Oral History: Jane Williams

Jane WilliamsNarrator: Jane Williams
Interviewer: John Tortorice
Date: 22 May 2014
Transcribed: Teresa Bergen
Total Time: 48 minutes, 31 seconds

**To access the OHMS oral history page for Jane Williams, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here.**

Tortorice: Press this down. Yes, I think we’re in business.

Williams: Oh, okay. Excellent.

Tortorice: Okay. So it is May twenty—

Williams: Something.

Tortorice: —second, I think, 2014. And I am here at the University Club on the campus to interview Jane Williams, who has worked for the university and for the History Department, for many years. Jane, what is your position right now?

Williams: I do graduate admissions. I do graduate funding that has to do with fellowships and awards. And I do the timetable. Or scheduled classes, as it’s now called.

Tortorice: Well, we might as well go back and talk about your childhood. Are there remembrances or experiences in your childhood that directed you towards a university education and ending up here? Were there teachers? Were there parents?

Williams: Parents. It was expected. There was no, no other option. I and my two brothers would go to the university. We would go here. That was the plan, that was the expectation. There was never any idea that there was anything else that we needed to do. And it was that kind of, we grew up in a household where my parents didn’t direct us to a particularly career or anything like that. It was like okay, this is what you will do, but you’ll find your own path. You’ll do, actually I was talking to my brother about this the other day. And it was like, what was it about our parents that kind of got us to a certain point and then it was like okay, it’s time for you to take over and this is your life, it’s not my life. And he said that’s just the way they were. It was like okay, we’re raising you. But it’s your job from this point on to find your own happiness, but a university education is involved with that.

Tortorice: So where were you born and raised?

Williams: I was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. At Percy Jones General Hospital. Which is, the building that the hospital was in is where the Kelloggs, I don’t know what it was called, but it was in that Wellville, [The Road to Wellville, 1994] the movie. Story.

Tortorice: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. 00:03:00

Williams: So that’s the building I was born in. My father was stationed there after the war. He’d been there for about three years because of war injuries. Then my parents moved about a bit, trying to find a place where he could find a job and where they actually wanted to live. My father was from Pennsylvania, coal mining family. And my mother was from the La Crosse area, farming family. And they decided to settle on Madison. So I think I was probably a year old when we moved here. And grew up and raised here.

Tortorice: In, on the East Side? West Side?

Williams: East Side.

Tortorice: Okay. So you went to East High?

Williams: No, I went to Central.

Tortorice: Oh, you went to Central.

Williams: I went to Central High School. Yes, yes. From seventh grade. I was one of the last classes to graduate. My brother graduated in [19]68. And his class, I think, was the last class to graduate. I graduated in [19]66. And it was a wonderful, wonderful high school. It was just, all kinds of students. All kinds of kids went there. From the kids from the South Side, the big Italian community. The Black community. It drew from Shorewood and it drew from Maple Bluff. Plus there were all of us then in the middle, who lived in like the isthmus area. And it was a great, wonderful learning experience.

Tortorice: Well it’s interesting that that kind of diversity, which now is the buzz word and so much effort is put into, was, in many ways, destroyed by urban renewal, by these policies of just closing schools and areas of the city that didn’t meet the criteria of some administrator downtown. I mean, it’s just, it’s amazing.

Williams: Right, right. I went to Lincoln grade school. And that’s one that is now the Lincoln Apartments. And most of, I think, those central city elementary schools are gone. There was Longfellow, which I knew that a lot of the kids I went to high school with had gone to. That’s gone. Washington, which is now the education building for the city, that’s gone. And Lincoln is gone. So it’s like my youngest brother always had, Lincoln grade school closed just before he finished. Central High closed just before he finished. He went to Lapham. Then that changed. So it was just like, he kind of felt he was the impetus for closing schools. (laughter) 00:06:00

 Tortorice: Did your parents go to the UW, or?

