Alison Klairmont Lingo biography:
I encountered George L. Mosse when I was a mere nineteen years old in 1969. At that time, Madison was a hotbed of radical activities and protest. Along with taking ILS courses, I participated in many protests against the war in Vietnam. Naively, I thought my fellow protesters and I were on our way to bringing about a revolution—until I took a history course from George L. Mosse. He scolded us for our uninformed rationale for overthrowing the government and our irresponsible use of slogans and symbols. Eventually, Professor Mosse’s insistence on knowing the historical context in which one thinks, acts, and writes inspired me to become a historian. At the University of California, Berkeley I worked closely with Natalie Zemon Davis who helped me develop my research interests in the history of medicine and women. Now I am a research associate at UCB. My current project focuses on the gendering of reproductive technologies in early modern Europe, a topic distantly related to the work of both Mosse and Davis.
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Skye Doney: So this is June 15, 2018. This is Skye Doney sitting down with—
Alison Klairmont Lingo: Alison Klairmont Lingo.
Doney: We’re going to talk a little bit about her time at UW with [George] Mosse and [Harvey] Goldberg.
Klairmont Lingo: Both. [laughs]
Doney: Yeah, why not? So why don’t we just pick up with what we were talking about. Mosse’s attitude towards women.
Klairmont Lingo: Women? Well, I think I’ll start by saying I came here a wide-eyed, middle-class Jewish girl from Chicago, you know, who grew up in David Mamet (b. 1947) territory, a little younger than he, on the south side of Chicago. And then with white flight moved to Highland Park when I was fourteen. My mother went to the University of Chicago. She was valedictorian of her class and got a scholarship. And I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t go. But it’s interesting in terms of this interview because I went after my first, my freshman year here, 66-67, I went to summer school and stayed at International House at the University of Chicago and decided that this is where I wanted to be. And I couldn’t transfer right away. But the following winter, I went there for one quarter. Didn’t like the history department at all. Whereas here, I was really welcomed. I mean, Mosse and Goldberg’s attitude toward women notwithstanding. In each of their lecture halls, you’re one of five hundred or more students, it didn’t really matter. I never, I was told that they don’t like women and that they were gay and whatever. But it didn’t really faze me. Because what each of them had to offer so much spoke to who I wanted to become at the time, being very open, having just spent a summer in Spain, my first time ever going to Europe with a group. But then going off on my own and meeting someone, a brother of a friend in Florence, opened my eyes to the wider world and to history to begin with. So I was very much, I think, primed to be open to Goldberg and Mosse.
And I’ll never forget walking in front of the Union when I got here in the fall of 66 and seeing a dozen or more card tables. SDS, Trotskyites, you name it. Everything was out there. And I just felt I was, I hit nirvana. I mean, this was where I wanted to be. My mother was an old radical communist at U of C when she was a young girl, and so I felt this was where I should be. And listening to both Mosse and Goldberg blew my mind, basically. I took voluminous notes of each of their, I never, I barely let a word go by. [00:03:00] I could write well at that time, quickly. And I think being in the demonstrations, being, I guess it was Commerce was Dow Chemical. And hearing, as Mosse would have said, all the slogans and this and that. And then being confronted in that hallway. Squeezed in like sardines. And the police right outside the door. I felt like the Jews were stuck in those cattle cars and died. I mean, it’s not an exact parallel. But I’m not going to be stuck here when the police come in. And I was so right. They all got, you know, beaten up in their genita—I mean, it was horrible. So I never stayed in the middle of a demonstration again, because I didn’t want to be a victim of that.
And the more I listened to George Mosse, the more I realized that we were not, as our leaders were saying, in a revolutionary situation. That if we didn’t, as he told us, and why I became a historian, was because if you do not understand your historical reality, you’re doomed to be a victim of what’s going on, that you have to understand the context. And he went into his childhood, his experiences in Germany then before fleeing and all of that to help explain and explore why what was going on outside was much more complex and had deeper roots than any of us young people could ever understand. So I realized that we weren’t going to start a revolution based on that and my own understanding of history as I understood it.
