My mother could take only a short vacation while I was out of school, so in the summers she sent me to move about among our Southern kinfolk.

       Surprisingly, Mrs. Lilienthal begins her next letter by admitting what she always deplores if I confess it—insomnia.

Somewhere between August
        11th and 12th.
 I can’t sleep, so I’ll write
         me a soporific.

She writes on pale orange paper calling it her Summer-Sun Stationary, remarking that she hopes it doesn’t dazzle the old south. Naming me Caroline-in-Crinoline, she complains that my travels have made no difference in my unreasonable demands for attention, my rhythmically-fortnightly series of recriminations.  In this instance, I had protested not about too few letters in reply to mine, but about having missed a last chance to see her before leaving New York.

Odearmee:  Did you say you were going next week?  Yes.  Was I to know that you would not leave till later?  No!  Should I have been able to exchange any minutes of conversations with you in the evenings?  Certainly not.  And should you have been able to legitimately absent yourself during the day?  No. [I was at work from 9 to 5:30] Then why couldn’t I have arranged some sort of clandestine rendez-vous under a clothes-line in the subway?  I dunno—should I have?  Is this the way to treat a convalescent!  You answer.  Might the efforts at denials induce a relapse? Uh-huh. 

       Finally, she tells of looking forward to a holiday abroad.  And, as usual, she points out my careless composition and spelling.

            I’ve had to remain rooted to home ground for a final report-card from the surgeon. Now that I received my A, I want, as always, the Caribbean Sea, tropical climate & blazing colors. So --- IF the passports arrive ere sailing time (what yardage of Red. White and Blue Tape), we shall leave next week for TRINIDAD!  --- or don’t you Hunter girls need a map?   And if there are no international “incidents” and drowning accidents, I’ll be puffing up from the pier on Friday morning to get to the staff meeting at the old parsonage.

         Before returning to that masonry of learning, I suggest that you pay more attention to your sentence structure and spelling!  If I am, I am not psysic, but psychic. The kitten scratches.  And judgment lost its “e” a long time back.

And affectionately yours!
R.S.L.       

       How nice of me of a Sunday morning to pluck a page of news in which young Carolyn might be interested.  [She enclosed an article about a flamenco dancer—clipped from PM 8/10/41]

       My transfers to stay with different families during August gave me an excuse for notifying Mrs. Lilienthal of each new address.  She grumbles about my nagging yet she still responds to it [on a card postmarked Brooklyn 8/16/41].

    Dear Miss,  

           Is it a communication to every address that you demand with such lady-like insistence?  We remember making no such contract but are sure that you will show how we must have.

Dutifully,
RSL. ---- 

       A few days later she fills in the blanks on a pre-printed postcard, one supplied by the theatre company and sent from New York, N.Y. August 20, 1941.

DEAR Carolyn,

             I have just seen John Golden’s production of Rose Franken’s “Claudia” at the Booth Theatre and I think it is another play for you to see-- since Beautiful People is no longer on the roster.    RSL

[Let your friends know what you think of “Claudia” and we will stamp and mail card]

       "The Beautiful People" was a play by William Saroyan.  I would later borrow that title for my anthropological essay about Polynesians published in Behind the Mike, May 1942.

       Soon (August 26, 1941) she sends a postcard from the Virgin Islands: 

Greetings, my dear, from the trade winds. 
Ruth S. L.  

       As the Fall semester progressed, Mrs. Lilienthal found a way to divert me from handing her letter-length notes on my reading and my states of mind.   We agreed that I should get a small notebook and condense my ideas and outpourings to the left half of the pages.  When she found time read my thoughts, she would make occasional comments on the blank half of the page before returning the memo pad.  This process worked well for us both; she could avoid hurting my feelings by refusing to respond and I could say what was on my mind. When she found time she could dash off her remarks, perhaps just to show she has really read what I wrote.

       A few passages can demonstrate both my lush rhetoric and her witty efforts to bring me to my senses. As I now reread these outpourings of emotions I squirm, of course. True, I was sixteen, but is that excuse enough? Shelley at his worst comes to mind:   “I fall upon the thorns of life!  I bleed!”                

