Dr. Alvalyn Woodward


Dr. Alvalyn Woodward




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HB: This is a recording for the Oral History Project of the Friends of the University Libraries. This is Helen Bergeson interviewing, and I am privileged to be in the home of Dr. Alvalyn E. Woodward in Charlotte, North Carolina, on January 30, 1975, recording reminiscences about Dr. Woodward's student days at the University of Rochester as a member of the Class of 1905.

AW: Actually I didn't get to the University on the day the semester opened because I had the flu. But when I did get there I was very surprised to find a lot of the upper classmen lined up inside the entrance of Anderson Hall, stomping their feet as if they were trying to march as some of us girls went on into the girls' room that was down at the end of the hall. The upper classmen at that time were trying their best to make it uncomfortable for the girls. The boys that had come through high school with us were very congenial, and toward the end of the first or second week the boys invited everybody in the class, girls and boys both, into chapel towards the end of the day to organize the class. And we elected a boy for President and Helen Rogers for Vice President, and a boy for Treasurer, and a girl for Secretary, and we thought we were all set, nicely organized. The next day Helen Rogers came in to me feeling very glum. President Rhees had invited her and the girl who had been elected Secretary into his office and had explained to them that he thought that it would be very nice if the girls organized separately from the boys. He thought they'd have much more fun if they didn't have to have boys in their organization, and finally persuaded the girls to separate from the boys and organize by themselves, which we really didn't want to do but we had to do it. He had been brought up in Amherst, gone to Amherst College, and his wife had gone to Smith College, just a few miles away, and they had been able to see each other and have good times together in separate colleges, and he thought it would be very nice for the girls and the boys to have separate colleges. So that sort of separation started in the fall of 1901.

HB: Now were you the first or the second group of women admitted to the University?

AW:  That's right. The first year I don't know whether the women had ­ there were very few women. Women had been admitted as special students but not as regularly registered freshmen or sophomores before that. So that several women graduated before 1904 but 1904 was the first class that regularly admitted women and graduated them. And then by 1905 we had things pretty well in mind as being separated. The girls - the University had given an empty classroom down at the end of the hall, in Anderson Hall, for the use of the girls. And there was a rest room nearby.  And in that room we did our studying, ate our cold lunches, visited and gossiped and rested and so forth. That was our home outside of classes. We didn't have any sort of social supervision or organization or anything like that, but before long a few of the girls got together and organized a sorority just to have some fun. And then a few others organized another sorority. The first one was called DF, Dramatis Filiae (?), which amused Dr. Rhees very much. He said, "DF - do they know what that stands for?" And Theta Eta was organized soon after DF. But Dr. - while we had invitations to join one or two of the national sororities, Dr. Rhees never approved of it. But we had our good times in people's houses once a month or so. And usually Friday noon we had something special for lunch--maybe Mamie Greisheimer would order enough chocolate eclairs to go all around or somebody else would bring something special from home. So that we had a 1ight-hearted good time.

HB: Now this room that was the center for the women was in the basement of Anderson Hall?

AW: No, it was on the first floor.

HB: On the first floor of Anderson. Towards the Library or towards the -

AN:  Towards the Library.

HB: Towards the Library. And this was where you gathered and studied and ate your lunch. But you were allowed to go in classes with the men?

AW: Oh yes. We went to classes with the men regularly. There was nothing else to do. Sometimes there were only one or two girls in some of the classes, especially in some of the laboratories. Of course, in the classroom the girls usually sat on one side and the men on the other side. That didn't bother us any.

HB: Was it possible to take any course that you wanted or were certain courses prescribed for the women?

AW: We were expected our freshman year to take some math, whichever math course we were ready for, some Latin, some English, and some science--and mostly we took just the regular freshman courses. There wasn't - after the first year so far as I can remember - there weren't any special requirements excepting that you had to have so many hours of this and that. I know some of us took more math, and some took more of this, and some more of that.

HB: How did you decide on your courses? Were there people you could - professors you could talk with for guidance?


AW: Yes, after the first year, of course we knew some of the professors and we could go and talk to them about it. I myself was set on becoming a doctor and I wanted to take all of the courses that might lead to medical school.

HB: How did you reach this decision? When did you reach this decision as a young woman?

AW:  That I wanted to be a doctor?

HB:  Yes.

AW:  Oh, when I was 3 years old or something.

HB:  How interesting. What led you to this decision?


AW: I don't know. As long as - as far back as I can remember, I wanted to study medicine.

HB: Where did you go to school as a young girl to prepare for the University?

AW: Well, first we lived in Rochester and I went to #7 School. We lived down in that district. And then we moved onto a farm and my last three years in grade school were spent in a one-room country school.

HB: Where was that?

AW:  Down at the corner of Ballantyne Road and the River Road. Across the corner was a blacksmith shop and we used to loiter as we went past there because he was so interesting. I had never seen anything of that sort before and it fascinated me. My brother too--my brother and I liked the same things.

HB:  How many children were there in your family?

AW:  There were three of us. I was the oldest, then my sister was sixteen months younger, and then my brother was five years younger than I. But my sister was a puny baby and she never was very sturdy. So she went to school spasmodically. She had a wonderful memory and she loved to read, and she was one of the best - in some ways - one of the best educated people I know, and in some ways one of the least educated, least disciplined. But until I went to high school, although there were 200 days in the school year, I didn't get in more than 98 days in the year. Sometimes I was sick and sometimes we had snowdrifts that went way up over the fences and we didn't have snowshoes, so unless the roads had been broken open so we could walk through the ruts the sleighs had made, we couldn't get to school very well. Besides Mother had been an old teacher and she liked to keep her finger in it.

HB: This is very interesting. Your desire to become a physician was a rather courageous decision for a young woman in those days.

AW: It wasn't a courageous decision. It was a desire that started before I knew that it needed courage. Way back when I was three or four years old, I never had any use for dolls excepting to put them to bed with scarlet fever or measles or whatever was going around at the time.

HB: Did - did you - before you knew that there would be perhaps contrary objection to your wishes - how did you learn to cope with ridicule or with the -

AW: Well -

HB: -deriding for this kind of objective that you had?

AW: I don't know that I quite caught your question.

