50th Reunion, class of 1956


This interview with members of the Pembroke College class of 1956, highlights the under graduate experiences of Gretchen Gross, Jane Elton Hamlett, Jennifer Davis Morgan, Marjorie Jane Jenckes, Geneva Carol Whitney, Margaret Ann Devoe, and Barbara Ann Perrino, at their 50th reunion.

The alumnae begin their interview by reminiscing about their reasons for choosing to attend Pembroke, citing the coordinate education system as an important part of their decision. They remember their dormitories, sledding down College Hill in snowstorms on trays they stole from the Ratty, and the food at the dining hall. They voice their distaste for their honor council, and how it institutionalized a double standard for the sexual activity of men and women, while teasing each other about their respective levels of flirtation and rule breaking. When the discussion moves to gracious living and Dean Nancy Duke Lewis, Hamlett remarks that it was an era where the administration felt very responsible for the morality of Pembrokers. After discussing posture pictures – a practice that included taking photos of nude students ostensibly as part of a eugenics project assessing social hierarchy; and the standards at Pembroke, the interviewees warmly agree what an intimate community they found in Pembroke, and laughingly and lovingly tell stories of each other when they were younger.

The alumnae move on to consider the suitability of “silent generation” as a term used to describe women in the 50s. Gross thinks the stereotype “has been overdone. I get upset today with the younger women who complain about how they have to manage children and a job and this and that. We did it all.” For Gross, who went on to earn a Masters and a PhD, it was never clear that she was supposed to be confined to domestic life, although she found acute gender discrimination in the workforce. But Devoe – who was criticized for teaching and pursuing a professional life when she had children – disagrees, finding truth of the mandate of domesticity in her own experience. All of the interviewees agree that they placed more value on education and career than marriage, but were very limited in terms of job opportunities. They cite secretary, nurse, and teacher as the three professions available to women and remarking on the difficulty of getting anywhere in a man’s world. Morgan maintains that it is still a hot issue, and Hamlett synthesizes that times were changing in the 50s.

The interviewees reflect on the political environment at Brown, with Hamlett summarizing that it was more a time of interest and discussion as a precursor to the activism of the 60s and 70s. The alumnae end their interview by reflecting on the intellectual awakenings they experienced at Pembroke, their pride in Pembrokers, and their lasting friendships with each other.


Recorded on May 26, 2006, John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI.
Interviewed by Jane Lancaster

Suggested Chicago style citation: 50th Reunion, class of 1956. Interview. By Jane Lancaster. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 26, 2006.


Margaret “Dazzle” Devoe Gidley studied art at Brown, and upon her graduation went on to study music at Yale. She is a passionate supporter of the arts and teaches, performs, and works for musical and political organizations in Rhode Island. She has taught classical piano as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Rhode Island, and has been the president of both the Rhode Island Music Teachers Association and the Rhode Island Federation of Music Clubs, and served as the vice president of the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra.

Gretchen Gross Wheelwright studied American literature at Brown. She received a master’s degree in English at the University of Minnesota and later earned a PhD at the University of California Santa Barbara. She pursued a career in education, was a teacher, high school principal, and college professor for 35 years in California before retiring and returning to her native Minnesota.

Jane Hamlett Malme studied English literature and was on the staff of the Pembroke Record at Brown. She earned a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law and worked to help set up women’s rights offices in the Civil Rights Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. She was active in bringing a suit against publishing companies who refused to let women be editors, and saw changes in laws due to her work in the mid ’70s. She is now an attorney and consultant on property tax policy and administration, and has been a Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the chief of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Bureau of Local Assessment.

Marjorie Jenckes Fleischmann studied American civilization at Brown. A “City Girl,” she was the president of the West House Association at Brown, and also worked at the Pembroke Library. Marjorie is now a vice president of the alumnae class of 1956 and a Pembroke Associate.

Jenifer “Jiffy” Morgan Massey studied American civilization and played field hockey at Brown. A real estate agent for over 30 years, she is now retired and lives in California with her husband and children.

Barbara Perrino Piscuskas studied sociology at Brown, and has received a Spotlight Award for her exceptional service in support of Brown.

Geneva Whitney Courtright studied English literature and was on the staff of Brun Mael at Brown. Upon her graduation, she moved to New York City with Jane Malme and worked at Life magazine. She was the president of the Corporate Resource group, an executive search firm in New York and Connecticut, and president of Brown University’s Class of 1956 Alumni Association. She died in 2009.