Williams: My father did for a while. But then he had a growing family that he had to support. My mother graduated from La Crosse, I think it was a normal school at the time, a teachers’ college. And she didn’t start teaching until after my brothers and I were in high school. And then she did sub work. But, yeah.

Tortorice: Well, it’s an example of how people in Wisconsin from all economic backgrounds, class backgrounds, whatever, ethnic backgrounds, really did have this commitment to the university and expected their children to go there. And were admitted to the university. And the tuition was so low that you really had a large contingent of families that were either the first person to go to school, or perhaps one of the parents had gone for a while but never completed.

Williams: Right, right. Well, when I went, my first semester here, the tuition was 162 dollars a semester.

Tortorice: Oh my God.

Williams: Uh huh.

Tortorice: Amazing.

Williams: So, yeah. You know, I got a job, my first job on campus paid for my tuition. I worked as a student worker in rural sociology, initially. And that was great fun. But it allowed me to pay easily for my education.

Tortorice: Well I’m tempted to spend a lot of time talking about Central and Madison in those years, but I think we better get to campus.

Williams: Campus. Yeah.

Tortorice: So you arrived on campus—

Williams: Nineteen sixty-six.

Tortorice: Right when—

Williams: Right when things were really heating up. Yeah. Yeah. It was very interesting. I was here for the Dow Chemical. Was here for the Black student issues and creating Afro-American Studies. Was here for the TAA issues. And I remember one spring, it was spring and I remember protesting the buses for some reason. (laughs) And shutting down bus lanes. I don’t know. (laughs) But it was an interesting time and really a very, because it was so political, it made one really look at where your politics lay, you know. And both of my parents were fairly conservative. And I remember my parents being very upset with me for going to demonstrations. And were, you know, my father had said something 00:09:00 about what was I doing? This was in protesting the war in Vietnam. And what was I doing? You know, this is a war that the country has gotten us into.

And I looked at him and I said, “Would you really want what happened to you in the war to happen to your sons?” And he just shut up and I shut up and walked out the door to my demonstration. And then he eventually turned around and really saw that this was not—and he could see my point of view and he was changing his own point of view, which was very interesting. Yeah, he’d been severely wounded in World War Two and was hospitalized for about three years. Having, a mortar had exploded like three feet away from him and had massive surgeries. Twelve surgeries on one hand in order to make it work, you know, and that sort of thing. So it was like, oh, yeah. That was not particularly fun. I’m not sure that I’d like my boys to go through it.

Tortorice: So you became politicized—

Williams: Yes.

Tortorice: —on campus. So you arrived here as a freshman in [19]66. And did you gravitate to a specific major right away? Was there something that you were interested in?

Williams: Yes. I was a reader. And absolutely loved English literature. Directed myself directly there. Became an English major. And it wasn’t for any purpose other than I wanted to know how to read, how to really look at something and read it and do critical analysis and that sort of thing. At least, that’s what developed out of it. And one of the things, as I said, my parents never directed us to—but their theory of education was not so much you go to college and get a job as I think current parents direct their children. But it was more for that broad base. Study the sciences, if you need to.

Tortorice: Wake up. (laughs)

Williams: Yes. Yes. Study literature. Study history. Although I never took a history course in my entire career. Study philosophy. And that, I always thought that was very nice. That’s sort of, again, that do what you will. Just find a passion and run with it as much as you need to. If you need it for your personal self, take it. But you don’t necessarily need to share it with everybody, you know. (laughs) So teaching had never been, 00:12:00 never been one of those things I was interested in.

Tortorice: As you said, so different than the kind of pressures our students feel now.

Williams: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Tortorice: So, we’ll get back to the political engagement. So, what was the English Department like in 1966? I imagine it was almost all male faculty?