HB: Well, did - were you ever led to believe that little girls didn't grow up to be doctors?

AW:  Oh yes. My father and mother told me that little girls couldn't get to be doctors. And when I was eight or nine years old, I would cry myself to sleep at night because I was a little girl and I couldn't be a doctor. I thought it wasn't fair, but I just wanted to be a doctor and that was all there was to it.

HB: Did you get any encouragement in high school from your teachers?

AW: No. The only encouragement I got while I was - came along while I was in high school. I learned that there was a woman doctor in Rochester and she tried to encourage me, and she said when I got all through medical school she’d take me with her.

HB: Do you recall who that was?

AW: I can’t remember her name. I’m sorry.

HB: It couldn’t be Doctor Saxe?

AW: No.

HB: It was probably after that time. Where did you go to high school?

AW: I went to the old Rochester Free Academy, down there across the street from the Court House, I guess.

HB: How did you decide to go to the University of Rochester?

AW: I wanted to go to Cornell because Cornell had a medical school,  and I kept hoping and hoping that something would open up so that I could go to medical school. But there were scholarships awarded to the highest - the students with the highest grades in high school. I’ve forgotten how many scholarships there were for boys but there were two for girls in our class, and Helen Rogers and I got those scholarships. And when Father found that out, he put his hands in his pockets, kind of jingled his coins and said, “Well, he guessed he couldn’t afford to do anything else but go to the University of Rochester."

HB: Isn’t that interesting.

AW: And as I said, all of my courses at Rochester were aiming toward medical school.

HB: Who were the professors that meant the most to you in your studies?

AW: Well, of course the - Professor Dodge and Dr. Merrill were the whole Biology Department. Professor Dodge had the animal biology and Merrill had plant biology. And both of them were very encouraging, and Professor Dodge appointed me to a scholarship at Wood’s Hole. I’ve forgotten whether it Mr. Bausch or Mr. Lomb that paid for scholarships at the Wood’s Hole laboratory for students from Rochester.

HB: Isn’t that interesting. Now, did you go there in the summer?

AW: Yes.

HB: I see. And what did you do down there?

AW: Well, the first year I took a course in general zoology, and all these live animals, the like of which I had never seen before, were so fascinating. One thing that kind of shocked me - at the University of Rochester we had had anatomy of animals and never a word about reproductive systems. At Wood’s Hole we had reproductive system along with the digestive and circulatory and everything without a smile or a blush or anything.

HB: Oh, isn't that lovely. How interesting.

AW: It was quite a surprise to me but by the end of the summer, I was used to it. But the first time round it was quite a shock.

HB: Isn’t that lovely. Now, how did you get to Wood’s Hole? Did you go by train?

AW: Went by train. Took a train to Boston, then a little short train. I’ve forgotten the name of the road from Boston down to Wood’s Hole.

HB: And where did you live down there? What were the facilities available for you down there?

AW: We lived in the homes of people. The director of the laboratory had a whole list of people who were willing to take roomers. We lived in the homes of these people, and ate in the general mess.

HB: Where did the students come from them?

AW: At Wood’s Hole? Everywhere.

HB: That must have been interesting.

AW: I sat across the table in the laboratory from a woman from Springfield, Massachusetts, and she was remarking about my speech one day. And I asked her how far west she had gotten. Oh, she was talking about the difference between the westerners and the easterners, and I thought she must have been way out west, and I asked her how far west she had been. “Way out to Syracuse, New York." And I found later that sort of provincialism was quite common in New England.

HB: Did you have just one summer at Wood’s Hole or did you go several times?

AW: I went again later when I was a graduate student. Oh, I went probably twenty summers when I was a graduate student and afterwards doing research or writing a lab manual or something like that.

HB: I wonder if we could go back for a moment. You went to high school in the Rochester Free Academy on Fitzhugh Street, which is now the Board of Education. Were you living out on East River Road and Ballantyne Road at that time?

AW: Yes.

HB: How did you get in to high school?

AW: Well, sometimes, if the weather were good we could - in the first place, Father had an office in the Powers Building - had kept up - he wasn’t a full time farmer-- he kept up a business in Rochester - and sometimes we would drive in and leave the horse in the livery stable - I think it was Troup Street, just back of the Court House.

And the high school was so crowded that we would have all our classes in one half day, and then have the other half day for study. And I had a desk out of Father’s office - I was his receptionist during my free half day. Got a little training in banking and things like that on the side.

HB: Well, then you are saying that children were going to high school in a split session kind - some would go in the mornings and some would go in the afternoon?

AW:  That’s right.

HB: Isn’t that interesting.

AW: I think the freshmen would go in the afternoon, the other classes in the morning or something like that.

HB:  Were you taking a college preparatory program in high school - classical program or whatever they called it?

AW:  Yes. They called it the Latin scientific course. Helen Cross took the regular college preparation course which included Greek, but I took the one that had science.

HB: Of your high school classes, how many girls went on to College of the girls in your class?

AW: I think there were about a dozen. I’ve forgotten just how many, but just about a dozen went over to the University from our high school class. And of course lots of the boys that we had known in high school went over there and that was the reason that they expected us to integrate with them in our class organization.

HB: Was this an unusual thing in those days for so many young women to go on to college?

AW: I don’t think so. My mother was a college graduate. Many - it was unusual in her day but not in my day.

HB: Tell me a little about your mother in her college experience.

AW: She had a stepfather that she didn’t get along with and he wanted to punish her so he sent her away to school, and she was most delighted. She was sent to Ingham University which has been dead now for 50 years more or less.

HB: Was that in LeRoy?

AW: That was in LeRoy. And the Ingham sisters that founded it were cousins of my grandmother on Mother’s side.

HB: And what did she prepare for in Ingham?

AW: Oh, she prepared to teach and she taught for a number of years, was principal of one of the grammar schools in Rochester when she resigned to be married.

HB:  So there really was a background in your family from your mother’s sensitivity to it so that you had support and encouragement to go on?

AW: Oh yes. My mother’s father was a rather well known scholar, I believe.

HB: Who was he?