       Here’s one of my self-descriptions from our circulating notebooks:

.  .  .  who is obsessed by an irrepressible honesty at inconvenient times   (I’m so often sorry when I tell you the truth)

RSL responds:  What one says honestly is not necessarily the TRUTH

Who tries without trust in her own ability (to succeed, of course---You probably don’t believe I try).

You don’t follow advice on methods of succeeding in you TRIALS

Who laughs without joy (just giddy, or too hurt to show it).

It’s up to you to stop nervous laughter 

Who cries lone tears (in darkness and solitude—in sleeplessness—in cold empty class rooms).

Haven’t we all?  

Has become impudent (has truly only made such slight protest to unkindness and disjustice [sic]).

There are enough words in the dictionary---don’t coin another.
I think lambkin that you want things your own way too much and too often

       Meanwhile, during 1941 I found more objective subjects to write about than my roller-coaster moods.  I began to contribute to school publications. 

       I wrote for the spring issue of Behind The Mike, although I cannot tell quite how much I wrote because the authors of its 17 articles are not named.  General credit is given to the Literary Staff of 11 students along with other named contributors.  Jolie Douglass,  Mary Moers, and I were staff members.

       The articles are wide-ranging, some on illnesses or germs, others on human anatomy, anthropology. and amphibians. Three deal with aspects of pharmacy; it may be no accident that we students knew that Mr. Lilienthal was a pharmacist.  Three are psychological, discussing superstitions, sexuality, and psychoanalysis.  On the last subject I suppose I contributed some of the paragraphs about the experiments and theories of leading practioners: Mesmer, Janet, Freud, Jung, Adler, and Pavlov.  At any rate I was fascinated with topics featured in the articles, such as hypnotism, hysteria, personality and its disorders, the unconscious, dreams and psychophysical factors in emotion.

       Behind The Mike’s fall issue of 1941 names the authors of its 25 articles, and adds many recommendations of books worth reading, available in the HCHS library.  The two editors (one is Mary Moers) explain that the featured theme is The Good Neighbor Policy among nations of the Western Hemisphere, and that articles deal with “The Americas, North, Central, and South.”

       My three contributions treat the history of tobacco, trees native to the North and South regions, and the need for conservation.  I dramatize that urgent need by projecting a grim picture of the USA as it might be in 2141: people are starving because we, their ancestors in 1941, failed to conserve croplands, replenish forests, and protect wild species and their habitats.  Finally I argue that beyond the current talk of defense in case of war, we must remember another dangerous enemy to our country—destruction of natural resources.

       My effort to relate conservation to national defense alludes mildly to prospects of war.  At least four other articles touch on wartime readiness, some quite strongly. One just plays with the title "Sticklers for Defense" to discuss facts about thorns.  Another, on vitamins, notes that the Red Cross urges families to set up their own garden plots. "Keep ‘Em Flying" surveys menus for the military: what foods are served, and what they cost. 

       Finally "A Draft for Nurses" details the requirements and the duties of young women who become Army or Navy nurses, as well as their prospects for advancement.  Then in glowing terms the writer speaks of such advantages as limited working hours, fine accommodations, and the chance to meet eligible men. This is not a brochure, but a high school girl’s essay.  Still the last words are Uncle Sam Needs Nurses.  

       On a Sunday near the end of the term, my friend Blanche was visiting me in  Jackson Heights and shared an unforgettable memory. We went out to the drugstore for ice cream sodas, and were sipping them as we sat at a small metal table, paying little attention to the music playing on the radio behind the counter. We heard the announcer interrupt the program, speaking very solemnly.  He described the bombing of Pearl Harbor on that day, December 7th,  1941.

       From then on I heard every airplane (or so it seemed) that arrived or departed from La Guardia airport nearby.  Until the war began, those sounds were never noticeable.  Afterwards they became dramatic. 

       For some weeks before the December holidays I was sewing on a gift for Mrs. Lilienthal, a set of cocktail napkins.  On one corner of each, I embroidered a small copy of her initials in her script.  These three letters and the reverse sides of the napkins were maroon. The front sides were gray.  I thought these colors were sophisticated.  And I had learned that no purchased gifts were acceptable. The note of thanks that she sent on December 27 delighted me.

