Betty Miller, W&M Class of 1949
Betty Miller arrived at William & Mary in 1945. During her time at William & Mary, she participated in Pi Beta Phi.
Like her classmate, Sallie McBride, Miller’s trajectory appeared to be toward working for Pan America following graduation. However, after earning her Bachelor of Arts in 1949, Miller taught school in Norfolk, before moving with her husband, Kent, to various military assignments throughout the United States. She returned to school to earn her Master of Library Science from Florida State University in 1963. Following graduate school, she worked for the State Library of Florida until she retired.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Betty Miller
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: March 1, 2018
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 3:30 p.m. on March 1, 2018. I’m sitting with Betty Davis Miller at her home in Tallahassee, Florida. Okay, Betty, will you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Betty: I was born December 17, 1926 in Jarratt, Virginia.
Carmen: Okay, great. And what years did you attend William & Mary?
Betty: I went to the Norfolk division of William & Mary in 1946 to 1947. I’m not sure exactly. And then transferred to Williamsburg in the fall of 1948.
Carmen: And you graduated in 1949?
Betty: And I graduated in 1949.
Carmen: Wonderful. And before we get into that, because we will get into all of that, we’re going to back it up a little bit, and would you just tell me about where you were raised and about your family?
Betty: I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and my parents, my mother had a year’s worth of college and my father only had an eighth-grade education. However, his father had been to college and so he was a child born in Texas and didn’t move to Virginia until he was eight years old. His mother died when he was four. And so he started off as a mechanic and ended up working for the Norfolk shipyard in Portsmouth as a planner and estimator.
00:01:57 He was too young for the first World War and too old for the Second World War, born in 1905. My mother was born in 1904. And so my mother’s family lived in Jarratt, and she went home when I was born. And that’s why I was in Jarratt. And then we lived in Norfolk most of our life. My parents owned their home and they had five children. And we all went to college at various places and all have graduate degrees, so my parents thought education was very important.
Carmen: Yeah, so I guess—I was going to ask when you first started to think about college, but it sounds like that might have been ingrained from an early age for you.
Betty: Yes, yes.
Carmen: So what in particular led you to look at William & Mary or the Norfolk division of William & Mary?
Betty: It was there, and cheap. [Laughs.] Not very expensive, you know. So basically that was it.
Carmen: Okay. and will you tell me a little bit about how that worked? Was there an expectation that after you attended a couple years at Norfolk you would transfer to William & Mary?
Betty: Absolutely. And I think it was part of the way it was all set up. I think if you were admitted to the Norfolk division you were guaranteed admission to William & Mary in Williamsburg.
Carmen: So did you know what you wanted to study when you started out at Norfolk?
Betty: I’ve always been interested in literature, and in the theatre, and in speech, and so I guess it was sort of a natural.
Carmen: Great. And so can you talk a little bit about that transition, what it was like to attend school in Norfolk and then transitioning to William & Mary, what it was like stepping on William & Mary’s campus for that very first time? Maybe what it smelled like or looked like.
Betty: Well, I’d been to Williamsburg before, so it was not entirely unfamiliar. And also I knew a lot of the people who transferred from the division with me, so I didn’t feel as if I were entering a strange universe. I knew people already who were there. And I was very impressed by the Sunken Garden because it didn’t look like a garden to me, it just looked like a big bowl of grass, you know. And so I can remember that as a first impression. I loved the Wren Building. And because I was an English major I had lots of classes in the Wren Building. And I have always been interested in writing.
00:04:59 And so I did a lot of writing in all my English classes. I was a very mediocre student. Very innocent, very naïve, very excited to be away from home. So I just loved being on campus and being in Williamsburg.
Carmen: Yeah, and it seems like—I have a little list here of the different things you were involved in—and you kind of already mentioned that you were so interested in theatre, and I have a list of the different plays you were in, like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I think you might have been in, and “The Dark Lady,” does that sound familiar?
Betty: “Dark Lady of The Sonnets,” uh-huh, yes. Well, I don’t remember “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I may have been in that. I was in “Macbeth.” I was one of the three witches in “Macbeth,” and I have quite a scary picture of that. [Laughs.]
Carmen: I would love to see that picture.
Betty: I don’t know where it is.
Carmen: Well, if you ever stumble across it again, keep us in mind. So what led you to initially get involved in theatre then? You were interested in it, you said. But what made you first do involvement in a theatre group or the Backdrop Club or any of the things you ended up being involved in?
Betty: I’ve always been interested. I love the movies. I like film. I like the way film tells stories. I like what film shows you. I like that whole interaction of picture and story, so it was sort of a natural. I don’t think it was my name. But I was always teased about being Betty Davis when I was in grammar school. But I was named before she became a star, so I wasn’t named for her.
00:07:02 But I…you probably don’t remember, but in the day, ‘30s—I know you don’t remember—there were lots of movie magazines. And the thing that girls did then was to collect these stars, movie stars, you know, and put them up around their room. And I was right there with the rest of them.
Carmen: I think that that tradition might have continued for decades and decades after. It might have changed to pop stars at some point, but yeah.
Betty: Uh-huh, yeah. Uh-huh.
Carmen: So when you were doing theatre and working in these productions, Althea Hunt was the director.
Betty: Yes, she was.
Carmen: And her name and her reputation precedes her at William & Mary. She had a very memorable career. Do you have any memories of working with her or her being the director over some of the productions you were in?
