Alabama College for Women at Montevallo

       My years in college, fall 1942 through spring 1945, were also the years of our most frequent correspondence, including over 30 mailings from Mrs. Lilienthal, mostly letters, typically 3 or 4 pages long, and some postcards.  My letters to her, which have not survived, were even more numerous.  I made most scholastic decisions after asking her advice; she freely scolds me when I make choices that she questions or disapproves.


Carolyn, Entering Montevallo, 1942
Entering Montevallo--1942

1942--Summer Session in High School

       The small town of Montevallo surrounds the Alabama College for Women.  The campus is set, as our school song says, “in the heart of Alabama.”  I had been visiting cousins thereabouts all my life, staying at my Aunt Kate’s house.  Her daughter, my cousin Sara, and I were letter writers.  As teenagers we corresponded for three or four years, exchanging opinions on family members, comparing our high school assignments, and discussing books we were reading on our own.  Two other cousins of ours were also attending the college. We rarely saw those cousins from Georgia, but having such a cluster of kinfolk on campus probably helped me to be accepted:  I was only half a Yankee.

       In my advanced high school classes were local students going to summer school, some for reasons like mine, to get ahead, and some to catch up. During that summer I roomed in Main Hall of the college dormitories, ate in the college dining hall, and could visit Sara’s house and other familiar places in town anytime.

       Mrs. Lilienthal’s reply (6/28/42) to my June letters shows that I sent full reports. First, the food—the college ran its own dairy and kitchens, with a Southern style menu.   

            What ho, hold! Enough. No more menus! I’m satisfied by your fruits and vegetables,  jealous of your quantities of ice cream, but counsel that you should reject the iced teas in favor of 2-4 glasses of milk each day and that you should eat no more than one slice of bread even brown, at each meal. The gravies, I suppose, are indigenous and ineradicable.

       She sympathizes with some aspects of my regimen, but deplores my non-degree status, suspects me of laziness, and, of course, points out my flawed spelling.  

 A 530 bell frightens my capillaries.  I hear a low moan of rebellion from my tissues.  But for you, my brown-capped night heron, it should certainly be a fine thing.  (What percentage of the breakfast shall you have had?)

           The portions of religious decorum make me very sad.  Must you take integrated Study?  And tell me about this high school diploma  that you say you won’t get.  Why can’t they give it to you?  Would you like me to ‘phone Miss Bush?

           Your program seems slim and full of leisure time, unless you’re given righteous gobs of homework. Did you ask for the math as Miss Bush advises?  And can't you do part-time work as Betty does? [Betty was a cousin.] Although I grant that it is cheesier, stop spellling cheese cheeze!! 

She knows how eager I am to hear any news she would share

          Now I tell about myself as requested: I had my suit jacket diminished cylindrically and my Tahitian dress diminished longitudinally, just as you advised, Mlle. Modiste.

--returned to the zoo to see the baby sea lion who now toddles and waddles and croaks on and off all the keys when his mother calls to him.

--had lunch at La Guardia Airport and what a wonder are the Laws of Man and Machine when a plane can take off and come back from Newark between Soup and dessert.

--just read Ilka Chase’s Past Imperfect. Don’t go Thou and do likewise.  It’s cleverly titled n’est-ce pas! and amusing light-headed reading, and full of vicarious introductions to many, mighty names.   But the wit is gossipy and a little monotonous. 

       At the end of this unusually long letter, she speaks of her health and vacation plans.  She’s glad that her sinuses have been behaving like the normal cavities they should always be, but regrets that her pelvic appendages ache!  I see a middle-age of huge varicose veins!  She comments parenthetically, I can see you squirm, referring to my supposed squeamishness. 

       In the seven months since Pearl Harbor, she notes how wartime restrictions are increasing: Mr. Lilienthal and I expect to vacation for two weeks during July but where to go depends on the gas-ration menace which seems progressively formidable.

       Writing on July 5, Mrs. Lilienthal observes that we seem to be doing very well at our old custom of crossed correspondence; this, I think, is another for the score.

       She advises me to reconsider my discomfort as a New Yorker reacting to the gushy style of Southern girls.