Carolyn! I can’t believe that you made those;   and I must believe that you did the initials!  They’re really very handsome, and they give me much pleasure. 

       She speaks of wanting to thank my friend Marilyn as well, for having delivered the package to the Lilienthals’ apartment, then adds that gray and maroon is a favorite color combination of Mr. Lilienthal.

       Despite seeming sincerely pleased by my homemade gift, RSL didn’t forget that I needed guidance more than gratitude.  Here’s her year-end entry in our little circulating notebook: 

Suggested resolutions for CH for year 1942 

1--I will not make mountains out of molehills. 
2--I will take the serious things less lightly and the light things less seriously. 
3--I will not nag and tease and worry a thought as a dog does a rag. 
4--I will not expect people or situations to be unvarying, for such is the Kingdom of  Molecules. 


Spring 1942 

       Spring 1942 was a productive semester for extracurricular work as well as class work.  Perhaps I followed those resolutions that Mrs. Lilienthal suggested. For the literary magazine, Argus, I submitted my first try at humor.  Its title "Autobiography with Letters" echoed the serious life narrative by William Lyon Phelps, in which he included correspondence.  My “letters” were those in the alphabet.  I tried to comment humorously on what I made each stand for. My subtitle, "An Illuminated Life," played with two notions.  Illustrations decorated each letter, little images created by an art student to highlight my topics.  Also, my definitions cast light on life at Hunter, for us all but especially for me. The level of my wit is low as I joke about classes and customs:

E stands for education, which has been thrust upon me for as long as I can remember, and before.

G stands for graduation, which came after eight pleasant, playful years, and which I hope will come again to end four years of CENSORED. 

H stands for Hunter College High School.  Words fail me.

T stands for tests.

We suspect they are the source of sardonic pleasure to those who administer them.

We are told they are necessary evils.  We think they are CENSORED.

       We students hung out at Staubs drugstore enjoying sodas and other treats. The S winds around an ice cream cone.

S stands for Staubs, necessary to the existence of any true Hunterite. 

       Some letters alluded to our grades and courses.  For D I spoke of the grade “D.” The artist shows a clown in a dunce cap.

K stands for kilo, as in kilogram, kilometer, kilowatt, and Physics.

       Latin gets two mentions:

L stands for –Oh for many things, some of which are lovely some of which are Latin. However to use the popular version L stands for Love. This time words don’t fail me but they might incriminate me. 

Q stands for quartrae orationes, which are how many Cicero made against Cataline. This is the first occasion I have ever had to be glad of any of them. 

       Personal notes naturally appear.

C stands for Carolyn, which is what I am called, among other things.

O stands for Orson Welles.

       R stands not for RSL but R-U-T-H, an acronym for the regal sounding name I gave to a small doll: Rosamunda Ulyssia Thalia Hypatica.  All four names evoke associations:  R for a fairy tale princess, U as a female name for a far roaming traveler, Thalia for joy, Hypatica for a medieval woman scientist.   And my alphabet ends modestly.

Y stands for yawn.  You too?

Z stands for Zollverein...  On a midterm once I said it was a----but let’s forget that.

          Dear Reader, profit by my experience.  Learn your definitions. I am the pitiable example of what hard work and serious study will do for you if you don’t .

       Only my friends would decipher the meanings for me of the entries at R and O.  But all readers, my schoolmates in the first through eighth semesters as well as faculty, could recognize the allusions to student concerns.   Mrs. Lilienthal spoke well of my piece. But since she typically tried to encourage my writing, I couldn’t tell whether she found it as funny as I hoped.

       My shortest entry, “V is for Victory,” is the only one that refers to the world beyond my life at school.  This issue of Argus, however, focuses a great deal on the war effort.

       Elaine Kravitz [Rothman], in her editorial addressed to “Dear Hunterites,” tells how a walk through Hunter shows our many involvements in “the current emergency.”  She sees some of us sewing afghan squares, and others knitting sweaters for the Red Cross, Bundles for Bluejackets, and British War Relief. She notes that after seeing a movie on China in assembly, students are raising funds for the China Relief Society. Other classes are saving donations to support a war orphan.  Girls have joined the American Women’s Voluntary Service. Some help to collect wastepaper and tin cans, or buy war bonds, and great numbers have contributed to the American Red Cross.