Williams: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. I don’t remember taking a course from a woman. I didn’t graduate, as one normally would do. I fell in love and took off for San Francisco for a bit. Which, of course, everybody was doing. So hell, why not follow the trail? (laughs) But, yeah, and I think the first woman I’d taken a course with, and this was after I’d had my children and my marriage died and then came back to school to finish. Because I only had about twenty credits left to finish. And I thought okay, go deal with that, get that done. And I took a class with Susan Friedman, now I can’t even think of her name. she also taught in women’s studies, women’s studies literature. Pondrom? Helen Pondrom?

Tortorice: Cyrena Pondrom?

Williams: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Cyrena Pondrom. Yeah. So that was in mid [19]80s when I finally, early to mid [19]80s, when I finally finished. But at that time, no. I remember taking a class from [Walter] Rideout and Lenahan and some funny guy from Kentucky whose name I can’t remember. But I remember we were reading something and he said—you know, it’s funny that this is the only thing you remember about the class, but we were reading about a character named Penelope. And he said, “In Kentucky, we don’t have the name Penelope, so we insisted on calling the character’s name Penelope.” [pronounced “lope”] So, okay. (laughs)

Tortorice: So the political engagement, how did that develop? You know, I mean, if you look at that period, most students were not engaged in politics. They were here for, they were in the sciences, they were in other aspects of the university. Not that all of those students weren’t engaged. But it does seem that the real impetus came from the humanities and the social sciences.

Williams: Exactly. Yeah. And those are the people that I knew. I mean, for the most part, the kids I went to high school with, of course I stayed friends with during college. And those were the people that I hung out with. And those were the people who were being politicized. Or who already were. And then I was just catching up and catching along. 00:15:00 But, yeah.

Tortorice: Well, if I recall, it was a time both when students felt empowered, but they also felt they could change the world.

Williams: Yeah. Very passionately about that. Yeah.

Tortorice: They were reckless. They probably didn’t know what they were doing. Not to be judgmental, because I was one of them, too. But there was this sense of diversity of political options on the far left. There were the Stalinists. There were the Maoists. There were the Trotskyists. There were, you know, the revolutionary union. There were all these—

Williams: (laughs) Right. There was SDS, which I think probably had more members of the Madison Police Department on it than actual students. (laughter)

Tortorice: But I recall that there were all of these like political operatives. And they almost behaved like they were in revolutionary, you know, Petrograd or something.

Williams: Right. (laughs) Let’s sign you up for this and let’s sign you up for that.

Tortorice: And they would strategize. It was, really. I don’t know if anyone has ever researched that level of the history.

Williams: Yeah, that would be interesting. I was never one of the, I never signed up for anything. I think the last group I really ever officially belonged to was the Girl Scouts. (laughs) But yeah, I think I was just one of the bodies.

Tortorice: So can you tell me some events that stand out that you were—

Williams: I particularly remember the Dow Chemical. That was in, was that October of [19]68? Or [19]67.

Tortorice: Sixty-seven, right.

Williams: Yeah. Yeah. And I remember I had been having lunch at the Brat House with a friend. And we were sashaying up the hill, you know, because my classes were all in Bascom. And we were going in. I remember somebody running down the hill saying, “They’re beating your brothers in the Commerce Building!”

So we raced up the hill and just, it had pretty much been over by the time we got up there. And just kind of stunned by the whole activity. There were just a lot of police around. The fellow I was with knew Hanson, the police. Was he campus police chief?

Tortorice: Mm hmm. Ralph Hanson. Yeah.

Williams: Yeah. And made some crack at him, but I don’t think he could do anything, because he knew his father. (laughs) It was just really strange. I remember also at some, I don’t know if it was that event or another one, 00:18:00 where we were tear gassed. And for some reason, it didn’t affect me. So I led a whole group of people into the back door of Bascom to get out of the way. And it was kind of like leading the blind into, but I knew this back door one could get into at Bascom, and we’d done that. And I have since met people who were there as well, but didn’t know at the time.