            I believe that your first outburst vs. Southern Hospitality may be due to your feeling of being ‘different’ and on a shifting periphery.  As soon as you feel well within the circle and can extend the arm of salutation to others who may be looking in, you may look northward and think how blunt and boorish we were. O NEVER! NEVER NEVER NEVER!!   

       She disputes some comments of mine about William Saroyan’s writing:

          I don’t agree with you that Saroyan feels that no one can understand anyone else. His understanding of others seemed mighty deep and fairly complete to me.  Of course most people are not sensitive---don’t even see themselves truthfully---but the greater the person, the greater the revelation---and the greater the artist, the greater the illumination and transcription.

       Under the heading Schoolnotes she approves of my leisure activities. I like the swimming, sunning and dancing for you. Then she asks me about aspects of both my English class and my Biology class.

          Will you please explain to me how it happens that your class is allowed to subscribe to PM (whilst I chuckle heartily) when it is regarded by most as a very liberal paper, and as an acorn from The Daily Worker? 

          Of course it’s very satisfying to identify objects, but don’t be impatient with yourself or Mr. Blair.  Observe closely.  Are there any texts in your lab you can refer to? Ward and Whipple’s Freshwater Biology has some very helpful plates of common forms.

       When she sent me a recent photograph (the one I’ve used on the homepage), she called it flattering.  I disagreed and showed it to some of my friends, then reported to her that they saw her as very pretty and also quite young looking.  She suggests that I’m projecting my own wishful thinking.

       This letter closes with vacation plans and a short review of Uncle Harry, a play she calls an ingenious kernel, but stereotyped in both in construction and acting.  She can’t give me an address for her trip to the mountains because it will be the gasoline that will or will not call WHOA.

       A couple of days later, her postcard from Jeffersonville, NY, lets me know that she and Mr. Lilienthal are enjoying their holiday.  

We’re loving the air with the trees and chickens.  There are even three fascinating puppies: Bingo, Mingo and Dingo, whose behavior I delight in by the hour.

R.S.L. (July 7, 1942)

       Back at 991 President Street later in July, she writes a letter in stages, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, labeled a three-act-play. In the first act she praises the summer heat, which delights her, then replies to some of my concerns:

          We have returned from the cool trees and quiet lakes to the heat-muffled building and steaming people---all but me.  I am more alive than dead.  And since I shall depart again in a few days for the Peekskill environs, I am telling myself to be seated please and make communicative symbols on paper to Carolyn who is playing the Dinsmore Girls at Camp and College.

          I think the telegram said something like “This, with my love, and the last auf wiedersehen of all.”  [She quotes her telegram of farewell, meant to reach me on the train to Alabama --- but lost in transit.]

          Regarding the diploma: obviously, you’ll not get one from Hunter.  It seems to me that the only chance of getting it is to break thru Dr. Orr’s Rules & Regulations and become an Exception to Them.  

       Mrs. Lilienthal planned to inquire further at Hunter, about parallel situations in hopes of helping me negotiate that high school diploma. But there was no way.

          Act II follows after an   INTERMISSION 27 HRS.

---during the which interval I saw Saboteur and Butch Minds The Baby, the difference being that during the former I sat at the edge of my seat and almost tore out the hair of the head in front, whilst during the latter I slid backward and progressively sank . . .

       During those 27 hours she also sought and found a homespunny napkinish blouse and a darling bathing suit, saying she was most easily cajoled into buying the suit in spite of being certainly superannuated for wearing it. Yet she is only 33 years old.

       The following INTERMISSION lasts twelve hours and takes her to ACT III; A Tuesday morning in July.  But this act is very short:  If I don’t drop this pronto into the steel box on the corner, there will surely be other interruptions, and statements in Four Acts have not been the fashion for many a day. 

       Mrs. Lilienthal’s letter of August 3 begins by echoing my recent variation on my name, as I signed off a letter, “Carylorn.” She calls it a cute idea, but does not discuss whatever made me forlorn—homesickness for NYC, I guess, or some existential brooding.