       Elaine Kravitz also describes air raid drills; all students go to their stations in the halls, and then wonder of wonders –silence pervades the usually noisy building.

       The cover features the Statue of Liberty and an American eagle in flight.  Six of the twenty articles present wartime themes, e.g., "My Loyalty ls Strong."  One lists many nationalities who have become Americans and another depicts and discusses women’s fashions and attitudes during times of war—1775, 1812, 1861, 1898, 1914, and 1942, with the last showing a woman in slacks, ready for factory work.

       With a similarly patriotic spirit, the spring 1942 issue of  Behind the Mike centers on some of America’s allies.  Line drawings on the title page depict an American boy playing with a baseball, a British schoolboy holding a furled umbrella, a Chinese child with a pigtail and a parasol, and a Dutch girl in wooden shoes.

       Jolie Douglass and I write the editorial letter jointly,  keeping the A-B-C-D pattern.  We begin with remarks on science in the four nations:

Americans now realize the seriousness of our war effort and the role that science must play in its realizations.
British have been in the war actively since 1939 and have developed techniques based upon scientific data.
Chinese have borne this struggle longest but have fortified their able youth with a new scientific training in the universities.
Dutch have seen their homeland overrun, their orderly scientific progress halted by the dulling power of conquest.

In these times of destruction we must not forget that science can contribute positively again in the future.   

       After remarks about the issue’s focus on biological concerns from our allied countries, we refer to the hope inherent in calling this the Last War. My articles treated The Netherlands, Polynesia and the East Indies, stressing the need to continue scientific efforts.

       One essay I composed that term mattered more to me than these other writings, even though they were published.  I wrote it as a theme for my English class and titled it Aspiration. It characterized someone I admired, but the title suggests my ultimate message, that I hope to develop traits like hers. I made an A, and was asked to read the theme to my classmates.  I showed it to my unnamed subject who was, of course, Mrs. Lilienthal---only after it was graded.  Inserted in the text are the teacher’s corrections.

Essay by Carolyn, "Aspiration" page 1

Essay by Carolyn, "Aspiration" page 2

       During the early months of 1942, when I took part in so many activities, my mother puzzled over ways to cope with the costs of the four years I would spend in college before I could even begin further years in medical school.  She figured out a way to save time in school, and thus save money.  After this sixth term at Hunter I would have nearly enough course credits to enter college.  By picking up a few more credits in summer school, I could start college that fall in Alabama. She chose Alabama State College for Women, which was small (less than a thousand students) and inexpensive.  Its rural campus was in Montevallo, a town my mother knew well.  We had relatives there and nearby.  Before the end of May she had made arrangements for my transfer.

       During my last few weeks at Hunter, while getting ready for finals, I was also telling the news to friends and then saying goodbye.  My memories of that time are a jumble of study for finals, rushed preparations to go south and promises to stay in touch with friends at HCHS. 

       Some of my classmates and older friends from Behind the Mike took me out for a sendoff party at WIVEL’s Smorgasbord on West 54th Street.  I saved the menu from our outing on Saturday, May 30th.  Our meals, Swedish hors d'oeuvres and dessert, cost $1.60 each.

       Although Mrs. Lilienthal questioned the wisdom of my leaving,  she promised to reply when I wrote to her-- her farewells were sympathetic, even warm. The last time I returned to the 930 Lexington Avenue building, she gave me a card that showed a cheery young girl seated on a large suitcase.  The girl wears a jaunty hat and holds a purse and an umbrella, all set to travel. Inside there is a printed message:

Have a grand time,
     Take care of yourself,

       And be happy.

At the top Mrs. Lilienthal adds her own handwritten lines: June 19, 1942  NY >> Ala, and Good wishes R.S.L. Chairman of Big Sisters.   The elder sisters she refers to were probably my English teacher, Mrs. Edelman, and my French teacher, Miss Zack. They too had been sympathetic mentors to my studies, aware of my future hopes but not of my erratic moods.

       Later I would learn that Mrs. Lilienthal also sent me a farewell telegram to be delivered on the train. She knew that  I needed reassurance. At least my regrets at leaving Hunter were outweighed by the exciting prospects ahead.


Index  --   Next: Montevallo