So that, I mean, that really is what was most important to me about George Mosse was that he taught me to step back and look at the context. And to think through what the subtext to what all the pundits and political leaders of our day, all these young people were doing. You can see it now more in IT with Mark Zuckerberg so young in running this, saying, “This is for the good!” And then seeing what happens with Cambridge Analytica. There’s a dark side. And I think Mosse, more than anything else, demonstrated to us and taught us about the dark side to history and that you can’t take it at face value.
And so I went on to get my PhD at UC Berkeley and worked with Natalie Zemon Davis (b. 1928). And there, I was much more directly confronted by misogyny when I was going to be in the history of science, and I was again told that particular professor, I won’t name his name, was not, really didn’t [00:06:00] didn’t think women should be in academia at all. I don’t think Mosse or Goldberg went to that extreme. And this particular professor made life very difficult for me in the classroom. And I was going to quit. I mean, he wouldn’t let his wife work outside the home.
And then Natalie came. And I switched. And she talked to this professor later and told him I was a very good student. And he apologized for his behavior and gave me a job as a research assistant, sort of to make up for his assessment of me. And so it’s because of her and her example. And she certainly was a pioneer. And I was the TA for the first course taught in, she called it Society and the Sexes. She didn’t want to leave men out. This was about humanity. So she was and still is my true mentor. She’s going to be ninety this year and we’re going to celebrate.
Doney: She was on the Mosse Press Series Advisory Board. She just stepped down last spring.
Klairmont Lingo: Oh, did she? Yeah, but she’s still pretty fiery.
Doney: Oh, yeah. So you arrived on campus in 66-67.
Klairmont Lingo: Mhm.
Doney: And which student organizations were you most drawn to?
Klairmont Lingo: Well, in the end, I was drawn to SDS, but again, I noticed there that you were only called upon if you were a woman if you had slept with the person speaking. So I, I didn’t, I went, when I was in Chicago, I worked with Staughton Lynd (b. 1929) doing grassroots organizing there. And here, I ended up writing for the Daily Cal. I reviewed plays on campus and things like that, and got involved more with poetry and drama, and took a lot of literature, too. But history was my major. I worked with Maurice Meisner (1931-2012) in Chinese history. And took a course on witchcraft. But I was mainly European intellectual history, because of Mosse. So I didn’t, I ended up being less involved—party because of Mosse—in the political fray. And because of my experiences. I lived on Mifflin Street. And I claim to be the one who started the Mifflin Street Riot. And Ben Sidran, because you know, we couldn’t get a street permit. And our house, 512 Mifflin, was where the record player was. And I was in charge of changing the records for whatever reason, right? And we were going crazy being on the sidewalk. And the police were at either end, watching us with all their equipment. [00:09:00] And their tear gas. And there was this one guy who always dressed—as I recall—either in a grass skirt or shorts and had a crown of flowers on his head. And he pranced across the street looking like this and knowing the police were on either side.
And I went into the house and a policeman followed and knocked on the door. And he said, and he wanted to come in. I said, “You don’t have a search warrant. You can’t come in. This is my house.” So he left. And I turned on “Street Fighting Man” from the Stones. And all hell broke loose. And that was when they threw tear gas. I couldn’t sleep in the house. And I knew Eddie Ellison (1941-1983), I don’t know if you knew, he was infamous here. He was a lawyer. He called it loony law. He was someone on the left who wanted, like Reagan, to take people out of asylums because they were being oppressed there. He was pretty unstable himself and ended up committing suicide. Be that as it may, he started this no hassle store with accoutrements for smoking hash and all of that. And bell bottom jeans. I still have a pair. You know, original ones that a sailor wore. I should have brought them and worn them here. And that kind of thing. And I was friends with him. He was a colorful character. I met him at the Rathskeller, the older graduate students—when I met him, he was a graduate student in law, a law student—and as I’d walk in, he and his friends would kind of hoot at me and say, “Beautiful, innocent Alison, what are you doing here?” [laughs] Because I was this sort of wide-eyed little girl. And they helped teach me about what was really going on, from their perspective. I mean, they weren’t so old, either, really. And that’s where I ran that night, and I think I slept in his store or somewhere, where he had a bed for me. And had to stay away a few days.