Tortorice: Well I guess, so you were here [19]66 to—

Williams: Seventy-one, I think. Yeah. I was working at the primate lab.

Tortorice: Oh, when you were a student, you worked there.

Williams: When I was a student, I worked there. I worked in the photography lab, and worked with a fellow by the name of —. And who was the other one? Fred Sponholz. Fred Sponholz first. And we would take pictures of the animals. In putting together publications for the various psychology faculty. It was very interesting.

Tortorice: So I assume you knew Harry Harlow (1905-1981)?

Williams: I knew Harry Harlow. I knew him fairly well, yeah. He would come in periodically and sit down with his cigarette. He’d light a cigarette up and then he never could quite get the match out. You know, but he’d throw it in the ashtray anyway. This is when you could smoke everywhere, of course, and we smoked everywhere. So we’re sitting down in our office, which was quite a large office. And we’d have to follow him around and put out his matches or he’d burn the place down. (laughs) But he’d come in and he’d just sit and chat. And I remember him pulling me out for walks. And we’d go for walks around the building while he talked about what I should do with my life and how I should do something practical. And I should keep literature and art as a hobby, but I should really find something really practical to do. And I was like okay, I’ll think about it. (laughs) But yeah, he was a character. He was really interesting.

Tortorice: Was [Wilfred] Brogden (1912-1973) there in those, do you remember somebody named Brogden.

Williams: Brogden? I don’t remember. I don’t remember. Bob [Robert] Bowman, I remember. A fellow by the name of Sagett. All doing monkey research.

Tortorice: Was, I mean, did you have any issues with primate research in those years? Or what, and what were the photos like? Were they photos of monkeys that were 00:21:00 experimented on? Or were they—

Williams: Sometimes, yeah. Yeah. And there were also, we kept a huge catalog of slides and negatives that somebody would say, “I need a picture of this, to go with this article that I’m writing.” So we would go dig through and find the appropriate photograph for them. I didn’t have any real problems with the research, because I could see, you know, see the value in it. Some of it was a little harsh.

Tortorice: Gruesome, I’d say.

Williams: Yeah. Some was gruesome. Yeah. I remember one morning walking into the building. And our office was in the basement. And they’d just gotten a shipment of feral monkeys in. And they were loose. So you had to kind of very carefully walk and try to dodge them. Sitting up on top of file cabinets and lockers. And, they weren’t terribly nice, and I really didn’t like the monkeys that much. (laughs)

Tortorice: No. I can imagine. I mean, when I was a boy, I think like about eight years old, the monkeys at Vilas Zoo that Harry Harlow kept down there in that round enclosure.

Williams: In the round thing.

Tortorice: The macaws or something, not macaws—

Williams: No, they were rhesus.

Tortorice: Macaques. Oh, rhesus, that’s right. They all escaped. And they were all over our neighborhood. Here I’m taking some of your time.

Williams: No, no, no. (laughs)

Tortorice: But they were swinging from the trees outside my bedroom one morning. And I just thought that was the most cool thing. They managed to catch most of them. But then a couple of them were found frozen in the middle of the winter. They found their little bodies. Anyway, that was a different thing.

Williams: Oh, yeah. They’re not used to that sort of thing. Yeah, but I used to, every once in a while Fred would hand me a camera and say, “Go down to the zoo and see if you can get any pictures of father love.” So we would go down to the round place and we’d go inside. And we’re just like okay, that’s a father, what’s he doing? Just shoot some pictures if a baby monkey got close to him. (laughs) But it was a fun place to work. It was really nice and I learned a lot about photography. Did a lot of—

Tortorice: Science in action.

Williams: Yes, yes. Did a lot of photography after that. You know, film developing, that sort of thing. So that was kind of fun.

Tortorice: Were they still doing the deprivation experiments in those years?

Williams: They were. Yeah.