       She opens this letter with a report on her recent vacation in Peekskill.  A sudden storm while she and Mr. Lilienthal were canoeing made it adventurous:  It began to pelt us and lash us about but afterwards they enjoyed the comforts of sherry and hot tea and blankets.

       While away, she reports, she knitted squares for an afghan being assembled by faculty members for some wartime project, and relaxed by doing cross-word puzzles not lacking in educational values because she learned a variety of useless things like a small lake in the northern part of Finland and a 265-mile river in Armenia, as well as many obsolete forms of many obscure words.

       Her comments in the rest of the letter respond to my course work in the first half of summer school.  I had sent her my grades and evaluations. The plays we were assigned in English she found too recent and too exclusively American: no Shaw, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov?

       She questions one observation made by the teacher of Advanced Biology, then adds her own reprimand to a criticism on my lateness to classes, made worse by my excuses.

---“lacked a training in laboratory work”.  Does Mr. Blair suppose that this is usually to be acquired in Elementary bio.? Hm!

          The student teacher’s report is well-written.  Mr. Blair’s is full of restraint I hope.  I like the two A’s which I take for granted.  An alarm clock is culpable but once; pertinent precautions should have then been taken by you.  Was your oversleeping at all due to your overstaying up the night before?  And justified defiance should be right and true and beautiful, not ugly and nasty and disagreeable!

          I presume that you should keep your evaluations on file; so I return them.

       She’s pleased to hear that I am studying Spanish in the second session of Summer School , and she encourages me to practice the language by writing it to her.

          I’ve been rattling through Spanish grammar and wish you could write me a letter using only the present tense and only the indicative mood.  Like a shot, I agreed to ignore the subjunctive completely.  The interrogative form appeals to me greatly because one can have a fine time making upside-down question marks at the beginnings of sentences. ? No es verdad?

       My mentor’s last line tells me to be good and get two more A’s and be punctual. Then she signs off Fondly, RSL

       Writing on hotel stationary from Springfield, Massachusetts, Mrs. Lilienthal sends a few lines written at 1 AM., dated August 21.  

       After speaking of my progress in my language class: Your Spanish, of course floored me. She explains her recent silent seclusion because of attending her Nurse’s Aid classes daily.  And she describes an incident at the Blood Bank when she made her donation: One husky male fainted while waiting for his turn.

       She is weekending in Springfield so as to help with her very young nephew and has returned to the hotel lest he decide to entertain his aunt thru the night [The infant, although not named, is Jeffrey. She is needed as a caregiver because his mother is seriously ill.]

       She ends this note, postmarked 8/21/42 with a wartime wish: Yours for a second front but NOW, RSL.

       At home in Brooklyn on August 28, 1942, and finding the weather disgracefully cool, Mrs. Lilienthal addresses me as Artful Woman but dear Carolyn. My art was a small clay ornament I made for her in the ceramics workshop on campus.

          A really good medallion was found in my mailbox this week---merci beaucoup—and I should fain know more of its history.  Was it fashioned and made by a professional, or by a talented tyro?  What were its functional values as planned by the maker?  Shall I be going too far a field if I have a pin soldered on to the back of it and then wear it as a brooch or buckle?  Hm?

She reports a recent loss quite dramatically.

          Labeled a tragedy: a husky young [male symbol] came tearing around a street corner and almost—or did he—knocked me over.  When I decided I was going to breathe again and live again, my wrist no longer bore its watch—‘member my lovely black & silver enameled Elgin?  There was a sewer a few feet away---so Q.E.D.  It had been a cherished gift from my favorite aunt and I felt quite wretched—I thank people for their sympathy.

       Again she inquires about that missing senior year of high school, a concern that now troubles me less, since I’ve been accepted as an incoming freshman at Alabama College. You haven’t told me yet what the chances are of your doing sufficient post-graduate high school work to win that HS. diploma. 

       She clearly understands that after this year, I plan to transfer to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and even asks whether that campus is racially integrated. Whispered query: do any Negroes attend Ala U.?

       Her own academic world is on her mind.

            Bulletin: Miss Jones was married this summer. !!