But all my friends, I mean, on Mifflin Street. That’s where the Weathermen developed. They wanted me to help them store guns. I said no, thanks. [laughs] I mean, they were ready, people went off to Cuba, friends of mine. I mean, there was both sides. There were all the drugs and craziness and the sexual experimentation, along with political radicalism. And leaving here from Berkeley seemed, in a way, tame in comparison to what was going on here. And listening to both the Mosse and Goldberg panels [00:12:00] yesterday and today made me realize why, that this place really was, has deep roots in the left. And I knew it then and heard about it and read a little bit about it. But it became much clearer with the panels that I heard yesterday and today.
Doney: I’m interested in how, in your experience, this Mifflin Street life intersected with the classroom. And what’s the sort of the traffic coming back and forth between ideas that are playing out, the lead up to and through the riot?
Klairmont Lingo: Well, I went to a lot of meetings. I did. And all my friends were more active than I was. I was busy reading the books. I’m a slow reader. And to do as well as I did, you had to work hard. And my friends who were just as smart as I was laughed at me. Because I would bring home stacks of books from the library. I still do. And I think I just, I closed it out to do my work. I wanted to focus on what felt most important to me at the time. And I felt somewhat guilty, because I felt big things were going on on campus and in the world. But I didn’t feel that I could contribute to that as much as I could to eventually becoming a historian. If I thought about it that clearly, I’m not sure. I was still very young and goal-oriented. And I felt everyone around me, or many of the people who lived on Mifflin Street, were very much taken up with their own either political or personal problems. And it included a lot of drug taking, which I didn’t do. I was leery of it and saw, as Ginsberg said, the best of my generation lose their minds. So I was very careful and kept my distance. Though I did get involved, right there was the co-op, the food co-op. And I worked there as well as, there was one I think over on Gorman—Gorham. A big Whole Earth. Ours was a little one and sold everything. And I loved being behind the cash register and talking to all the people and everything. Then there was one further away, on either Gorham or Dayton, where they had huge burlap bags of oats and all of that stuff. And I saw tomorrow or this morning, in the beginning of this whole food revolution. And so I was attracted to that more than to being in the streets throwing stones at policemen with billy clubs. It just didn’t seem useful to me, though I think it was in its own way. The protest did help us [00:15:00] stop the Vietnam War. Nixon said it had no effect, but I think it did. And so I did go to demonstrations. But I didn’t want to be one of the leaders. I didn’t feel I could. I didn’t feel the guys wanted someone like me. But we would have amongst other friends of mine’s series—oh, I know who it was with. It was with Mosse’s TAs, whose names I can’t remember now, who I would have intense conversations with. And they tried to dissuade me from applying to graduate school because there were no jobs, right? But by then, I had the bug of history and I really wanted to go. And I didn’t really know what else to do with my life. I wasn’t getting married. I just thought this was what I wanted to do.
Doney: Let’s talk a little bit about that decision. You studied very broadly in the history department?
Klairmont Lingo: Here, yes.
Doney: While you were here.
Klairmont Lingo: Yeah.
Doney: Which Mosse courses did you ultimately take?
Klairmont Lingo: I’d have to look at a schedule. But I think his, you’d have to name them. I don’t remember what that course was. I took whatever I could. I don’t really have a clear picture.
Doney: And was the registration process—
Klairmont Lingo: I don’t remember. I mean, I remember standing in line here and at Berkeley. For everything. And that you had to push your way. But I don’t remember feeling that I wouldn’t get in. And I’m the type who if I wouldn’t get in, I’d go to the professor. There was no way I was not going to get into those courses. And after I declared my major, I would be selected as a junior anyway. And I took philosophy, too. I took art history, comp lit, and I graduated early because I did summer school and stuff. I mean, I was a student. [laughs] And so I enjoyed talking to the older students. Because they were more on a level I wanted, I aspired to. And I would hang out with, especially with George Mosse’s TAs.
