version 15 October, 2009





Letter by Marjorie Reade about many years around the Math Department and Ann Arbor:

Marjorie Reade
October 7, 2009

WHAT WAS IT LIKE THEN? (Post War 1946 - 1960)

It was different then. We came to t he University of Michigan in 1946, my husband, Chuck Dolph, among the first of the postwar hirees. He was a research mathematician with Project Michigan the first year and joined the Mathematics Department in 1947 with a salary as an assistant professor of $3,600 per year. It wasn’t a lot, very little more than I had earned as a secretary in the Navy Department in Washington, but expectations then were not what they are now. We expected our housing to be modest and who would need more than one bathroom.

As a faculty wife, I was whisked immediately into the activities of the Faculty Women’s Club and the neighborhood Child Study Club. There was a diaper service but disposable diapers were still to come. One paid a baby-sitter, usually a young teenager or an elderly woman, twenty five cents an hour, although that soon went up to $1.00.

Professor Theophil (Ted) Hildebrandt was department chair. Traditionally it was expected of Professor Hildebrandt and his wife Dora to call on each of the new faculty and his family to make them welcome. They devoted a Sunday afternoon to each of these calls. Since there were usually at least five new appointees, this took up most of the fall Sundays. They discontinued this practice the year they called on a new couple living in a second floor walkup in Ypsilanti. As Ted and Dora came up the loft-like stairs into the open apartment, they found the new assistant professor and his wife taking basin baths (there was no real bathroom), nude and quite startled to find themselves entertaining.

New or rental housing in the area was almost nonexistent until the 1950’s. We lived in a converted attic in a business building on Maynard Street but many new faculty were first housed in Willow Run in the temporary apartments that had been built for the workers in the bomber plant during the war. They were poorly built and were warmed by coal burning stoves, with the coal bins just outside the front door. Foot prints from the coal dust were carried in onto the linoleum and wind whistled through the thin walls.

A hat and gloves were proper and necessary for the ladies attending luncheons and especially for the faculty teas, the first of which was given in the early fall by Mrs. Ruthven, the wife of the President of the University, in the President’s house, as it is now. Hats were more modest than in Victorian times but they were still impressive structures of veils and flowers. The friendly Polhemus Hat Shop on the corner of State and William had just what we needed. They did a good business as each season needed its special hat.

In those days we were listed as Mrs. Husband’s name with our given names in parenthesis. It wasn’t until twenty or so years later, after a certain amount of protest, that faculty wives were able to be listed under their own names with their husband’s name in the parenthesis. I think it took a change in the by-laws of the Faculty Women’s Club to do it.

In A Beautiful Mind , the John Nash story, Sylvia Nasar writes of the many mathematics faculty parties at Princeton, Harvard, and MIT. We, too, had many parties. The Hildebrandts started the series with an all-department cocktail party in the fall. The Rainichs, the Wilders, the Copelands and the Churchills followed. The Sumner Myers party was always at Thanksgiving time, and then the other senior faculty members each had a party. By this time we were all pretty well acquainted and there were often small dinner gatherings. Then many of the younger faculty would invite the whole department for cocktails once a year. With so many gatherings in one year the math faculty became like one huge extended family. While wives were certainly aware of the apparent lower status of the “applied” mathematicians as compared to the “pure” mathematicians, it seemed to have no affect on their own social standing or friendships. There was little time to become acquainted with families in other disciplines unless you happened to be neighbors.

One of the sillier requirements of the emerging feminism movement was that we were advised never to speak of our children at parties for fear we would be taken as simple housewives and mothers, unable to talk of anything else. The negative result of this is that I don’t know the children of old friends as we saw them only at math picnics. Ray Wilder always asked about one’s children. I found that comforting and endearing.

Our husbands spent most evenings working at their desks, not only to publish to be eligible for the coveted tenure position, but also for the obvious excitement and satisfaction with their mathematical research in the marvelous progress of scientific discovery.

When we got together with friends, our generation was accustomed to relaxing with cocktails. For smaller parties we usually served martinis and Manhattans. For larger groups, “fishhouse punch”, a mixture of liqueurs and tea, was popular because it not only had a great taste but it created a mellow group of guests very quickly. I was told that Ed Begle introduced fishhouse punch to Ann Arbor. Leonard and Katie Tornheim served wine and beer but other than that people didn’t drink wine much until the late 60’s. In fact, the usual wine in the stores was Mogen David. State liquor stores came later.