           The minutes are like wild horses plunging toward 930 Lexington Ave. --- whereas and to wit I’m just beginning to feel that I am on les vacances.

Just after signing her initials to this August 28th letter, she adds a playful afterthought, or, as I often amuse myself

Robert Stooie Levenson.

       There were no plays to attend that summer, but I made a habit of reading them in the college Browsing Room.  After a quick lunch, or skipping lunch, I would settle in a cozy chair and select a volume from the series Best Plays of . . . any year since 1920.  After I sampled texts by playwrights I had heard of, I read  Burns Mantle’s Introduction to each volume to guide my further reading.

       My teacher of English Literature, who noticed my interest in twentieth century writing not required for her class, reported in her written evaluation to my mother:

Carolyn read two novels and a great number of contemporary plays.  She is a most excellent student, with a fund of information that she is always ready to impart. She has excellent study habits, and it was a real pleasure to have taught her . . . (July 22, 1942).

       I earned A’s for both semesters of both high school classes in Advanced Biology and English.  I was ready for college.


Freshman Year, 1942-43

       Writing about events that occurred over 50 years ago can be like an archeological dig.  Some layers yield more than others. I kept many layers of my mementoes from my year at Montevallo, as we called the Alabama College for Women.  In my scrapbook from  Fall 1942 and Spring 1943, I pasted my class schedules and grades, clippings about the performances of visiting celebrities and programs from plays and presentations of schoolmates, token pages from assignments, and souvenirs of annual campus rituals.  Among those paper trails I also glued in a few artifacts, like the whistle made from a twig whittled for me by my best friend, Mildred Deason.

       Between semesters I returned to New York for seventeen crowded days.  I saved a messy but detailed record of meetings with Hunter friends and with Mrs. Lilienthal as well as playbills of my theater-goings and lists of the Christmas gifts I gave and received.

       Across that first college year, RSL’s answers to my letters show that I told a great deal about my school work and my qualms over anything and everything. She rarely remarks on events that I enjoyed or friends that I began to treasure.  Did I not write to her about good times, or did she focus more on matters that  troubled me, trying to help? As an adult I’ve tended to wait for upbeat moods and pleasant news before writing letters. Perhaps in those days I feared telling her about what she might find frivolous, or I supposed that everyday satisfactions would seem boring. Certainly I needed her as the only adult who wanted to influence matters that my parents simply left to me, like academic decisions and cultural choices.  My mother and father both wanted me to mature into some best-possible-self, but they trusted me to strive for excellence on my own, and didn't try to monitor my education in specific ways.

       Across my three years at two colleges,  Mrs. Lilienthal writes to me with no hesitation about being directive.  She knows best, and I’m honored to hear her judgments, even when they are harsh, even when I fail to follow her guidance.

       Her first letter of the Fall semester of 1942 begins brusquely.

Young Lady,

            Draw up as many Rules and Regulations regarding Rates of Exchange of Correspondence as you like, and read them to yourself whenever you will.  I think I have been as active as possible in writing to you and can do nothing but be sorry that you are persistently dissatisfied. (9/19/42)

       She then lists varied obligations that keep her over-busy, even while she has been grappling with a cold. She explains that the demands made upon her at HCHS are overwhelming.  Then she tells of the strains to complete her volunteer Nurse’s Aid Training:  35 hours of theory and 45 hours of ward practice in the Male Medical, Female Surgical and Pediatrics courses.  Having taken the final exam, she must now fulfill her pledge to the Red Cross to give a minimum of 150 hours of work per annum for the Duration---

       Her next comment and enclosure will make me wistful, she knows.

            Because I think ‘twill please your sentimental auricles and ventricles I am going to enclose a registration card that appeared in my school envelope.  The lady never appeared.

(Registration card for Fall Class—1942)

Elective I                         Date Sept. 1942
Subject  Biology             Class  7B
Name  …….Hodgson,  Carolyn………….
                    (Last)         (First)
Official Class ….B7….. 

       While she’s right that my heart swells with sentiment at the thought that if I had stayed at HCHS I could have taken her advanced Biology class, she kindly doesn’t ask about my regret at not being there.

