In this interview, conducted over fifty years after her graduation, Ruth Estella Sittler begins by describing her childhood in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and the difficulty of her parents’ divorce in 1929. Sittler explains that her older brother graduated from Brown University in 1930 and that she was determined to follow in his footsteps. In 1929, she did just that, matriculating into Pembroke College the same year her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Sittler majored in economics and notes that for beginning level and required courses, professors such as Benjamin Brown and Thomas Crosby commuted to the Pembroke campus to teach. She recalls taking courses with Magel Wilder, Will Taylor, and James Shoemaker. She also fondly remembers her encounters with Bessie Rudd, Director of Physical Education, and Dean Margaret Shove Morriss and Dean Eva Mooar.
Beyond her scholastic memories, Sittler describes social life on campus including fraternity parties and the extracurricular activities that she participated in such as the swim and field hockey teams and the Question Club – Sittler also discusses serving as secretary of the Pembroke Student Government during her junior year and then as president in her senior year. Throughout the interview, Sittler talks about financial and employment difficulties that were prevalent during the Great Depression with examples of rent, food costs, and restricted job opportunities.
The latter portion of the interview is spent discussing Sittler’s life after graduation. She references her paraprofessional work in social work and obtaining her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburg. Sittler thoroughly recounts the two years she spent in France as a Field Director for the Red Cross during World War II and explains the psychological difficulties that she had after returning home from the war. She concludes the interview by relating how she found her job at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the courses she takes in her retirement through Harvard’s continuing education program, Institute for Learning in Retirement.
In addition to this interview, the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive also holds coursework of Ruth Sittler’s that is available for research through the University Archives of Brown University.
Recorded on February 2, 1987
Interviewed by Joyce Tavon
Suggested Chicago style citation: Sittler, Ruth Estella. Interview. By Joyce Tavon. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. February 2, 1987.
Ruth Estella Sittler, the second of three children, grew up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. After her parents divorced in 1929, she, her mother, and her siblings, moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Sittler graduated from Pembroke College in 1933 with an A.B. in economics. After working as a governess and at Scruggs Vandervoort and Barney Department Store, she para-professionally pursued social work in programs under the Emergency Relief Act and subsequently obtained her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. During World War II, Sittler spent two years in France as a Field Director for the Red Cross and earned a position as a social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston shortly after returning home. In retirement, she maintained her passion for learning and took continuing education courses at Harvard’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. Sittler died on November 1, 2003.