Doney: Would that be in the Rathskeller?
Klairmont Lingo: Yeah, it would be in the Rathskeller. Sometimes they’d have parties at their house. But a lot at the Rat. A lot. Everything happened there. And I remember now, I see there’s something about the first be-in. And I was at that be-in on Picnic Point where we were like dressed in blankets and we went up there. Again, I was kind of drawn into this whirl. And I really didn’t know. And that’s one of the reasons I’m here was to learn the context of what was really going on. I’d been too much in my own field in early modern French history to study my own past. [laughs] So it’s interesting being here and learning about what was going on, the subtext.
Doney: Do you think that the talk yesterday by [00:18:00] by Hasia Diner (b. 1946) as an undergrad, her experiences? Did that resonate with you? The lessons that she took away? She also went on to study.
Klairmont Lingo: Like what did, remind me what lessons she had.
Doney: Kilian, maybe you can help me here. She had three lessons.
Klairmont Lingo: Oh, right. I wrote them down. But—
Killian Harrer: Never take yourself and politics into the classroom.
Klairmont Lingo: Right. Oh, those. Right.
Doney: Yeah, keep the classroom and politics separate.
Klairmont Lingo: Right. I’ve done some teaching. I raised my children and have gotten more active now. But I have kept my hand in. And I’ve taught at San Francisco State and at Mills, at Berkeley, North Carolina State. And I’d say on the whole I have kept to those rules. And I think comparing Mosse to Goldberg, I’d say I was more on the Mosse model. Though he, too, I remember, would talk about Germany and his experiences there. So it wasn’t as if he kept his life a secret, or why he was here in Madison. But you have to do it very carefully. I mean, I remember I taught the Reformation. And it was just when all the revelations were coming out in the 90s about the Catholic Church. All the pederasty. And I had some Catholic students there who were very young, and they were appalled, but what was interesting was to be able to contextualize it back to the Reformation or before. And so it would be in that way that I would bring the present moment into the classroom.
And now I’m writing a paper I’m going to give in Lyon. I was asked to give a paper on the first doctor who wrote a book of medical errors. It’s called Popular Errors, in 1578. And it became a literary scandal because he [Laurent Joubert, 1529-1582] wrote in French, you know, not in Latin, about sex. And he dedicated it to Marguerite de Navarre, Queen Margot (1492-1549), and spoke directly to women, saying, “You should know this and that about your body.” I mean, it was very sexy book for the time. Even reading it now, I’ve written a paper, “[The Fate of] Popular Terms for Female Anatomy in the Age of Print,” and it’s a scabrous article, just because I had to use so many terms, colloquial terms for female anatomy. And then translate them. You know? [laughs] So he was trying to correct the misconceptions of the menu peuple, you know, the little people. And also teach them to better follow their doctor.
Now, my book that just came out [Midwife to the Queen of France: Diverse Observations] is a critical edition of the works of Louise Bourgeois (1563-1636), [00:21:00] who was the first woman to write a medical text in the west. She was royal midwife to Marie de’ Medici (1575-1642), and delivered the future Louis XIII in 1601 and all five of his siblings. And for that she felt she brought, because she did it successfully, peace and prosperity to the land. Without the birth of Louis XIII (1601-1643), a direct male heir to the throne, France could have been thrown into chaos again after the Religious Wars. So she wrote this master work in which she incorporated her own autobiographical narratives about how she became a midwife, royal midwife to Marie de Medici, vast networking scheme that she developed with ladies in waiting and servants and things like that that she describes, that’s how I know all this. The first tradeswoman who wrote advice to her daughter that she incorporates into the book in the second volume, plus, gynecological and obstetrical case histories and protocols for abnormal deliveries that was innovative for its time. Some of her protocols are still used to this day. And so I’m comparing her, because she was influenced by Joubert, who wrote the first book of popular errors. And she talks about the errors people make and the common misconceptions, she’d call them.