       Already in September 1942, she looks ahead to recommend that I stay in Alabama in December between semesters because my mother and I should save for my medical education.

           The thought of you being able to come no’th for Xmas is certainly very attractive —But— do you really think that you should permit yourself to use all that money when the next few years will be so demanding?  Mother may have gained a profit but she has also lost whatever that share of the investment may later bring.  As for her job--- long may it wave---but what if it doesn’t?   Shouldn’t all monies be conserved for that possibility?  However if you do come and if I’m in the city---I will “set aside some minutes right now please.” 

After having begun so negatively she closes with affirmations.

--- know what pleased me most in your ink marks so far?  Last letter page 2, line 7— “For I did work second term.”  Hear!  Hear!

            We have been having a wonderful Swan Song of heat the past days and I grin whilst others groan.

            And how many times have you seen [Orson Welles’ film] The Magnificent Ambersons?  I esteem it as highly as the first Magnum Opus of our Great Friend--- but think that his awed and reverent naming of himself at the end is very, very funny.

Fondly,
R.S.L.
(9/19/42)

       She may tease me about asking for a December appointment three months ahead, but indeed I was wise.  Across that fall letters are rare, unless I have lost some.  There is no letter during October, then in November a teasing protest against my demands:  It’s not a letter but a message shorter than a postcard, written on orange construction paper cut to look like a tiny autumn leaf. Its message in very small script asks: 

Does the pretty young
girl believe that I
have more energy--
or more inclination--
or more time to
write than she has?

And on the reverse side she answers

non - mais non --
certainement non.

RSL

       Among the letters I pestered her with were descriptions, I’m sure, of many extracurricular activities.  Beyond reading plays, which I kept up at a slower pace, I tried out for the traditional freshman production of three one-act plays.  I was cast in the shortest of the three, a two- person comedy called The Green Scarf. In its unlikely plot, the woman (my part) and the man (acted by a girl) meet in a park where each gradually tells of intending to commit suicide.  The play satirizes wealthy would-be sophisticated people who are actually shallow and pretentious. We actors had to make their silly ideas seem funny. At the end the woman decides not to hang herself with her green scarf, and the man also decides to live on, excited by his scheme to meet the woman again.

       After six weeks of rehearsals, we performed our plays on November 21st.  I enjoyed taking part, and would do more acting in the spring semester, but just as a pastime.  Relying on my memory for the lines made me tense, and rehearsals could be tedious.  Yet dramatics were a good way to get to meet students in other classes, which I enjoyed.  The college clubs centered on religion and languages, not sciences.  Often the weather and the nearby scenery lured me outside, exploring with friends.  The campus extended over 106 acres and actually fulfilled the promises of the official college brochure: broad sweeping lawns, neat brick streets, and unexpected garden plots nestled in rolling hills. If I had wrttten it I would have mentioned.the beauty of the varied trees and shrubs that surrounded those lawns, paths, and gardens. Sweet scented blossoms covered huge old bushes and vines in Spring.

Alabama College dorm
"The College Freshman in a World at War"

       A December postcard from RSL brings messages I welcome.  She begins by thanking me for a telegram I sent, in French, to celebrate her birthday on December 5th.

Dear Northward looking,

           I do thank you for your thoughtfulness on a certain day.  The lady’s voice came over the phone very clearly, with overtones of confused interest, as she carefully spelled out the French.

       RSL then lists many days in December when she can’t plan to see me, but she reassures me that she will try to save Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 from 8 AM on.  She also invites me to join her at some meetings she will go to on December 28th and after or will you be too surfeited to attend? 

       Her final question is Can’t you make a B in Chemistry?

       No, I could not.  My only C’s during my first college year came from Physical Science 121 and 122, because of the chemistry components.

