Northrop/Forman Family, 1954, 1981, 2013


Conducted in 2013, this interview records three generations of Brown University graduates who share their individual and collective experiences at Brown from the 1950s to 2013. Interviewees include Diane Lake, class of 1954, her daughter Melanie Northrop, class of 1981, and granddaughter Sarah Forman, class of 2013.

The interview begins with Diane explaining that she attended Pembroke College simply because she was unaware of any other women’s colleges and because Dean Nancy Duke Lewis awarded her a scholarship just before classes began, without which she would not have been able to attend. She discusses the rigorous nature of her high school that prepared her for Pembroke as well as the public speaking and physical education requirements. Diane describes Bates House and Andrews Hall as well as the relationship between Pembroke and Brown University, her coeducational classes, and fraternity parties. She recognizes Nancy Duke Lewis and music professor Bill Dineen as her mentors at Pembroke. Diane also discusses her life after graduation including obtaining a master’s degree, her career teaching math for almost thirty years, and her involvement with the Women’s Alumnae Association Board and the Pembroke Associates Council. She explains the expectations of women at that time and her awareness and participation in the Women’s Movement in the 1970s.

The interview turns to Melanie who begins by identifying the differences between her mother’s experience at Pembroke and her own. She entered Brown after the Pembroke-Brown merger to a more equal ratio of female-to-male students, coed dormitories, and the new curriculum that eliminated course requirements and allowed for maximum schedule flexibility. She describes the excitement that she felt about the new curriculum but also the lack of guidance available to her to navigate it. Melanie also recalls the socio-political climate of the campus in the late 1970s in terms of the feminist movement as well as the Brown student community uniting to dig out the university and Providence neighborhoods after the Blizzard of 1978. She says that a course titled “Universities – Their Theory and Practice,” taught by Robert Morse, influenced her career decisions after graduation and that Dean Harriet Sheridan and geology professor Jan Tullis were her primary female role models.

Sarah continues the discussion of the new curriculum by articulating her appreciation that Brown encourages student involvement in administrative decisions and also lauding the curriculum for allowing her to pursue a double concentration in Middle East studies and chemistry. She recognizes women’s rights and environmentalism as the driving social discussions on campus and describes her involvement in the Women Peer Counselor Program, an organization that provides support for resident students in matters impacting women on the Brown campus. She also explains her study abroad experience first in Tunisia and then in France after the attacks in Benghazi and Libya and her fellowship at Cambridge University in nuclear energy.

The women also recall where their experiences overlapped. For example, Diane and Melanie both took a music course with Martin Fischer, and Melanie and Sarah both took an engineering course with Barret Hazeltine. They all express profound feelings of community and agree that Brown instilled the need to be useful and community-oriented in each of them.


Recorded on May 11, 2013 in Pembroke Hall, Brown University, Providence, RI
Interviewed by Wendy Korwin

Suggested Chicago style citation: Northrop/Forman Family, 1954, 1981, 2013. Interview. By Wendy Korwin. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 11, 2013.


Diane Lake Northrop ’54, P ’81, GP ’13, ’16 grew up in southwestern Connecticut and graduated from a New Haven high school. She attended Pembroke College and graduated in 1954 with an A.B. in actuarial mathematics. After graduation she obtained a master’s degree and taught math for thirty years. She was active on the Women’s Alumnae Association Board and the Pembroke Advisory Council.

Melanie G. Northrop ’81, P ’13, ’16 graduated from Brown University in 1981 with an A.B. in English. She went on to obtain obtain graduate degrees in English from Penn and Harvard as well as her MSW from Boston University. She has worked in five different colleges and universities over her career in higher ed, and is presently the Director of Acuity Services for the Counseling and Mental Health Service at Harvard University Health Services.

Sarah L. Forman graduated from Brown University in 2013 with an A.B in Middle East Studies and Chemistry. During her time at Brown, Sarah was a student worker at the Pembroke Center. After graduation she completed her master’s in nuclear energy at Cambridge University. Her thesis was on the potential for nuclear power development in Jordan and Turkey to contribute to global development and environmental targets. She has worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Washington, DC and London.

This interview was conducted shortly before Rebecca M. Forman ’16 received her acceptance letter to Brown. She earned an A.B., Public Health and went on to receive a Master’s Degree in Global Health Policy, Planning and Financing jointly from the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She currently works in London as a Health Policy Consultant with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.