Monday, May 31, 2010

the class of 1960

Penn in 1960. Women at Penn then were part of the so-called College for Women. The now legendary dean of that segregated set-up was Jean Brownlee. I joined the faculty at Penn in 1985 (25 years ago this year) and found the rhetoric used to mention Brownlee--when she was by then mentioned at all--was mythic. I have always thought of her as supportive of the young women in the school and presumed she was quietly advocating for curricular and other forms of integration within the core of Penn life (centered on the men). But here is an informal account of one member of the class of 1960 - the two times this friend met Brownlee. Perhaps it's not at all representative but it does strike me as suggestive:
I only actually spoke to Dean Brownlee (of the College for Women) twice: once when I met with her to ask whether I could take a joint degree in English in the college and Finance or Economics in the Wharton School (she was about as nasty about me having already made a choice as anyone could have been); and then again when we were practicing law in Hartford in about 1964, at a reception for Penn alumnae at a Dr. Pepper's old mansion on the edge of Elizabeth Park, when as I walked out the door she told me how lucky I was as a female graduate to have been invited. So I shouldn't have been surprised, although I was, to learn that at opening day for the College for Women she told the assemblage of freshmen that Penn was committed to the Education of Women and that although of course they would never do anything with their educations she hoped it would make them better mothers. Better to have had my experience where the boys moved when two of us sat down in Dietrich Hall [in the Wharton School].
A student who arrived at Penn in 1966 responded:
I came to know Jean Brownlee quite well as both an undergraduate and an alum (we lived in the same apartment building). We spent many enjoyable dinners together over the years. In all the time I knew her (I matriculated in 1966), she was very supportive of women. I don't think she could conceive of total equality (and, let's face it, it hasn't happened yet), but for a woman of her generation--who did become a Ph.D and a powerful force at Penn--she was all for women being able to do whatever they wanted to do. In fact, she wrote my letter of recommendation when I applied for my MBA at the Wharton School. Jean did have an abrupt way of speaking. She was a no-nonsense person. I remember her telling me about her "chat" with Candice Bergen, who was cutting a lot of classes to model in NY. "I told her, be a Penn student or be a model. You can't do both," she said. Bergen chose modeling.
Our Class of 1960 friend responds:
Who knows how differently we would interpret events if we knew then what we know now. For many diverse reasons (among them an invalid mother), I was hell bent on attaining a situation where I could be independent and live my life on my own terms (as if anyone can) as part of the "real" world, not stuck away in a house all day. And I was very naive and very quiet and shy with thick glasses, not much of a presence or a communicator. Economics and particularly finance were interesting, but I wanted to study them for a purpose, really literature, philosophy and sociology were what I cared about and studied in my spare time whenever I could. That said I still treasure every little thing I learned in the Wharton School. It's been useful in many different ways. Since I was exposed to undisguised gender-based discriminatory behavior on a pretty constant daily basis I was more sensitive to it than the girls in the College would have been.

Anyhow, after a quick look online, I see that Dean Brownlee didn't really have much authority at that time. She wasn't even the real dean although as I remember she was considered to be in charge. She had no jurisdiction over me since I was in Wharton and I knew next to nothing about her. I was probably the only person who ever asked her if I could get degrees from two different schools at the same time (I did offer to stay at Penn longer if that was what was required).The lecture she gave about making my choice must have been her stock lecture since it sounds very similar to what she reportedly said to Candace Bergen. I couldn't feel any connection to her at all and I was really hurt - she treated me as if I had done something wrong and neeed disciplining. And I was irritated when she said that as a woman I should be so grateful to have been invited to the reception. She probably just meant (innocently from her perspective) that there had been progress in that area at Penn. I certainly wasn't perfect and was probably too quick to make a judgement.

Nevertheless, in her position, she should have had some inkling of social change in the offing. She must been able to imagine equality for herself - it wasn't that much later that she started teaching political science in the Wharton School. I can't imagine that the Dean of Women at Wellesley or Smith or Bryn Mawr would have told Freshmen girls that she knew they would never use their educations but hoped that the education would make them better mothers (that's what Brownlee reportedly said). By 1966 (the blogger's graduation date), Gloria Steinhem's book had at least raised consciousness levels and I think that Dean Brownlee was teaching in the Wharton School.

As far as having to make a choice - not being able to do two things at once\ diversity diminishing education - is ridiculous and short sighted. We had Gene Scott and Donald Dell at UVA Law School when I was there and they managed (with help and concessions of course) to play on the Davis Cup tennis team in their 2nd year. If that's all there was to Candace Bergen's situation, it would have been more productive to try to figure out a way that she could do both things. I left that room with the clear conviction that it would not make sense to study the humanities at Penn, I would have to transfer to a place that could provide a much better education than the College for Women was making available.