AW: His name was Freidrich Wilhelm Bogen, a German, who was connected with universities in Germany until 1848 or ’49 when it became much more healthy for some of these upstart students to come to America and so he came to the United States, married a sixteen-year- old girl when he was about 40. They were most unhappy together and so they separated, and that’s the reason my mother had this step-father that she couldn’t get along with that I think maybe - he was quite a zoologist-- he could speak and write 13 languages, and he could read 26, or something like that. And after trying various other things, in this country, he became an interpreter for the State Department at Washington.

HB: Let’s talk a little bit about your student days at the University. You were living where when you went to the University?

AW: I was living on a farm out on the River Road.

HB: Oh yes. How did you get in to the University for classes?

AW: We would drive down to the livery stable near the Four Corners and then I would walk from there over to the University, or if the weather - if the roads were too bad to drive a horse, we’d get over to the little railroad junction, Genesee Junction it was called, sometimes by - sometimes the hired man would drive us over and sometimes we’d walk - and take a little work train into the city.

HB: Is that right.

AW: And then I’d usually walk from the station which was out on West Main Street.

HB: Would that be near Lincoln Road or the one near Broad Street?

AW: It was near Lyell Avenue, near where Lyell Avenue comes down.

HB: I see. And you’d walk from there out to the University and Prince Street?

AW: Yes.

HB: How long a walk was that?

AW: I don’t know--maybe three miles.

HB: Goodness. How long did it take you to go from home to the University when you had to come by train and walk in to the University?

AW: Well, it took from an hour up. We’d have to start from home before the sun was up.

HB: Is that right? And you'd go home the same day?

AW:   Oh yes.

HB: So you didn't live in Rochester at all? You commuted back and forth from your home?

AW:  Most of the time. If there was going to be - if Jane Crowe  was going to give a party, she'd ask me to stay all night at her house, or if somebody else was going to give a party, maybe the hostess and maybe Helen Rogers would invite me to stay all night.

HB: How many of the girls in your class lived in the City of Rochester?

AW:  I was the only one in my class that commuted.

HB: I see.

AW:  All the rest lived in the city. Of course some days I would take the streetcar, the trolley, from the station to the University, but most of the time I walked.

HB: What kind of a trolley was that--was it horse drawn or electric or -

AW:  No, this was an electric trolley of the - they had horse drawn cars when I was a little child. The first electric trolley cars I remember came down to Charlotte when we had a cottage down there. That must have been about in the early 1890s. Those were the first electric cars I saw. Then the city cars became electrified very soon afterwards.

HB: Well, when you took the trolley car, how far up did that go - right up to the University?

AW: Yes.

HB:  I see. What were the buildings on the campus at that time?

AW:  Anderson Hall and the Library and Sibley Hall where we had Chemistry and Physics, and the men's gym.

HB: I see. Was that across the street, over University Avenue? Where was the men's gym?

AW: No, it was not over across University Avenue. It was right there on that same stretch of land, rather close to the the - to the science building.

HB: I see, I see.

AW: Let's see, Sibley Hall was the Library.

HB: That's right. Sibley Hall was the Library. Could the science building have been Carnegie or - the science building would have been right across from Sibley Library, wouldn't it?

AW: No. You're thinking of a later science building, I think, that was built over on the Main Campus, but nearer Prince Street. That was built between the time I graduated and the time I went back for my master's degree.

HB: I see. Then the science building - if Sibley was on one side of Anderson, the science building was on the other side?

AW:  Yes, the three buildings were along there in a row.

HB: I see, yes.  Magnificent buildings, weren't they? Beautiful stone buildings.

Aw: Yes.

HB: Tell me a little bit more about the classes. How were they conducted?

AW: Most of them were lectures. We’d just sit there and take notes, and sometimes an upperclassman would compare his notes with ours, and the professor would ask the same jokes, especially Professor Gilmore.

HB: Now what did he teach?

AW: Gilmore? He taught English. He's the man that wrote the hymn "He Leadeth Me."

HB: Is that right? Who else were among the faculty you were associated with as a student?

AW: Well, in the English Department there were Gilmore and Gray, in Languages there Mixer and Shedd - Mixer was a delightful old man and Shedd was a rather gay swinger, and in Chemistry there was Lattimore who was spoken of as the gentleman of the faculty, a very polished gentleman but not really a chemist. He had been trained as a preacher and then gotten interested in Chemistry and was teaching us Chemistry. I'm ashamed now to remember how I studied my Chemistry for his class - I was taking a lot of time going back and forth so my studying sometimes was kind of shabby. He would assign Chapter l on Monday, Chapter 2 on Tuesday, Chapter 3 on Wednesday, Chapter 4 on Thursday, and on Friday we'd have a quiz on those four chapters. But he would give us several questions on which we could write a  long time, and if we wrote the whole period through, it didn't matter which of the questions we an­ swered, one or more. And so it was a great temptation to bone up on the chapter that sounded most interesting and pass over the others. And then when I was - when I went back for my master's degree, and wanted to take Organic Chemistry with a young man who had just gotten his doctor's degree, and was really on the job, I certainly was in bad way.

HB: Who was that young man?

AW: I can't think of his name. There was a Chemistry laboratory named for him over on the River Campus.

HB: I can't think of it right at the moment. I think of Dewey and Morey and Lattimore.

AW: No. Lattimore was my nice old gentleman.

HB: Oh, that's the old gentleman of the faculty? Now, I’ll have to think about that one. It slips my mind at the moment. Did you work with this young graduate student in Organic Chemistry? I wasn’t clear on that.

AW: Yes, I took a course with him, but I was not the star of the course - of the class - by any means. I learned a lot and I learned to be sorry for being such a slacker in Lattimore's class.

HB: You thought your preparation then wasn't enough to really keep you up with what the other gentleman was demanding?

AW: Yes.

HB:  You had Biology courses with Dr. Merrill and Dr. Dodge, Chemistry with Lattimore, who did you have Mathematics with?

AW: Estey and Gage. Estey later became head of the Mathematics Department at Amherst College.

HB: What other science courses did you have?

AW: I had Physics - I can't remember who taught it - and Geology.

HB: Who taught that? Fairchild, was he -

AW:  Yes, that's it.

HB:  Herman LeRoy Fairchild.

AW: That's it.

HB: That handsome goatee, My -

AW: I had three courses with him, General Geology, and Mineralogy, and then a field course.

HB: How did you get out for field courses? How far afield did you get? 