And I’m writing this, and I’m a little wary of it, but I’m being encouraged by someone who’s helping, editing it a bit, to compare their methods for discerning truth from error and the problems of doing that when you’re talking about women’s health, specifically sex, abortion, the point of conception, all of that, today. I allude to it in my opening remarks and say we’re having trouble because of social media and other sources of so-called information with sorting out what’s truth from falsehood now. But we aren’t the first, nor will we be the last generation, and looking back to these two different authors who were ahead of their times in a lot of ways. But Laurent Joubert was trying to keep hold of the medical hierarchy, which was very much a patriarchal based on Aristotelian principles that women were inferior to men and humoral physiology, that they were the disorderly sex because of their cold and wet humors, whereas Bourgeois says women could be equal to men if they could control their anger and therefore be equal in mind and body.
So here, her approach to the medical hierarchy, specifically the one in which women interacted, interfaced with doctors, surgeons, midwives, was one where she hoped for a collaborative [00:24:00] model rather than a hierarchical model. So that’s what my paper is about. So that her truth also was involved with her embodied knowledge of her own experience. And at that time—I think it’s different now—but men couldn’t even look at women’s private parts directly. They needed a midwife to be there to tell them what was going on. And women themselves had a certain modesty among themselves as well, and it came up in sharp focus in cases of contested pregnancy, rape, and virginity, and when a woman wanted to divorce, the only way she could in those days was to claim her husband was impotent. And in all of these cases, it would be because of social conventions around modesty that a midwife would determine whether the man was impotent. They were called trials by congress. And there would be a curtain and the midwife would watch them engage in intercourse, if you can imagine that. [laughs] No one could manage under those circumstances, right?
And so Joubert and others, Bourgeois didn’t speak to this particular issue. But many other doctors, surgeons, and jurists spoke against midwives being the ones who would be deposed, who would be in charge. And Joubert in particular said their terms for female anatomy make no sense. They’re flimsy and false, based on Aristotelian principles as well as Vesalian anatomy [Andreas Vesalius, 1514-1564].
So here you have this mixture of ancient approaches to knowledge and methods with the modern one. And you see it in both of them, and that’s the other strain of my paper. So I think it goes back in many ways to, I’d say, my two mentors. Indirectly George Mosse, indirectly Natalie Zemon Davis. And so here I am.
Doney: Yeah. That’s really interesting. So when did you arrive at Berkeley?
Klairmont Lingo: 1971.
Klairmont Lingo: Mm hmm.
Doney: And then when did you finish your PhD?
Klairmont Lingo: In 80.
Doney: Okay. And then you stayed—
Klairmont Lingo: I’ve stayed there. And I’m now research associate in the history department, which is a faculty position, but not paid. But I had to have recommendations from scholars. And every year I have to show that I’m really working and not a dilettante. They don’t want anyone on the roster who’s not working hard to be a scholar. So that’s what I do. And I hope to teach my book. I wrote it with, it’s over a thousand footnotes and has a medical glossary of all the animal, vegetable, and mineral ingredients that Bourgeois recommended in her recipes. And she was for open source. She gave the full description, [00:27:00] you know, recipe, whereas the men in her day, on the whole, except for those doctors who were progressive like she was, in Latin. They wanted their monopoly, right? So it’s very interesting to watch the evolution of medicine and the way in which sex, reproduction, and women, are interwoven into that power politics, as it was. Sexual politics.
Doney: Yeah, it’s real interesting.
Klairmont Lingo: I mean, one of the more progressive doctors [Jacques Duval, 1555?-1615?) wrote in the year 1612, traité, a Treatise on Hermaphrodites. And he dealt with, maybe you heard of that famous case of Marie le Marcis (1580-?), who was probably hermaphrodite. And the Church and State got involved. And it was this doctor [Jacques Duval] who said, “Well, she is a he.” When she was running, her genitalia descended. And they thought it was the heat, you know, in a humoral sense. And he examined her and decided—and what the court decided on the basis of his examination was that, and he ended up shacking up with a woman—that you guys can get married. The only requirement is you stay a man and she stays a woman. No changing your mind about it. You’re okay if you just stay and be who you are. And that’s what happened. This doctor saved that individual’s life. Literally. So the sexual politics go way back, and Foucault wrote about this, too.
