In this interview, Janice Vanderwater discusses her college education at Barnard College and her path to becoming the first female faculty member of the English department at Brown University, then the director of dramatics. She worked at Brown from 1940 until 1966 and she details how the campus, and her position as a faculty member, was transformed by World War II, including the development of coed classes and trimesters, the increase of Army students, and the decrease of male faculty that allowed for her promotions in the department. She also recalls being treated and viewed differently because of her gender in terms of being associated more with Pembroke College, having an office away from the rest of the English department faculty, and feeling very aware of her differences and gender expectations at gatherings and meetings. She explains several instances when she was lauded as a role model for female students and urged to remain a member of the faculty for that reason. Vanderwater also explains her deep involvement in Sock and Buskin theatre productions which allowed her to work with notable people such as John Pleshette, Roger Carmel, Ed Sherin, and Sally Barker.
Throughout the interview, Vanderwater remembers Brown University President Barnaby Keeney, Vice President James Pickwell Adams, Pembroke College deans Margaret Shove Morriss, Nancy Duke Lewis, Rosemary Pierrel, and Brown University Dean Edward Durgin, in addition to professors Henry Hastings, Benjamin Brown, Henry Lee Smith, Hans Kurath, Bernard Block, Leslie Alan Jones, Leicester Bradner, Israel James Kapsetin, James Barnhill, Henry Huntington, and George Benedict.
Towards the end of the interview, a significant amount of time is dedicated to conversation between the female graduate student interviewer and Vanderwater about gender expectations in society and the workplace during Vanderwater’s time at Brown, as well as in the 1980s when the interview was conducted. Researchers may be interested in generational conflict that is apparent throughout this conversation.
The interview ends in the middle of Vanderwater discussing the progressive attitude of her mother and her mother’s life in the 1920s. Listeners should note that the interview was conducted over the course of multiple days resulting in some repetition.
See also: More information about Vanderwater can be found in the Brown University Portrait Collection where the subject’s name is recorded as Janice Oakley Van De Water Brown by the Office of the Curator.
Recorded on January 1, 1983
Suggested Chicago style citation: Vanderwater, Janice. Interview. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. January 1, 1983.
Janice Vanderwater was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 18, 1918. She earned a B.A. at Barnard College in 1938, and an M.A. from the Columbia University Teachers College. She became the first female faculty member of Brown University’s English department in 1940 when she started teaching play writing and play production. In 1942, she became the associate director of dramatics that aligned more with her training and personal interests. During World War II she taught Army men on the Brown University campus and directed Sock and Buskin productions. During a sabbatical in 1954 – 1955, she traveled to France, England, the Netherlands, and Sweden to read and study plays. In 1955 she resumed passionate management of Sock and Buskin until 1963. Vanderwater Brown was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during this time and subsequently retired in 1966. She died in August 1999.