AW: Well, we usually went by trolley, and I don't remember just how far we went, but we went to some of those hills in the southern part of the county.

HB: Bristol Hills, probably.

AW: Yes. And we went up and down the Genesee River.

HB:  As you look back on it now, in perspective, was this a good scientific foundation in your studies, as you went on into other graduate work, or did you feel that you had a good preparation?

AW:  Excepting in Chemistry, yes. It was my fault in Chemistry.

HB: What were some of the things you experienced as a student? For example, you said the girls sat on one side of the room and the boys sat on the other side, what kind of relationship did the professors have with the women students?

AW: I think that they welcomed us. I never saw any indication that they didn't, and I'm sure that some of them were very glad to have us there.

HB: Did you feel any partiality was shown to the men or the women?

AW: No, I don’t think so. There was some rivalry between the two.

HB: In what way?

AW: Oh, the women always wanted to get better grades than the men did to show them that women really were somebody, and I think we did average better.

HB: That's interesting. How did you find the laboratory equipment? You shared the laboratory with the men?

AW: Yes, but they had duplicate equipment and each group of students had a set of equipment for Biology, and - excepting in the more advanced courses - in the advanced courses in Biology, we just worked with the men regardless of sex--an asexual condition.

HB: It wasn't until later then that they began to separate the women from the men more distinctly, when Catherine Strong Hall and Anthony were built?

AW: That was later.

HB:  Yes.

AW: When I went back for my master’s degree they were already moved - they had already moved the men up to the River.

HB:  I see.

AW: And they had a building across from the Campus for the women, and a Dean of women and so on.

HB: Who was the Dean - now when you were a student in the Class of 1905, was there any woman or faculty member that women related to for guidance or counseling?

AW: Not a bit. Unless you want to speak of Mrs. Estey.

HB:  Mrs. who?

AW: Estey.

HB: Who was she?

AW: Well, Professor Estey was head of the Math Department, and quite young. And there was a girl who came into the Math class, who didn't mix with the rest, but she sat in one of the back seats and apparently was taking the work and taking the quizzes and everything, but we never knew who she was. One day one of the girls said, "I wish Professor Estey had a wife who would tell him to wear brown shoes with brown clothes, and black shoes with gray clothes, and put brown shoestrings in his brown shoes, and black shoestrings in his black shoes." And the next day when this young lady came into the class, Professor Estey introduced her to the - some of the girls - as his wife. But after that we had very warm relations and we would visit with her, and Mrs. Burton was very nice too.

HB: Now, was that -what was Professor Burton's relationship- was he -

AW:  He was in the Latin Department.

HB: Oh yes. All right.

AW:  Burton and Hoeing taught Latin.

HB: Oh yes. And Mrs. Burton was kind of a rallying point as was Mrs. Estey for women students?

AW: Yes.

HB:  A close relationship with the women?

AW: But of course Susan B. Anthony came in to look us over every now and then.

HB:  Oh, tell us about that. That's fascinating.

AW:  Whenever we had a tea party we'd invite Miss Susan and Miss Mary and usually some of the other women in her group.

HB: Do you recall any of the other women that rallied around Miss Anthony?

AW: The only other women - woman - that I remember at the present moment was Mrs. Douglass - colored.

HB: Mrs. Stephen Douglass?

AW: Mrs. Frederick, wasn't it?

HB: You're right, you're right. Yes, you're correct.

AW: Stephen was the one that -

HB: The orator.

AW:  The orator that -

HB: Lincoln debated. Yes, you're correct. I'm glad you corrected me. Oh, this is fun. Mrs. Frederick Douglass was associated with Susan B. Anthony. Was Mrs. Danforth, or Mrs. Mary T.L. Gannett, or Mrs. Hoeing active at that time, or was Miss Anthony carrying things pretty much herself?

AW: I don't remember those names.

HB: As a student, what did you know about Miss Anthony?

AW: Well, we knew her in a rather genial way, because she would come to our teas and visit with us as if we were human beings. Of course my mother had been working with the women’s clubs to help raise money and I’d been hearing about Susan B. Anthony for years. We had - my father grew up in the Quaker group - settlement - and went to Quaker schools, and he had contact with the Anthonys for years, not close contact. And I remember how hard they worked to get that last several thousand dollars.

HB: Didn’t she pledge her insurance - her own insurance?

AW: She pledged her own insurance and mortgaged her own home and Miss Mary did the same, just way up to the hilt to get the last few dollars at the last minute.

HB: Isn’t that exciting.

AW: The trustees never expected her to raise it, you know.

HB: They didn’t? As young women did you hear - you heard through your mother who worked with the women’s clubs to raise money - but as students at the Rochester Free Academy, as women students, did you hear much talk about this--was there much excitement as young women or was this kind of going on -

AW: Oh, it was going on around us but we weren’t much concerned. We knew it was going on. I remember the first woman that rode astride down into the City of Rochester--how amazed people were to see her. I can’t think of her name. She was a very prominent woman.

HB: Oh, isn’t that great.

AW: One of the Wadsworth family, I think.

HB: Is that right. And she went from side-saddle to riding astride the horse? My, that must have set the community back on its ear. Did that happen while you were a high school student?

AW: Yes.

HB: Well Miss Anthony used to come to your teas then, and how else - what other opportunities did you have to meet her?

AW: Well, as I said, she sometimes dropped in on us in the after - Friday afternoons - when we were sort of relaxed, visited a little bit. Of course, in a way we were her babies, and she wanted to see how things were going with us.

HB: Did she ever share with you any of the causes she espoused, like getting equal rights for women.

AW: No. We were just socializing together.

HB: Isn’t that exciting. Did you ever hear anything about her interest in harboring runaway slaves or -

AW: I heard about that in- not only her interest but some of these Quaker friends that my father had. There used to be a Jake Post who ran a drug store - not the Post that Post Street is named for, but a relative of his. And Jake Post was believed to have a station on the Underground Railway.

HB: I don't know whether this is correct or not, but I once heard someone say that Miss Anthony had a trap door under her dining room table where -

AW: I never heard that, but that was a kind of a myth that you heard, not about Miss Anthony, but some of these other people had trap doors and would hurry these runaway slaves down into the cellar when somebody was coming.