Doney: Did you got into graduate school planning to study early modern medicine?
Klairmont Lingo: No. History of science. I was interested in history of science. And then I tried working with this professor and it just, you know, it was oil and vinegar.
Doney: But this is still very history of science topic.
Klairmont Lingo: It is. It is. My first graduate paper was on midwifery in early modern Paris. Working with Natalie, I had to be a French historian, basically. That’s what she did. So I went into her camp.
Doney: And who else was on your committee?
Klairmont Lingo: Gene Brucker (1924-2017), new Florentine scholar. Randy (Randolph) Starn, also Florentine, more in art history. And Bill Bouwsma (1923-2004). And outside was a medical anthropologist.
Doney: You said that Berkeley seemed tame.
Klairmont Lingo: Politically. I didn’t, it wasn’t the, I think maybe by the time I got there, though I mean, we had Patty Hearst. But there weren’t many demonstrations to speak of. I mean, I guess basically we got out of the war at that point. Nixon resigned. It was all Watergate then, you know? [00:30:00] And this gas crisis. No one could get gas. So things shifted. And I think here, it’s very condensed. This student union here and everything, whereas Berkeley’s much more spread out. And I think I also, as involved as I was in my work here, I was even more so there as a graduate student. I had to take the Latin workshop. I was busy every minute. So whatever was going on, I really tried to block out to get my work done. I’m sure there was a lot going on, but I was not into it.
Doney: Did your parents stay in Chicago?
Klairmont Lingo: Mhm. Mhm.
Doney: Do you want to go back to the topic of Mosse and Goldberg and their relationship to female students?
Klairmont Lingo: Well, I don’t have much to say. I mean, I feel that they were, the word was, don’t even try. And, so I didn’t, really. That one time I remember I was in that Rexall drugstore where everyone went for breakfast. And that’s when I went up to Goldberg and said, “What do you think I should do? Should I quit, not be a covert assassin because the university has stock in Dow?” He said, “No, no, you should stay.” But it didn’t lead to a longer conversation or a relationship. Like okay, let’s sit down and have coffee. Which listening to his former students today, was what happened. I think they both kept their distance from women, basically. And the politics of the time were such, I mean, this was before really women’s lib or anything. I just swallowed it. I just accepted that and saw their brilliance and thought—didn’t think much more about it. I mean, it’s more in retrospect. And I was interested in neither of these, I stayed ‘til eleven, the Goldberg panel. No one brought up that issue, either. It’s interesting to me that in this time, that it wasn’t.
I think I’m going to go to the women’s panel this afternoon and see what they say about the origin of the women’s movement here. Because that was just as I was leaving. I remember being on Bascom Hill and there was some big demonstration about women’s rights and all of that. And I got caught up a little bit with that. That’s the one area I think I did get active at [00:33:00] Berkeley. And I joined, I joined several. I was in a scholars’ feminist group that was very intimate and interesting. And we talked about departmental politics then. And sexual politics.
And then I joined just to try one that didn’t include university people. And I didn’t fit in at all. They were all intimidated by me. None of them had more than a college education. I was just a first-year grad. But somehow, I didn’t feel comfortable with them and they didn’t feel comfortable with me. Yeah, so I left it after a while. It just wasn’t a good fit.
And then I worked at a, what do you call it? One of those phone networks where women called in if they’d been raped or whatever. You know, or pregnant. But that was, at that time, lesbianism was a big hot-button political topic. And a lot of women were becoming lesbian, or thought they always were, or whatever. And I got caught up in some of that but I felt, and I felt pressure to become a lesbian, but I wasn’t. And being in this hotline group, it was run by two lesbians who then vied for my affection. And because of that, I left. I couldn’t handle it. I mean, again, the personal became way too political. So I just went back to my books. [laughs] You know, I escaped. I didn’t want to get caught in the crosshairs of that. And I saw many women who did.