       During my stay in Queens with my mother over the 1942 Christmas break, I scheduled three-event days, or sometimes four.  Besides meeting with Hunter friends and two of my former teachers there, I took part in many family occasions, went to two movies, five Broadway plays and some other special events. A few of these occasions I attended with Mrs. Lilienthal, carefully preserving the programs in my Montevallo scrapbook.   We heard folk songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, at the December 22 performance of The American Ballad Singers.  Their presentation, titled Native American Music, consisted of four groups of songs arranged chronologically from the Revolution, through the Forty-niners and the Melting Pot, and to Legendary Americans (Paul Bunyan, Lincoln, and Douglas MacArthur) to Today.  The contemporary songs were drawn from such regions as the Catskills and Route 66, the road the Okies took going west from the Dust Bowl to California.

       For one memorable three-event day, Tuesday, December 29th, Mrs. Lilienthal invited me to her Brooklyn apartment, 991 President Street, to spend the afternoon. That evening my father and step-mother took the two of us out to dinner in Manhattan and also arranged theatre tickets..  We saw Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in The Pirate: An Extravaganza. Not only did I paste the program in my scrap-book, but also I saved the ticket stubs:  our Mezzanine seats cost $3.30 each.

       RSL advised me about the best plays to see as I selected other tickets using my Christmas money.  On Wednesday the 30th I went to both a matinee with Hunter friends and an evening performance with my mother and her then suitor. The plays were Maxwell Anderson’s new work The Eve of St Mark and Chekhov’s The Three Sisters.  That cast included Judith Anderson, Katherine Cornell, and Ruth Gordon. On New Year’s Eve I celebrated the coming of 1943 with my father and step-mother and a small gathering of their friends at the Chelsea Hotel where they lived.

       Among my theatrical ventures, and lots of gossipy get-togethers, did I find time to mull over 1942?  My scrapbook is stuffed with superficial souvenirs of times and places, giving images and data but no impressions.  Adding  no comments, as Mrs. Lilienthal would say “nary a word,” I wrongly trusted my memory, as if looking back at facts could  forever evoke essence. Instead, all too often, my mementoes call back no further recollectioms.  Since I remained the daydreamer I had been in my Hunter classes, liable to drift into fantasy, even sometimes on a subway ride, and nearly always while trying to fall asleep, I surely mulled over 1942 as it ended. 

       That year began with sudden prospects of leaving Hunter to rush away toward college.  Thus in my second semester as a Junior at HCHS, I felt the nostalgia-in-advance of a Senior, aware of final classes and counting down the weeks I had left with friends and teachers.  Certainly saying goodbye to all of them when I went south that June marked the greatest step I had taken so far toward growing up.   As I took the next steps, completing my high school credits during the summer at Montevallo and getting through my first college semester, I felt excited by my progress, proud and relieved that I had managed the risky venture of leaving high school early.  I was pleased and surprised by those first seasons of feeling grown up, and recognized my most momentous year so far.  Still during the holiday indulgences and nostalgia that rounded off 1942  I never forgot that further tests were coming, and not just in classrooms.

       Mrs. Lilienthal knew more than anyone about my waverings of confidence. Tirelessly she encouraged stability and good sense. In the first week of 1943, my last New York City days, I saw her once by visiting Hunter on January 5th during the third period, her free hour that day.

       Late the next afternoon, I boarded the train to Birmingham.  Pasted in my album are the train tickets to Alabama and even a bus ticket to Calera, the town near Montevallo which was the closest stop on public transport.

       Whatever I said to RSL in New York and in my first letters from campus in January told her of my uneasiness, because her January letter (1/15/43) begins with reassurances.

Dear Young ‘Un---

            All transitions are either potentially
or actually unsettling; but now you
are back in the local fluvia and
you should certainly be feeling much
--------warmer.

            I have just graded one
hundred papers weak and am still
fighting to avoid infection “piolets,”
“vergina, “thyphoid,” und so weiter.  
None of these of course, can match
Mrs. Tunick’s paper on which is
to be found the fact that Stalingrad
is on the Vulgar River.

            If the synapses begin to
function in chemistry, let me know.

Letter, 1/15/1943
Letter, 1/15/1943

       Glory be!  For once she is pained by other students' spelling, not mine. The chemistry lapses troubled us both.  These flaws began to make me uncertain about planning to study medicine.

       A letter early in February reacts to one unexpectedly low grade from my December final in math.  I wanted to raise my B, but instead was lucky not to lose it.