HB:  Well, it's pretty hard to substantiate that one. What about any of the other faculty members that you held in such high regard - can you think of any of those?

AW: Well, I think I've named most of them. You see it was a small college and a small faculty.

HB:  How many students and how many faculty would you say there were at that time?

AW: There weren't quite 500 students, and it was limited to about that many. And Dr. Rhees didn't want it to get any bigger. It wasn't until Mr. Eastman came along with money, money, money that President Rhees got ready to spread out.

HB: As a student, did you have any contact with President Rhees, or what kind of relationship did the students have with the President at that time?

AW: Well, of course it was a small college, small enough so that he knew everybody by name, and he would have - he and Mrs. Rhees - would have a reception for the students, usually some Sunday afternoon, once a year. And the senior students - in the first place, we were expected to go to Chapel from 10 to 10:30, and President Rhees almost always presided at Chapel. There may have been other visitors, but he usually presided. And there was a course that he called College Ethics that was given the last semester - the last term - there were three terms in the year - last term senior year that was required. And that was a course in which he lectured to the senior class.

HB:   So President Rhees himself gave that course?

AW: Yes.

HB: That's interesting. Three semesters - my, you were way ahead of your time then. When- what was the length of those semesters and when did it start and finish in the year?

AW:  The first one lasted until Christmas, the second one roughly from Christmas till Easter, more or less, and the third one from Easter to the middle of June, or a little later in June.

HB: Did you have your final exam for that semester before the holiday?

AW: Yes.

HB:  Think how advanced you were in those days. Now they go back to the tri-semester - they have a tri-semester system now supposed to be so new and unusual. Isn't that lovely.

AW: And tuition was $30 a term.

HB: Oh, isn't that nice. What kinds of expenses did the students have in those days besides tuition?

AW:  Well, of course, if you had to buy new books - a book that - a big important book like Wilson's "The State," might cost $4 or $4.50. But after you graduated - after you had finished with it, you'd sell it for two-thirds of what you paid for it and then the second person would sell it for two-thirds of what he paid for it, so you rustled around and tried to find copies that were in good condition and as cheap as possible. We lived at home, all of us. We had our transportation and clothes, and very little for fun.

HB: Let's talk about fun for a minute.  Friday afternoon was the time when you kind of relaxed, and you spoke about the Dramatis Filiae and the sororities that started, were there other student activities for women or -

AW: No. We didn't have any gym, we didn't have any- the College didn't provide any sort of activity. And of course there weren't any lectures or musicals or anything of that sort. Those came along later.

HB: As you made friends with your classmates, what kinds of things did you invent, or think of to do together as kind of social outlets?

AW:  Well, as I said, the - we might have - in the first place, guessing games were very popular. And when we had a party at somebody's house we almost always had guessing games.  And then the one that got the best score got a prize which was usually a silver spoon and you might accumulate quite a variety of silver spoons in the course of the year.

HB: Were these parties for just women or did you sometimes invite the boys to the parties?

AH: Oh no, they were just for women. You see the Alumni and the upperclassmen were very much opposed to having women come in and profane their beautiful college. And they tried to influence the younger students. In fact, if a sorority - if a fraternity man took a coed out for anything he was very badly reproved. And as I think about it now, I can't remember - several of our girls got engaged while they were in college, but they got engaged to boys who were in the same church, or whom they knew in some other way--not boys that were there in the College.

HB: So there was this kind of pressure on you as a woman student not to socialize with the men?

AW: Oh yes. We were - we weren't segregated in classes but we were - there was the pressure from the Alumni and the Upperclassmen. I think that if it hadn't been for them, the boys that had been in high school with us would have gone right along socializing with us as they had before.

HB: There was just enough normal continuation on the part of -

AW: Yes, yes.

HB: the young men you went to high school with but this was interfered with by the Alumni and the Upperclassmen?

AW: That's right.

HB: Very interesting. I'm going to terminate this right now.



This is Friday, January 31, in Charlotte, North Carolina. We're interviewing Dr. Alvalyn Woodward in her home in Charlotte.

HB: Last night, Dr. Woodward, we were having great fun talking about some of your classmates.  What are some of the personal recollections you have about your classmates?  You mentioned Harriet Cross - not Harriet Cross.

AW: No, not Harriet Cross, but her mother Helen.

HB: Helen Cross.

AW: Helen Cross.

HB: You and she had won scholarships. Both of you were Phi Beta Kappa?

AW: That's right. We were both head of our classes in the high school and head of the course group that we were in in college. But J. C. came along a very close second among the boys, and I don't remember now how the other boys came along.

HB: Now who was the gentleman - who was the boy who was -

AW:  J. C. His father was an architect and I think he went in with his father for a while.  But he's been dead now for some years.

HB:  Do you have contact with these former classmates now through the years? Have you maintained your contacts with them?

AW: I've always kept very close contact with Helen Cross. She was my best friend in high school and in college and we've kept very close contact since. But of course she's senile. It isn't any fun to see her. I see her when I go to Rochester but it isn't any fun anymore. But she was a very beautiful woman and a leader in her church and in some schools there, and raised three very fine children. Her son got a doctor's degree in History, and taught History in the University of West Virginia when he died. And one daughter is still in social service work--she and her husband both--in Cleveland, Ohio. And the other daughter has been married to the son of Professor Gale in the Mathematics Department.

HB: That’s Harriet.

AW: And they live out in Fort Worth, Texas. And I get very interesting letters from her every now and then. And the - Ruth, the daughter in Cleveland writes me bulletins about her mother about twice a year. But that's all the contact I have with her.

HB: Were there other classmates that you kept in touch with?

AW: Yes. Jane Crowe Maxfield I kept - I still keep up with. I'm not a very good letter writer so I  don't do as well as Jane wishes I would. But she is - she belongs to the Pen Women of Pennsylvania, is prominent in the Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, in the Women's Society, and even now, at 93,  she is writing and going to meetings of the Pen Women.

HB: You women - Jane Crowell Maxfield was Phi Beta Kappa too, wasn't she?

AH:  Yes.

HB:  What was - what was the method of selection? This was quite a triumvirate--the three of you women getting Phi Beta Kappa in those days.