I remember, I went to the Berks every year, you know. And there was one year when it was all about sexual politics. And there were posters all over that there weren’t enough workshops and panels on the history of homosexuality or lesbianism or whatever the word that was used then. And that was the beginning of gender studies. And the whole issue of calling it gender or sex. And that was very interesting within the field, and continues to this day. So that part, I’ve gotten. But more as a scholar than as an activist. Though there was a period at Cal when it was very, especially in the English department, that I was not a part of. We’d have all kinds of amazing visiting scholars who would come and give performative lectures where they, kind of like Goldberg, but Goldberg and Mosse were more really themselves. These women, almost like standup comics, would dress counter to who they were physically. If they were very thin, they would overdress. If they were very fat, they’d show off everything. I mean, it was that kind of thing. And it was epitome of the bourgeoisie. Let’s shock academe. And so there was that period [00:36:00] in the 80s when this was going on. It was very, it was fun. I mean, it was carnivalesque. It was really interesting to be there then. All contained within academe.
Harrer: Joan Scott (b. 1941) got her PhD in 69 here. She worked with Goldberg. And I was wondering if you ever ran into her.
Klairmont Lingo: Well, I know her work, but no. Well so, didn’t many women work with him? Do you know?
Doney: I don’t think so.
Harrer: I don’t think so. But she’s obviously—
Klairmont Lingo: Right. Well she could, I think he would have maybe. Obviously, he did. I just don’t know.
Doney: And Joan Scott was also Mosse’s TA while she was here working with Goldberg.
Klairmont Lingo: Well, she’s brilliant, you know. I don’t think they would have turned away brilliance, you know, whatever, I don’t think…maybe they just felt uncomfortable around women as some gay men of their generation did. I don’t think that’s so true now at all. My daughter’s best friend, my daughter went to University of Chicago. Alex, this gay guy, and he’s part of the family. But I don’t think that was so true in that generation. It was more separate. Maybe they were afraid of being exposed. I don’t know. I mean, people who were closer to them, you probably have heard more of that kind of discussion than I have, having never really come back here for any length of time.
Doney: Is this your first time back?
Klairmont Lingo: It’s my third. I went, once I came here just to see friends in the early ‘80s. And then I came for the twentieth reunion. And it was a picnic. And it wasn’t on campus. So this was the first time when I got here Thursday night and walked around, and walked into the Rathskeller, tears came to my eyes because it looked just the same. And then I walked around and saw Bascom Hall, and I mean, the things that looked the same, I mean, it just was déjà vu. It was overwhelming to be here again, because it was so much the same. Enough has been kept the same. I mean, there’s change, of course. Paul’s Bookstore, that was the other, that’s still here?! Wow. So it’s been very moving to come back this time. And very special.
And then going to the Mosse reception yesterday. Bumping into Suzanne Desan (b. 1957), who was a graduate student when I was there. And just being amongst other Mosse, [00:39:00] people who appreciate George Mosse, was wonderful. I mean, I just felt at home, you know. I feel very much at home here among historians. [laughs]
Klairmont Lingo: We’re a special breed.
Doney: Yeah. Absolutely.
Klairmont Lingo: Not too many of us around.
Doney: No. A tribe to ourselves.
Klairmont Lingo: Right. Right. Whenever I go to conferences, ah, I’m home. These are people, I may not agree with them, but we’re more or less taught in the same way to think. And it makes all the difference. Just feel comfortable.
Doney: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I guess I would just ask if you have any other memories of Madison in the 60s that you want to share. Beyond Mifflin and the Goldberg or Mosse classrooms. Impressions. Individuals that you—
Klairmont Lingo: I remember, I don’t know which election. Maybe it was, was it Nixon and Johnson? Who would it have been? But I remember going outside of the university bubble and knocking on doors and being around people from a different educational and socioeconomic background than all of us students. And it was really eye-opening again to be looked at with skeptical eyes and questioned and challenged about my beliefs. And I realized again, you know, and that’s part of going to a university such as this, a public university, that you discover. And getting out, forcing yourself outside that bubble and seeing what’s around you. And I was really shocked by their lack of encouragement or hospitality or anything. And what else?