Tortorice: So you would see these photos of the monkeys that—

Williams: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Never took them. But would see them. 00:24:00 And it was after his surrogate study. Yeah, the most distressing stuff was, because they would have surgeries, you know. And watching what we used to call the animal handlers, we used to call them the monkey boys. And the way that they were really, they could really handle the animals that nobody else really wanted to handle. And we had some cages across the hall from us. And you’d go out and look at them. You learned all the animal facial expressions, and the fear grimace and all of that. You know, kind of teased them. (laughs) That’s not very nice. But I was young.

Tortorice: Well, in many ways, those kind of jobs are an integral part of your education.

Williams: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Tortorice: The jobs I had, really I learned a lot from. So then you went—

Williams: Went to California.

Tortorice: And you were married and you had your children. So you were gone for a number of years.

Williams: Actually, I think we were in California for about two years. And then came back because we’d gotten married and realized that San Francisco wasn’t really a place where we wanted to raise our children. That we wanted to have children, and it wasn’t a good place. And we decided to come back. And Will had been a graduate student when I met him at the primate lab. And he did DNA studies in rats with Bob Bowman. And he’d got a job back at the primate lab briefly. And we sort of settled in Madison again. A lot of people leave Madison, but a lot of people come back. It’s like, you know, it’s really home.

Tortorice: So when did you come back to work for the university?

Williams: I came back, well, let’s see. Messy divorce. Single parent. I didn’t have my degree. Went back and finished my degree. I did it summers and a couple of classes. I think it took me two years. But I was dealing with the kids and myself and getting through this messy divorce thing. Okay, and then I finished. And then I got a job at WPS. And then worked there for about six months, I think. It was not where I wanted to stay or be. It was just like a factory kind of thing, and processing forms. And then I got a job at the investment board, at the state side. And I worked there for three years. And that was interesting, because I started out as a file clerk. And then they sort of said, “well, could you back up, you know, the 00:27:00 traders?” So I would occasionally do some trading over the phone. Which was kind of fun, when I did my first million-dollar trade. They hovered over me while I did it. (laughs) And then I did my first five-million-dollar trade. And then I sort of thought, this is not really where I’m at. Because you know, I was kind of like this hippie chick who really didn’t care a lot about money, dealing with all this money and the fiduciary responsibility that’s associated with that. And it was like, that’s not really a plus. They had gotten a new director. And he and I were like oil and vinegar and we did not get along. And it was like, I had to get out of here.

So then I found out that they had a position at the history department. And one of the analysts that I work with at SWIB [State of Wisconsin Investment Board] knew the woman who was the, oh, what was she? It’s not the administrator, but the department secretary, I think they were called at that time. I knew her and was able to give me a good reference. And I got in.

Tortorice: So in those years when you went back to school, there probably was very limited support for single mothers with small children coming back to school.

Williams: Yes, yes, yes, yes. I did have the support of my family. Which, they took really good care of the kids. They were six and nine, I think, when we separated. So, two years. They were very good about letting me study. I told them I didn’t have time for them to be sick. And they weren’t sick. And the minute I had my final exam one year, they got sick the next day and were sick for two weeks, just making up for it. (laughs) But yeah, there wasn’t that. But I did have family, I did have friends. You know, so that was—

Tortorice: So now we’re finally at the history department.

Williams: We’re at the History Department. Yeah.

Tortorice: And what year was that?

Williams: Nineteen eighty-eight. October thirty first. Halloween.

Tortorice: So what was the department like in 1988?

Williams: Okay. It was really interesting. I think there were probably thirteen to fifteen staff members. There were sixty-two faculty, I think. Sixty-two to sixty-five, anyway. I have not been a historian, not really read a lot of history. I knew it was out there. But I have come to realize that the people, the faculty that I worked with, were just hugely famous. And I didn’t know that. They were just 00:30:00 these old guys who walked through the office. (laughs) And it was interesting. I got to thinking about it. [Michael Boro] Petrovich (1922-1989), Mosse, [Theodore] Hamerow (1920-2013), [Jan] Vansina (1929-2017). Who else? [Harvey] Goldberg (1922-1987) was not there. I think he might have just passed away before I started, or had—

Tortorice: Yes. He died in [19]87.