AW:  Well, the - as I said last night, since the women were not wanted we tried to make ourselves at least wanted by the faculty. And we were interested in our studies--we didn't have any outside parties to distract us.

HB: So as far as the faculty was concerned there was no question--if your scholarship warranted it, you were selected for Phi Beta Kappa?

AW:  Absolutely. One reason why we were not popular with the Alumni maybe.

HB: You told me a lovely little anecdote over dinner last night. Would you be willing to share it again this morning? You said that there was a Mr. Zornow in your class, and you used to study sometimes with him. Was he in some of your classes?

AW: Yes, we were in classes together. I think he graduated in the class. And there were places up in the Library - up on the second floor, in between the stacks where there were study tables. And we used to go up there to study together. But when he wanted to be my brother, and my own brother had died just a few weeks before, it rubbed me the wrong way. And I gave him a very sharp rejoinder. For a while we didn't study together after that--after a while we did. He was the father of Gerald Zornow who is head of Eastman Kodak.

HB: That's very interesting to hear how the generations have evolved since you studied with the original Mr. Zornow. Would you be willing to tell me a little about the development of your professional life? After graduation, what options were open to you as a student?

AW: Not very many. Of course, the thing to do was to teach. My father would have put me up in a little business. I considered making microscope slides and preparing zoological specimens to sell. But Ward’s Natural Science Institute was doing such a good business in that. I tried to get a job over there and they didn’t have any room for me, so that faded. And I finally settled down into teaching. My first year of teaching was very unsuccessful. It had never occurred to me that a teacher had to keep the students in order. And actually my first teaching was in the Rochester High School during the latter part of my senior year. I had taken all the required courses excepting Dr. Rhees’ College Ethics, and they gave me a substitute’s job over in Rochester High School--and gave me five sections of kids that had flunked the first term.

HB: Oh, that’s a wonderful group to cut your teeth on.

AW: Wasn’t it? And, as I said, I hadn’t any idea that the teacher had to make an effort to keep the kids in order.

HB: Were there any courses in Education in your undergraduate program?

AW: One course in the History of Education that Professor Forbes gave.

HB: Was there any practice teaching?

AW: Oh no.

HB: So that you were really jumping right from the theory of your University work right into life as it is?

AW: That’s right. Well, one day the principal of the high school came into my office just - or into my classroom, rather - just in time to get hit by a dart that one of the boys had folded out of paper and was throwing around the room. There probably were two or three of them in the air. And that night or the next day there was a little note on my desk saying that my services would not be required after Friday of that week.

HB: Oh, isn’t that lovely. Who was the principal, do you recall?

AW: I think his name was Miller but I’m not sure.

HB: Then what happened?

AW: Well, I went back to the University and took some more courses for the rest of the year and graduated, and couldn’t get any teaching job for the first half of the year after I graduated. The second half I got another substitute job out in Spencerport. And that went better than the first one, but not very well. And the next job I got I was out in a little town called Vassar, Michigan, near Saginaw. And I made up my mind when I got there that there were two things I had to do: One was to keep order and the other was to learn to talk so that the people in the back seat could hear me without any trouble. So I went to a young man who was coming over to give singing lessons regularly, and I told him I wanted to learn how to use my voice so that I could be heard. I knew I wouldn’t be a singer, but I thought he could help, and he did.

So after that I got so that I could be heard in any hall or church that I undertook to talk in. And I never had any more trouble with discipline.

HB: What do you think helped you to overcome the discipline problem?

AW: Well, I knew it was a problem and I was alert to it all the time. The second year I taught in Vassar, I even spanked one of the boys.

HB: Did anything happen from the administration?

AW: No. The principal was sick in bed at the time and I told him about it. He said, “Well, last time I tried to handle that boy he kicked the glass out of the front of my bookcase and rolled the globe down the stairs." And I told him I knew better than to try to handle a boy like that. I simply told him not to put his hands down on the recitation bench, and he looked at me, and put them down there. And then I had a razor strop which I applied in the proper part of his anatomy. After a few strokes, he straightened up and said, “Well, I guess I’ve had enough." And that was the last of the trouble with him.

HB: How did the rest of the class accept this?

AW: I never mentioned it to them. They never mentioned it to me. I don’t know how much it was known. I don’t imagine that this boy advertised it. I told the principal about it but that was all. But that boy was my best friend from then on.

HB: Because he respected you.

AW: Along in the spring, the first little wild flowers would appear on my desk when I got there in the morning. A bunch of wild strawberries one day; all kinds of little things. And one day I saw him going out of one door as I went in to the classroom, called back, “Willie, are you responsible for this? I have enjoyed it very much." And he came back and tried to bore a hole in the floor with the toes of his shoes, saying, “You can have some any time you order them." And when I went back to visit, Will was the first of the kids to invite me to go canoeing on the river or to do anything like that.

HB: Isn’t that beautiful.

AW: So once in a while it pays to spank a boy.

HB: That’s right. Some of the best learning occurs when it hurts. When did you get the idea that you wanted to go on to further study?

AW: Oh, I guess - of course, one year when my mother’s health was very poor, I stayed home and took some courses over at the University of Michigan Biological Station on Douglass Lake for some summer work. And the man in charge of the Station asked me one day, “Why don’t you go on with your doctor’s degree?" And I said, “Two reasons: one, I don’t have any money; two, I don’t have the brains." And he said, “Well, I believe you have the brains and I believe I can get you fellowships for the money." And he got the fellowships, or helped get them, and I was able to get through on the $350 a year fellowship which seems ridiculous now.

HB: Was the idea still in the back of your mind that you wanted to become a doctor or had you -

AW:  Well, my mother had about squelched that. She had been trying for years to persuade me not to study medicine. Then one day she said, "Well, what's the use of your studying medicine? People have to have faith in their doctors and you're not the sort of person that inspires faith. So you - even if you studied medicine, you would never have a good enough practice to pay." And I thought if that's the case, I'll give it up.

HB: What drew you to Physiology?

AW: Oh, Physiology is the most exciting part of medicine.

HB:  What precisely does Physiology concern itself with?

AW:  Oh, the changes, chemical and physical, changes that occur in the organism when it's alive.

HB:  Just the study of living tissue then?