There were three gatherings in the year with graduate students in which faculty wives were involved in the planning, a fall picnic, a spring picnic, and a well planned Christmas party. One year the planning committee for the spring picnic, Doris McLaughlin, Erich Rothe, two graduate students and I, went out on a Friday afternoon in May to Kensington Park to choose the site for the upcoming picnic. As we walked up over a rise we came upon two lovers doing what lovers do, usually with more privacy, but they seemed utterly unaware of our passing by. We found the site and returned to Ann Arbor to attend a cocktail party given by two young bachelor professors. Most of the faculty and their wives were there. It was one of those 90 degree days well before air conditioning. We were served martinis out of the freezer with no ice. Everyone was parched from the heat, and unaware of the potency of the drink, we freely quenched our thirst. I won’t mention names but there resulted a number of undignified performances that evening and some very severe headaches.

Ann Arbor was still a small town. There were no fine restaurants. We liked the German cuisine of the Old German or Metzgers, the family style chicken dinners at the
Farm Cupboard (now the Lord Fox), and for Chinese food we went to Leo Pings. For a more sophisticated dinner it was the Canopy in Brighten, the Mayflower Hotel in Plymouth, or a trip to Detroit. City law prevented restaurants from serving liquor until City Council passed a “liquor by the glass” ordinance in 1962. But there was a private club, the Town Club, with a good kitchen and bar. Members were mostly business and professional people and in those beginning g days young faculty could not afford membership. We gradually found friends among the townspeople who invited us now and then. It was interesting to go as one got to know who the important townspeople were. Later we discovered that only WASPS were admitted to membership.

Although we still hear a murmur now and then about town versus gown tensions, the gulf is nothing like it was then. The many research firms in town and the fact that university people have often run for local offices has helped to bridge the gap. Attitudes have changed too, particularly as “elitism” went totally out of style.

There were a number of experiments in bringing reputable theater to Ann Arbor that the mathematics community supported vigorously. As I recall, Wilfred and Heidi Kaplan were leading figures in the effort to attract theater groups to town. For a time we thought the Guthrie Theater would settle here but, to our disappointment they went to Minneapolis instead. At that time the School of Music emphasized theory over performance, but that has changed and the University now is strong in performance in music, theater, and dance, with great success and much to our benefit.

Although Goodyear’s, Muehlig’s, and Kline’s on main street were good sources for clothing and household linens, for more serious shopping we went to Detroit where the eight floors of Hudson’s Department Store had most of our needs. A carload of us wives would go for a day of strenuous searching from floor to floor, then happily rewarded ourselves with lunch in their attractive and well-staffed dining room.

Sports events were inexpensive. As I recall, faculty members could buy activity tickets that provided a good seat at the football games and free admittance to all the other sports events. We went to all of the football games and many of the basketball and hockey events. The stadium held 75,000 people, the local boy scouts ushered for the games with a special band show one Saturday to recognize their service. Homecoming was still a major city event with floats and a grand parade. Those beautiful fall afternoons when we followed t he band through the streets to the stadium, then rejoined afterwards for a celebratory or a mourning party are a sweet memory.

We met faculty couples from other departments at faculty dances of which there were three or so during the fall and spring semesters. The Michigan Union and the Michigan League ballrooms were truly ballrooms with excellent live music. Ruth Craig (Mrs. Cecil Craig) told me when she was in her 80’s that she still had 35 fancy ball gowns in her attic, together with the elbow length white or black kid gloves. The faculty dances of the 50’s were much more casual and were discontinued entirely during the turbulent 60’s, much to the disappointment of many faculty wives and not a few husbands as well.

Of course there was no television to take up our time. What struck me most was the wit and the imagination of our colleagues. They were accustomed to entertaining one another and were creative with skits and other nonsense. What hasn’t changed is the intensity of involvement in political matters. The big issues the first year were the anguish and the morality of our having used the atom bomb, and the question as to whether we should immediately go to war with Russia. After that it w as the heat aroused by McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committee leading into what attitude the University should have in protecting its faculty. No need to tell here the Chandler Davis story. Many of the mathematics community were politically active with the Democratic Party where we worked for a majority in our precincts and wards, but more specifically our goals were to make employment open to everyone (statewide, there was still a quota system for Jews) and for fair and open housing for Blacks and other minorities. We were backing up Governor “Soapy” Williams amd our own local Neil Staebler, Democratic National Committeeman, both of whom were devoted to ridding the state (and the nation) of racial and religious discrimination.

When I think back to how hard our husbands worked and how light heartedly we all played, and how the world has sinced changed, I feel we lived in a marvelous time.


14 October, 2009 spelling of "Maynard" corrected (Griess)