Williams: Yeah, yeah. Just these really well-known folks who would just walk through the office. And you’d say, “Who was that?” And they’d say, “That was Ted Hamerow.” It’s like oh, okay.

Tortorice: So, thirteen or fourteen staff members.

Williams: Mm hmm. There were—

Tortorice: In those years—sorry for interrupting.

Williams: No, no.

Tortorice: In those years, there was a lot more one-on-one with the faculty. Most of the staff, I assume, were women.

Williams: Yes. All, well, I think we had one, when I started there was one young man who was there who was, I think he did payroll. No. He worked with the funds.

Tortorice: And most of the faculty, I think maybe Diane Lindstrom (1944-2018) was on the faculty?

Williams: Diane Lindstrom and Maureen Mazzaoui. When I started, there were quite a few more than originally. Gerda Lerner (1920-2013) was there.

Tortorice: Florencia.

Williams: Florencia [Mallon]. Suzanne Desan, Colleen Dunlavy, Jeanne Boydston (1944-2008). They all started at the same time I did. Or very close to that. I’m probably forgetting some people. But yeah, it was kind of booming with women.

Tortorice: There had finally been this kind of commitment to hiring women.

Williams: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tortorice: But there was still this culture where the staff still in many ways acted as private secretaries for the faculty in terms of typing?

Williams: Yeah, there was one girl who worked there who was a private secretary. Okay, there were two. One who worked with [Stanley] Kutler (1934-2015), and one who worked with Al[lan George] Bogue (1921-2016). And then they would do general steno and dictation. And there were a handful of faculty who really took advantage of that. When I came in, it was beginning to be the point where people were not dropping their papers and things to have a typing pool type them. Although there were still some of them. I remember I picked up a typing job there 00:33:00 because I was on a big downtime. And typed Pekka Hämäläinen’s reunification of Germany book [Uniting Germany: Actions and Reactions]. But that was the last thing, the first and last one that I did. And I don’t think that was done anymore. Because people were then, for the most part, doing their own typing. At least the newer folk were. They all had their own computers and that sort of thing. And we were typing on, not computers, we were typing on typewriters.

Tortorice: So, tell me about the culture of work in the department. You know, of course there are the gender aspects, which were much more—

Williams: Nineteen fifties formal.

Tortorice: Yes. Interesting.

Williams: Yeah. It was, and this was in the [19]80s, in the late [19]80s. There was still that formality and the idea that you deferred to the faculty. But I had worked with Harry Harlow when I was a student and I called him Harry. He called me Jane. You know, that’s the way that culture worked there, at least partially. And when I started, they were all calling me Jane. They weren’t calling me Miss Williams. And so I felt if you can, if you feel—okay, feminist that I was, if you can call me Jane, I can call you Bob. I can do that, you know. With some people. I certainly couldn’t say that to Mr. Mosse. Or I couldn’t say that to Mr. Hamerow. Or, you know, I’m sure I could have, but I was too fresh—

Tortorice: With Mr. Mosse, you could have. Mr. Hamerow, probably not.

Williams: Possibly not, yeah.

Tortorice: Because I knew George, of course. I think he felt—interjecting again here on your time—

Williams: Oh, that’s okay.

Tortorice: He felt that knowing the staff and treating the staff well was essential to functioning in the department. And he understood that.

Williams: He was one of the few. (laughter) No offense, folks.

Tortorice: He did. He understood that. And he often mentioned that. And of course he was dear friends with Judy.

Williams: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah.

Tortorice: And they went out for their birthdays together. He had a very strong attachment to her.