AW: Study of living tissues and living organisms. And the course that I invented was a comparative animal physiology.

HB: Where was this? Under what circumstances?

AW: Well, this was at the University of Michigan. They needed a new - the man who had been teaching Physiology had left - and the President had known me when I was a graduate student. He had been on the Zoology staff then. And so he asked me if I would like that job. And I said,

"Yes, if I can teach what I want to." And he asked me what I'd like to teach and how I would go about it, what equipment it would take, how expensive it would be to set up the laboratory. I worked out a report for him, and he was pleased with the idea and gave me the job.

HB: When was this, roughly?

AW:  1929.

HB: Help me a little bit with the chronological development of your career. After graduation you taught -

AW: I taught - I had one year of trying to teach, and then I taught high school two years in Vassar, Michigan, two years in Seneca Falls, and took a year off while my mother was sick and got my master's degree. Then I got a substitute's job in the Normal School in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, while the teacher of Biology was taking a sabbatical leave. And then I went to the University for graduate - doctoral work.

HB: This was at Michigan?

AW: Yes.

HB: How long were you there at Michigan, do you recall?

AW: Well, I was there three years as a student, then I went to teach hither and yon, went back to Michigan University in '27, on the faculty - went back in '27 in the cancer research, in '29 on the faculty, and taught there until I retired. They gave me a year's retirement furlough, so I really stopped teaching in '53 but I formally retired in '54.

HB: Now, at the college level, you've taught at Michigan, University of Maine, North Carolina College for Women -

AW: Simmons College, and I was assistant at Vassar College.

HB: So you've had a very interesting exposure to students at several colleges. Where did this cancer research weave into your professional work?

AW: I suppose partly due to my interest in medicine. But it really developed while I was working for my doctorate - working on my thesis for the doctoral degree. My major professor had been working on it at Wood's Hole, at the Marine Laboratory, on methods of prothogenesis (?), methods of getting eggs to develop without fertilization. And he had found that under some conditions in some kinds of eggs, the concentrated fluid that collected over the eggs would start them to develop, and the question was, "What was there in that to start them?" And what started my thinking in the way of cancer was that if you could start these eggs to develop chemically, what is there that starts off some epithelial cell or some other kind of cell in your body to multiply and multiply and multiply to form a cancer? Is it something that stimulates the cell to multiply or is it the lack of something that inhibits multiplication? And that was the line of thought that I worked on. I didn't get anywhere with it - didn't make any earthshaking discoveries.

HB: Do you recall the name of your doctoral thesis - the title of your doctoral thesis?

AW: Oh heavens, No.

HB: But it was on this subject?

AW:  It was on this subject, and I was - I was going to tell you what it was published in. I think probably there's a copy of it in the University of Rochester Library.  I'm not sure that there is. I think I sent them copies.

HB: I'll look it up when I get home.

AW: If not, I'll send you some. I've thrown away all but one or two of each of my publications. There's no sense of keeping them at the Methodist Home.

HB: What was it like to be a doctoral candidate in those days? Were there pressures from students or the faculty that were unusual to women?

AW: No, in our department the men and women were treated exactly alike. There were more men working for doctoral degrees but there were women. There were more men that finished their work than women. One woman who was working beside me at Michigan was invited to take a job over at the Museum, and she went over there and spent a number of years studying snails. You'd better shut that off.

HB:  Dr. Woodward, as you reflect on your professional career in many institutions, what kind of observations occur to you?

AW: Well, perhaps the change in the position of women in the - in society as a whole. Not that we were anxious to do anything to change our position--we just wanted to get along with as little friction as possible. But when I first went to Michigan for instance to teach, there were 7 women on the literary college faculty, and 700 men. I was the only woman that they had ever had in Zoology, there were no women in Botany, there was one in Psychology, one in Latin, and one in Business Administration.

HB: Isn't that interesting!

AW: The one in Business Administration had had a very prominent research job under the government during the War - Margaret Elliott. During the first World War the government had asked her to find jobs that  women could do as well as men, or better, that had  hitherto been closed to women, so as to free men for the army. And one of the places where she was put to work was in the Armory in Watertown, Massachusetts, where they made huge cannon. She found that the women could manage one of those big traveling overhead cranes more delicately and more accurately than the men could.

HB: What do you know about that!

AW: And so they were very glad to substitute women for that job. And from that she came into national prominence and was a very outstanding member of the Michigan faculty.

HB: What was 1ife like as a woman member of the faculty?

AW: Well, in the first place, of course we belonged to Sigma Xi and we would go to Sigma Xi meetings, and most of the men were off there and the women were off here, but a few men that will always have a very warm place in my heart would come over and get acquainted with the women and offer us refreshments and be nice us.

HB: Were you given freedom - academic freedom?

AW: Oh yes, we had perfect academic freedom. I could do - the rules that controlled other members of the faculty were controlling the women. We had absolute freedom in that respect. Of course, socially our - we were sort of anomalous. Soon after I became a  member - my  first name was an unusual one and nobody knows whether it is male or female - I received a letter inviting me to join the Faculty Club. And I kind of nosed out something about it and took it to one of the men in the department. He said, “Well, the Faculty Club is just for men, and I think I would write a polite letter explaining." Which I did, but the man to whom I wrote it was always very cordial to me afterwards, more so maybe than if we hadn't had that little incident. The wives of the faculty were organized and had lots of parties, and I was invited to a meeting of the newcomer's group in the faculty. They called it the Faculty Women's Club. I went there and the women in my department were very nice to me. Somebody else said, “What department is your husband in?"

And I explained that I didn’t have any husband, and that I was a member of the faculty. “Oh, whom do you assist?" I said, “I don’t assist anybody. I’m - of course Dr. LaRue is the head of the department, but I don’t really assist anybody. I’m just a member of the faculty." “Well, whom do you work under? Do you work with Dr. Oglegerg or with Dr. LaRue, or whom do you work under?" I said, “I just give my regular courses-- I’m an assistant professor," and “Oh, I didn’t know there were any women on the faculty," and she turned and walked away. And after one or two more meetings of the faculty women’s club, I gave it up. The AAUP welcomed us. But before very long, Margaret Elliot and some of the others said, “Let’s have a little club of our own." And so we couldn’t call ourselves the Faculty Women’s Club--we had to call ourselves the Women of the Faculty.