I mean, I think I learned how, I mean, as anyone else, it was a rite of passage. A transition. I think what was happening in the 60s was the breakaway from 50s and traditional values. And one of the first places where I experienced it was in the dorms. Where when I came here in 1966, and I lived at Carroll Hall, which was a new dorm. I hated it. I had two roommates in the same thing. I couldn’t work. So I had to switch to a dorm, I was trying to remember the name of it. And Carroll Hall was mainly Jewish girls from the suburbs. And even though I didn’t like living in the suburbs, I’m more of an urban person. So I couldn’t stand it at all, the chitchat. And so I moved to a dorm [00:42:00] that was WASP. Where you had to dress for dinner [laughs] and couldn’t be late. But I had a single room. So I could work, right?
And then I couldn’t wait to break free. And you could then just as a sophomore live in a house, a real house, with kitchen privileges, it was called. Your parents had to sign that you could be outside of the dorm. because there, you had a curfew. And men weren’t allowed, right? And this was sexual, the period of sexual liberation. Everyone was sleeping with everybody. And that’s when eventually, my junior year, I moved to Mifflin Street.
So it was this huge switch from being very protected with the university being in loco parentis to being at age twenty then, eighteen, completely on my own. And it was you know, again, this jaw-dropping experience to be able to experience, interface with life without someone looking over my shoulder and saying, “When are you going to be home?” And you have to be home, and sign in and out. And so I think I experienced that transition in our culture, too, from that to that. Which most college kids now, it’s a free-for-all in the dorms. I don’t think I would like that particular for my own reasons. But be that as it may, that’s the culture now. So I think I was part of that transitional generation. Being born in 48, where I really had been, was formed in the 50s more or less, but then was confronted with all these new norms of freedom that we all—including drugs, sex, and everything. And I think for me, what kept me together, was work, you know? History. And Freud said, you know, you need to be able to work and love. You need both. So that’s the balance, I think. You know, love in the larger sense. And I think for me, history became my core. I taught it to my children. They all say, “okay, I know, mom.” What they’d be going through. I’d say, well, you have to look at the historical underpinning. All of the things that Mosse taught us about, I think, carry through to this day for my life. And so I think this was where I cut my teeth. And so—
Oh, and I also worked at the historical society. Yes. I worked in the archive there. And I worked on Edna Ferber’s (1885-1968) papers of all things. They just randomly gave them to me. [00:45:00] And I thought about becoming an archivist. And then going to France and working in the archives there, 16th century. Notarial records and court records. Cases of charlatans and things like that. Again, it was here where I, the roots of my historical identity were created. By working there. I mean, I gravitated to that. And I loved working. I loved long hours and I loved when I was in the archives in France deciphering the paleography. And I’d sit there for hours, just like I sat over Edna Ferber’s papers. So I think I was just meant for this kind of thing.
So the other parts, you know, the oh, here there was the music, the big be-ins and the concerts. I don’t like loud music. Like last night, I went to hear The Temptations. Which I wouldn’t normally do, but I thought I want to experience the whole thing. It wasn’t, and I told my friends who I went with, if it’s too loud, I’ll have to leave. Because I think have good hearing, where so many people of my generation don’t, because they went to those loud concerts. Because of that experience in Commerce building and being stuck in there, I never liked crowds, you know? So again, so much, just in talking to you now, I see the patterns of what happened to me in the first two years here has shaped my life, basically. Socially, intellectually, sexually. I mean, everything started here. And there was this smorgasbord of tables, of what club you wanted to join. And I ended up working for the Daily Cal. Again, writing about being part of the fourth estate. Which they say is the beginning. You know, they write the first draft of history. So I think that says it all.
Doney: Well, thank you very much.
Klairmont Lingo: Sure.
Doney: Anything else you want to add?
Klairmont Lingo: No, I think that’s good.
Doney: This is great. I’m really glad you were able to come by. Thank you.
Klairmont Lingo: Yeah, I hope it was helpful and informative.
Doney: Very much so.