            A B report after a 66 final is certainly manna from your Dear Professor.  The D for deplorable floored me as it did you. But there you learn a good illustration of the verity that tiny things can determine big ones, or why I became a Perfectionist Perspicacious historianus.  I think I must have told you, divide one of the Louis’ reigns into 2 periods: before and after his gastric fistula.  You almost landed it, so don’t feel too grieved. . .

       Looking ahead to my spring semester’s project for English, she takes an interest in its philosophical focus. I shall want to read your term paper. Is it on TIME? on RELATIVELY?  on MAN? On LIFE?  On the UNIVERSE? Or on only a phrase of several words?

       She praises Maxwell Anderson’s play, one that I had seen in December.

I thought Eve of St. Mark was a beautiful script, produced in excellent taste.  I loved the simple essential sets behind the lovely arch of the proscenium.  Did the ‘southern’ boy seem typical to you?

       Catching me up with HCHS news, RSL mentions two of my favorite classmates, then bemoans her hectic schedule.

            Your dear Jolie sits in my official class looking fairly unhappy --- and Mary Moers in Home Nursing of all things, very small and serious.

            This morning, 6:15 clanged at me and I rammed into the school building at 7:30 A.M.!  Misericordia: I felt like The War Effort.  Nineteen minutes are allowed for the Gulp-Your-Lunch-period, and three minutes are the new limit for the new-dash-to-your-next-period’s-room.

       She also thanks me for my Christsmas gift, a lab coat that I had sewn for her, choosing cloth the color of new leaves. People, to whom my green smock is new, continue to pay it pretty compliments.  

       In her closing line she refers to two upcoming events on my campus.

Three different preparations for tomorrow bid me say---you’ll like Ruth Draper, and you’ll love your college nicht, and G’Bye for now. R.S.L.

       Indeed I did enjoy Ruth Draper’s many monologs in which she enacted widely varying characters.  And College Night engaged us all; it’s the most significant annual student activity at Alabama College for Women. Students from all four years form two teams, the purples and the golds. They compete by creating skits and songs that make fun of events on campus and beyond.  We gave all of our spare time during February to creating, promoting, and staging our acts. The Golds won-- my team!  During the performances I merely swelled the progress by singing in the chorus.  But I felt my share of triumph through my tasks as a member of the Art Committee; besides painting scenery, I made posters. One of them still shines in my scrapbook, cut up into a four-page arrangement of dozens of yellow bricks that spell GOLD. My math skills may not have been notable, but I did figure out how to get the right number of bricks so that every member of my team has her brick; each one’s name appears in her own handwriting. 

       Mrs. Lilienthal’s March letters are lost; but I’m sure I wrote her all during February about the Gold team’s preparations and performances, and winning the competition on February 27th.

       In her letter of April 4th,   addressing me as Dear Sub-deb,  she remarks on my recent special event, a dance in Birmingham where our escorts were male students from colleges in easy traveling distance. May we hope that you had a romantic time at the Dance and that many people said you looked lovely and meant it?

       Earlier, on February 13th, Mrs. Lilienthal had mailed me a gift of earrings. Since my 18th birthday was still three months away, she is teasing me when she includes her set of rules for them.  Observing those rules strictly would have kept me from wearing them at age 17.

0-18 ---   No earrings
18-21--   Earrings only in evening,
               small pearls or rhinestones.
               No metal ones
21-100—Laissez faire
      Duly considered and affirmed, 
               RSL                  2/20/43   

The February 20th date she notes will come a week later than the postmark; it’s the Saturday night when I was going to the dance in Birmingham.

       Also in her April 4th letter, Mrs. Lilienthal tells me her news, both pleasant and unpleasant. She had found a home at a nearby bakery for Penny, her past pet and later is delighted when the dog greets her with excellently noisy barkings. Without knowing how Penny identifies her by scent or by sight she enjoys the short reunion: all very pleasant and convivial and communicative.

       Joking about the dressmaking project for which she is amassing material she decides that no gown could possibly live up to the expectations implicit in these preparations.  Anyhow, aren’t all projects on Major Works of Art postponed during wartime?

