Helen Julia Thayer, class of 1922


Helen Julia Thayer grew up in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. She remembers Pembroke as a place of “gracious living,” including maids to clean the dorm rooms. The main pastime was dancing in the living room of Miller Hall to Jazz records. Rebellious activities included smoking in one’s closet, sleeping out on the fire escapes, and sneaking out to the drug store after hours for treats. Prominent visitors to the Brown campus were figures of importance in World War I, and Helen’s interest in music lead her to attend performances as often as she could in downtown Providence and on campus. Off campus events required a trusted female chaperone or a house mother-approved escort.

Thayer regrets not having more interaction with men in her day at Brown, aside from social occasions. People didn’t protest together or work on causes together; she feels that it would have been a good way to get to know the male mind. While at Pembroke, she worked at the Pembroke library, as a babysitter, and in the Pembroke office answering the door and telephone to earn money to help pay for her expenses, including tickets to many musical and theatrical performances.

Part 1

Part 2


Interviewed by Barbara Raab

Suggested Chicago style citation: Thayer, Helen Julia. Interview. By Barbara Raab. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University.


Helen Julia Thayer grew up in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. She attended Pembroke as part of the class of 1922 and majored in English, which she calls her great passion. Thayer was active in a wide variety of clubs and organizations at Pembroke. A varsity basketball player in high school, Helen continued the sport as a substitute on Pembroke’s varsity team. She was the President of the Student Government Association, as well as Chairman of the Question Club. Self-described as “not responsive to public opinion,” Thayer was an ideal leader because she was committed to her positions and the values that they espoused while still being rebellious – she knew how to beat the system while staying within it. Also during her time at Pembroke, Thayer worked at the Pembroke library, at the Pembroke office, and as a babysitter. Besides books, she had a great love of music, a focal point of hers during her years at Pembroke. She had two children with her husband, William Paxton.