Williams: Yeah. He always had his holiday, his winter holiday party. And she was always invited to that. Always had her hair done before she went to it, as I recall. And they were very close. I told you about the story that he was talking to Judy and I in his office. And he was so excited to have Judy 00:36:00 come and see his hooligan lamps. And we had no idea what he was talking about, thinking it was motion detector or something like that. Turns out it was a halogen lamp over his dining room table. It was like, okay. (laughs)

Tortorice: Good lord.

Williams: I know. (laughs)

Tortorice: So I gather that you would perceive the relationship between the staff and the professors during a good portion of your time in the department as being less than respectful on the part of the faculty of the staff? Has that changed?

Williams: It’s changed a great deal. And I think really when, it changed particularly when young faculty were coming in, when the older faculty were retiring and the younger faculty were coming in. And looked at the staff as not necessarily servants, but as, okay, if I’m not nice to you, I don’t get a good—I’ve got to be generous, I’ve got to be thoughtful.

Tortorice: Civil.

Williams: Civil, yes. I do remember being sworn at by someone though who when I was taking some admissions files to his office. And he was not very respectful. And I sort of mentally flipped it. (laughs) But I think, we went through, we had a very contentious staff as well. And went through quality training. Which I think pulled the staff together, gave us a sense of what we do for the department. It was kind of a real growth kind of thing within the staff. It was kind of like, you don’t just sit there, but this is what you actually do. While nobody really knew all of the aspects of what everybody was doing. And I think that it brought the staff together as a group. And it gave us the understanding of what it was the faculty did, other than just teaching a class. But the writing, the research, and everything else that they did. The speaking tours and that sort of thing. It also gave us the reality that the department would not function without us. Ergo, we had an important position. And it rose the staff up that way. I think at the same time we were doing that, I think the faculty was noticing the change in the staff.

Tortorice: So what year would that have been, Jane?

Williams: Oh, goodness. Ken[neth] Sacks was chair.

Tortorice: Nineties. 00:39:00

 Williams: Yeah, it was [19]90s.

Tortorice: Early in the [19]90s. And that would have been when [Donna Edna] Shalala (Chancellor: 1988-1993) pushed that initiative quality.

Williams: Yeah, yeah.

Tortorice: Well, that’s fascinating, then. Well into the [19]90s, the department functioned in a kind of industrial employee model. And didn’t recognize the worth of, or acknowledge the worth of the staff in a way that was effective on the part of the staff perception of what they were doing and their relationship, their worth.

Williams: Right. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Well, the staff didn’t have a sense of their own worth. You know, it’s not just one, you know—

Tortorice: Yes. One side.

Williams: It’s one side or the other. But, yeah. And I think that really did a lot. It’s kind of like when the feminist movement started, you started to see yeah, I’m worth this. I have a valuable place. I’m just not—and it was that sort of feeling that kind of grew out of that, I think. I may be projecting on everybody else. But that’s my take on it.

Tortorice: Well, I’m sure it was an offshoot of—because most of the staff still, then, I would assume, were women. Then you had people like Gerda who, in a way, was doing the same thing with the faculty. In kind of confronting a kind of established sense of privilege.

Williams: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You see that, but I think you see that everywhere. Still.

Tortorice: Was Gerda supportive of, were the women faculty supportive? Were they aware of any of this?

Williams: Well, they were, we worked very closely with both. I think at the time, Jeanne Boydston and Colleen Dunlavy were associate chair and director of graduate studies. So they were all a part of that same sort of thing which kind of strengthened the value of it. And we didn’t have an administrator, a staff administrator, at the time. We were sort of, I like to call it the inmates were running the asylum. And we were making decisions about, it was that whole quality thing about the people who have to do the process should own the process. And to determine then, you know, because you’re the one who has to do it, to determine the best way to do it.

Tortorice: Well, it sounds like you were very engaged in this process. That’s great.

Williams: Plus, it makes you feel like you’re not just doing a job. 00:42:00 You’re participating with a group of people to make something work better.