       More seriously, she bemoans the wartime double daylight savings.

             The early hours leave me much more exhausted at 1:00 and 2:00 than I ever was at 3:00.  On Thursdays, I teach 7 periods (from 1 thru 8).  The maximum is supposed to be 5.  More time you say—huh!  Furthermore, since the periods are 5 minutes shorter and the syllabus has not altered its dimensions, I must give more written work --- and there it is, waiting for my red crayon pencil.

       Her letter ends with comments about movies, typical questions about my school work, and a complaint about politicians.

---also saw Journey into Fear and also was disappointed—tho not in the magnificosa Welles.  If you haven’t, make an effort to see One of our Aircraft is Missing and Saludos Amigos.

            What grade did your term theme get, and what comments? Is there any discussion on the follies of our very stupid Congress?  And have you struck lead yet?

"Suffragette," 1943
Suffragette
in "Groceries and Notions"
     Playing  my last role in the college drama series on April 23rd, 1943,  I took the part of a suffragette in the musical comedy "Groceries and Notions." With a large cast of small town characters and a grocer who marketed ideas along with the usual goods, the play was a crowd pleaser. Years later when I became serious about feminism I could look back on that role as prophetic, even though my character was called suffragette instead of the proper term suffragist.

       Returning from her Easter holidays (4/26/43) Mrs. Lilienthal tells of her delight in getting away for the whole week with her soldier-husband  to stay at a very beautiful place at New Windsor.   Originally built and occupied by a notorious and nefarious wealthy family,  it has been preserved well.  She catalogs some of its impressive features: High ceilings, marble stairways, huge fireplaces, ornately carved wood panels, a library of fine furniture and  few volumes, Asiatic shrubs, and a huge lawn rolling down to the Hudson.

       She also describes the glories of spring at the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, mentioning a whole hillside of daffodils, as well as squills, scilla, and poplar catkins. Best of all, she welcomes the sunshine that ends her sinus attacks. Closing her letter with serious advice for me, she argues that I should devote my summer to getting started at the University of Alabama, where I ought to put my studies first, then adjust friends and play into a work schedulenot vice versa!  

       Another summer-time option that I’ve told her about is to return to New York to find a job in a war plant.  She can approve of that conditionally, since the pay would be helpful and the setting would introduce me to instructive working conditions.  But she thinks I would not be wise to dip again into the cross currents of N.Y.C. . . I hope you will decide to stay at U. of A.  Signing off, Obediently yours, RSL, she perhaps hints that it was my turn to be obedient.  The city, however, and work in a wartime industry lured me North again.

       My year had been well spent: my grades had been mostly A’s and B’s, excepting C’s in Physical Science.  I made the honor roll that spring.  For the entire year I earned membership in Alpha Lambda Delta, the Freshman Honorary Society.  So my transfer to the University at Tuscaloosa went smoothly. 

       A number of my Montevallo schoolmates grew to be lasting friends. And saying goodbye to them was less wrenching than leaving Hunter because we could plan to get together again in Birmingham or at each other’s campuses.  I looked forward to my three summer months in the North, and then to my sophomore college year at Alabama’s major university.

       Back in Queens at the end of May, I spent a few days renewing contacts with Hunter friends while they were finishing their senior classes and taking the Regents exams.  We would have summer weekends for getting together. When I attended the graduation ceremony for my classmates at HCHS on June 24, 1943, I felt a paradoxical sense of both belonging and not belonging.

       My three months of work at the Ford Instrument Company kept my days well focused.  Factory tasks forestalled most of my wistfulness and day-dreaming.  My office mates fascinated me; they came from worlds that were new to me. Also they treated me like one of the team, the youngest, but an adult. In previous years, I had worked informally doing child care, reading to the blind, and as an office go-fer.  My job at Ford Instrument moved me proudly into the adult world of time-clocks and social security deductions.When I saw Mrs. Lilienthal, I would tell her about office personalities and politics, and describe the assembly line in the thunderous sheds of the factory section.[RSL's views of factory work are quoted in "Wartime," the first part of Topics in Letters.] 


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