HB: You mentioned that you were an assistant professor - were the opportunities for professional advancement open to women the same way as they were to men?

AW: No, definitely. It would depend somewhat on how much the head of your department wanted to fight the Dean, but the Dean was a very scholarly German, brought up in a German University--women were several steps lower than men. My chairman suggested to the Dean that I should become an associate professor. “No. If she’s an associate professor, she’s in line to become a full professor, and if she’s a full professor, she’s in line to become head of the department. We can’t have a woman."  But later--not much later--the woman who had made a very good name for herself in the Botany Department should have been promoted. The Dean said, “No." And five of the men in her department went to the Dean and said, “Now look here, Elzada Clover ought to be a full professor. If you don’t make her a full professor, we’re going to resign. We don’t  want to be in this kind of an organization." And with five important botanists ready to resign, the Dean couldn’t do anything but make Elzada Clover a full professor. But that was shortly before I was ready to retire.

HB: As you observe the national scene now, how do you feel about equal opportunity rights for women?

AW: Oh, I have always felt that women were just people--men were just people. And I was a tomboy--I could do anything my brother could do almost as well as he could. And I saw no reason why girls shouldn’t do anything they were capable of doing, and I still feel the same way. And I see no reason why women shouldn’t be paid equally with men for doing equal work. They tell us, “Oh, here’s a family to support." But look around and see how many women there are in jobs that don’t have families to support. You’ll find very few. I - my mother died before I went to teach at Michigan, my sister was a semi-invalid, and after trying to make it at home without Mother, Father and my sister decided to come and live with me. But about that time Father’s health failed very badly. He was - he lost most of his income, my sister never had any income. And so I had to hunt around and find a house and start making a home for them. Shortly after that Father’s sister who lived out in California wrote to us and said, “You know Mabel and Carrie and other nieces have been writing to me to come east. They feel as if I ought not to live out here all alone, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll come and live with you." And that made it important that we still get a bigger house in Ann Arbor. And I had to take care of my father, and his sister, and my sister as long as they all lived.

HB: So you were carrying a full teaching load?

AW: Yes.

HB: You had three dependents and you were managing and running a house?

AW:   I was managing a house. Of course each of them did what they could. I did - well I - Sunday I’d cook up a good big meal with plenty of leftovers. But bake 2 pies, for instance, which would last for three days, and I'd roast a big piece of meat which would last for three days or more, and get the house stocked up. And I could take time some evenings to do a little cooking.

HB: But on your salary - which had a great differential between a man in an equivalent position - you were maintaining three adult dependents?

AW: Yes.

HB: And maintaining a home?

AW:  Yes.

HB: And working just as hard?

AW: Sometimes I thought I was working harder. I got stuck with the Saturday classes, for instance, longer than I thought other new faculty members did.

HB: What was it - the teaching load like in those days? About how many hours a week?

AW:  Well, I will have to count up, I guess. When I was teaching Physiology - that was one semester - the other semesters I did other things - when I was teaching Physiology I gave two lectures and had six hours of lab, and had supervision over twelve other hours of lab. Then, of course, I did do all the quizzes--graded all the papers and notebooks. And that was - other semesters I would probably have 4 or 6 hours in beginning Zoology, 4 hours of discussion or 6 hours of lab, or I would have the equivalent in Embryology. Those were the two courses that I helped with mostly.

HB: In those days were professional societies open for women? Did you have -

AW: Oh yes. I belonged to the American Association of University Professors, and the American Zoological Society, and American - I still belong to the American Physiological Society as a retired member.

HB: Were there responsibilities as a faculty member that you had, other than your classroom and your laboratory room assignments - did you have committee assignments, curriculum committees, or student activity committees?

AW: We had some committee work, and of course we were expected to turn out research. I'll have to admit that my research didn't flourish very well. There wasn't - as I talked it over with one of - with the head of the department one time - he was chiding me for not publishing more. I said, “Well, when I get through with my college work and my homework, there just isn't much left of me." I said, “When you get home, your wife has dinner ready, your wife has taken care of the children - taken them to the doctor, if necessary, looked after the cleaning woman, and done all of those things." I said, "I have to do all of those things." Well, he wasn't sure that I could get promoted unless I published more. I said, "Well, I have to do these things and if I don't get promoted, that's too bad."

EB:  This morning at breakfast you were evaluating the time you had spent in research and the time you had spent in teaching. Which was your greatest love?

AW: I just - when I was doing nothing but research I was interested in it, but I was homesick for the students. I liked both of them and I loved having graduate students who were doing research--I loved working with them and discovering things with them. But by the time I got graduate students doing research and had them underway, along with my teaching and my homework, I was kind of washed out.

HB:  But you still enjoyed the days where you had the close association with the students?

AW  Oh yes. And I still enjoy the students. A number of them- all of those that got their doctor's degree with me, who are still living - come occasionally to visit  me. And some of the other graduate students also do. Some those that weren't graduate students.  I had a delightful visit just before Thanksgiving from a girl who was an undergraduate when I was there. She had grown up on an Iowa farm, and then had saved her money and invested it in bank stock and in insurance companies, and 1929 - she was all ready to go to the University and pay her way - and in 1929 all that evaporated. But she had signed up to come to the University--there wasn't much else she could do--so she came. She was older than some of the other girls. I got - she was in the group that I - for whom I was faculty adviser, so I got better acquainted with her than most of them. And she, for instance, has kept up with me all these years, and she and her husband came down from Washington and spent a couple of days here just before Thanksgiving.

HB: Dr. Woodward, I can understand why your graduate students keep in close touch with you. You're a great inspiration to them, and on behalf of the Friends of the University Libraries, I want to thank you for giving us so generously of your time for this interview. It's going to be a great excitement for future scholars to share the life you shared so willingly to this interview. Thank you very much, and I hope our friendship will flourish. I treasure these moments with you.

AW: Well, I hope to see more of you.

HB: Thank you.



Woodward, Alvalyn, 1884-1979 and Bergeson, Helen Ancona, “Dr. Alvalyn Woodward,” RBSCP Exhibits, accessed June 16, 2024, https://rbscpexhibits.lib.rochester.edu/items/show/7705.

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