Tortorice: So, can you discuss some of the notable faculty members or staff members that you’ve worked with over the years? If you’d like to, if there’s people that you would like to recall your engagement with and how that different, differed from other faculty?

Williams: Yeah. I’m trying to think about those first people that I met. They were kind of—I was learning my job. So they were these people that kind of walked around and asked things of you. But one of the jobs that I did was graduate admissions. So I was hauling files to their offices so that they could make choices on who they wanted to admit.

At the time when I started, they were still under the caucus system. So, you know, I was just kind of processing stuff and learning about the whole process of the graduate admissions. But yeah, I remember—I’m not remembering much anymore. (laughs) I don’t remember those early years as much other than schlepping files around, and trying to learn the whole process and what had to happen and what was going on. I do remember, I remember having to type the exams for everybody. And that was interesting, because they were asking questions and it’s like, I don’t have a clue as to what this is. And they would give you these handwritten, handwritten syllabi and handwritten exams. And Ted Hamerow wrote in a German hand. So it was always kind of difficult with an American eye to try to figure out the German letters. Although, coming from a German background, I’d seen the letters before, so I had a sense of what was going on.

I remember doing [Kamal] Karpat (1923-2019) exams and syllabi, and just not having a clue. So I was having to run up and say, “All right, I see this word. What is it?” (laughs)

Tortorice: You mean they wouldn’t even type the things?

Williams: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. They weren’t typed.

Tortorice: They wouldn’t take the time to type it, I suppose. Or they didn’t know how to type.

Williams: No, didn’t know how to type. Yeah, I think that was a lot of it. I do remember a story about George and his, he’d gotten a new typewriter and was so excited because it was portable. 00:45:00 You know, ooh, I can sit on the plane and type. (laughs) And there were some who just, even today, I’m not sure that they know how to type. So those were things.

I remember Jan Vansina and I have a, I collect stamps. He has friends in Europe who he gets mails from. And I used to gather together my European stamps that I would get from the mail that I would get for admissions. And I would save them for him. And he would send them to Europe and then they would send American stamps back, because I collect American stamps. So, you know, we’re still trading stamps even today. (laughs)

Tortorice: Oh, that’s great. That’s great.

Williams: Yeah, so I met him at the reception, the spring reception, and he said, “I have some stamps for you. I’ll bring them next time I’m in the office.” I remember, oh, John Smail (d. 2002), before he got really sick, coming into the office. And I really liked him. There were just, you know, once they got off the dais, and away from the lectern, and as I had been there a number of years, they all got to be fairly interesting when they figured that they could actually speak to me. (laughs)

Tortorice: Mm hmm. And I know you’ve become friends with a number of faculty—

Williams: Yes, I have.

Tortorice: —who stop and see you.

Williams: Yeah, Al[fred Erich] Senn (1932-2016) comes in regularly and sits down and we have long chitchats about where he’s been recently and how he’s doing. It’s nice to feel like people can do that still.

Tortorice: Well, and you are now the longest serving member of the staff.

Williams: Yes.

Tortorice: And as you approach retirement, which is well deserved, do you have any other recollections or comments about the department that you’d like to cover? Any controversies?

Williams: Oh, I don’t think I’d better get into the controversies. (laughs)

Tortorice: Okay.

Williams: Yeah, it’s been very interesting. An interesting job. I’ve really enjoyed working with the people. A lot of the faculty, I just find delightful. I think probably would have found the older faculty, from when I first started, delightful, too. But there was that gap. 00:48:00 Some of the staff that I work with I just adore. Some of the former staff, just happy not to see them again. (laughs) Yeah, I have a lot of memories. A lot of memories. But I’m saving them for my book. (laughs)

Tortorice: Okay. Well, thank you so much. We should let you get back to work.

Williams: Oh, yeah. There’s that. (laughter)


[End Interview.]

Leave a Reply