Betty: Oh, I do, but the one I remember most was Harold Scammon. Is that a name that means anything to you? Yeah, I remember him very clearly. And Althea taught speech, and I took several classes in speech from her. And I was always a failure. I could never quite get rid of my southern accent.
Carmen: Do you have any particular memories of Harold that you would like to share?
Betty: Of who?
Carmen: Harold. Is that what you said, Harold?
Betty: Harold Scammon, uh-huh. Just that he was very personable and he talked to us. He was a very good teacher in that he was a good communicator. I don’t know, maybe I had a crush on him. I’m not sure. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That would be memorable. Were there any other notable professors or mentors or advisors you had during your time at William & Mary that were particularly impactful?
Betty: Yes. I had—whoever the dean of women was. Her name was Catherine…
Betty: Jeffers. Was a good influence on me. I had to take an invertebrate biology class because that was the only class that would fit into my schedule, and had had no biology before then at all. And this, you know, to come in, I had to have it for my science credit so I could graduate. And she was very kind and very helpful, and she had students over to her house, which was different. Most professors, or at least that was the first time I’d ever been in a professor’s home. And she was the first person that ever said to me, well, are you thinking about graduate school? It had never occurred to me. I mean, you know, if I got my college degree, then that was kind of it.
00:10:00 And that was…that opened a little window. And I studied harder for that invertebrate zoology class than I ever studied for anything else because it was so new and so unusual. So she made a big impression on me.
Carmen: Yeah, it sounds like she was extremely impactful and supportive as you were struggling through a new thing.
Betty: Yes, she was. She was, uh-huh.
Carmen: Do you remember exactly what her role was, like the type of interactions you would have had with her? Since at this time obviously there were a lot of rules and regulations in place for women, and I imagine she would have had some part in making sure those things were carried out. So do you have any memories of that specifically?
Betty: Not particularly. I did need a loan. I needed student loans. And she got me a little job working doing something, I don’t know. It was ten hours a week or something like that. She was just very kind and helpful.
Carmen: Wonderful. Were there any other professors or mentors you can think back to?
Betty: I was on “The Royalist,” which was… But always fancied that I was rather talented when it came to writing. And I had taken an English class at the Norfolk division of William & Mary and had translated some Chaucer from the Old English into new English and rhymed it, rhymed the couplets. And my professor at the time said oh, this is wonderful, you must have really worked hard on this. And I had, but it was fun. It was a little puzzle, sort of.
00:11:53 But then he…I wrote some poetry for an English class and he said, on one of the things I wrote, this is wonderful, and I got A plus, plus. So when I went to William & Mary I had a professor named Clark, and he had beautiful blue eyes and white hair and taught up at the very top of the Wren Building. You went way up. And I submitted the same poem because maybe I hadn’t done any other homework. But anyway, he wrote back and he said this is trite, the worst thing I’ve ever seen, D. Or maybe it was D minus. [Laughs.] So there were two separate critiques of the same piece of work, which was also enlightening.
Carmen: How did that impact you? I imagine that would have been a bit disheartening to receive that feedback.
Betty: Well, I was fairly uninterested in academics and so I just shrugged it off, you know. Oh, what does he know? [Laughs.]
Carmen: Well, I guess that is one way to take criticism and not let it bring you down, you just let it roll off your shoulders.
Betty: But I really was not a very good student.
Carmen: Do you say that because you were involved in a lot of other things and just…?
Betty: It was because I was so interested in learning about life, and just being away from home, and having fun. Having fun was very high on my agenda.
Carmen: Can you expand a little bit on the ways in which you did have fun then at William & Mary?
Betty: Oh, well, I joined a sorority. I knew some of those girls beforehand. And so that was fun. And then I met my husband. That was fun. And so we did a lot together. We, you know, and we spent a lot of time together, so… And there was a lot going on, and it was just fun.
Carmen: Walk me through the process of meeting your husband. How did the two of you meet?
Betty: We met at a Presbyterian picnic, actually. We both had gone with other people and we just sort of spotted each other. And then he called me later and so, you know, one thing led to another.
Carmen: It sounds like there was kind of an instant interest there.
Betty: Yeah, well, I guess.
Carmen: I don’t know. Now I’m not so convinced. Was there not? Did he have to pursue for a bit?
Betty: Well, no. I mean, you know, he… No, we were a couple at William & Mary.
Carmen: And what was the experience of dating someone at William & Mary during the ‘40s? What sort of things did you do with the different…?
Betty: Well, there were certainly places you couldn’t go. Well, it was right after the war, so there were a lot of veterans. And so there were things the veterans could do that the other students couldn’t do. And Kent had been in the army, but just for a short time, so although he was a veteran and although he had the GI Bill, he wasn’t really an older man. As a matter of fact, he was a year younger than I was.
00:16:00 So what was it like? Very restrictive. Women had lots of rules. You had to be in by a certain time. Couldn’t go places. There were places that were definitely off limits. Couldn’t ride in a car. No one had cars except the veterans. Some of the veterans had cars. And it was also the first time—it was sort of interesting. The freshmen men used to have to wear beanies and bow to Lord Botetourt. But there were these guys who had just come back from the army. They weren’t about to wear beanies or bow to Lord Botetourt. And so there was this sort of dichotomy, too. It was an interesting time to be in school.
Carmen: Yeah, it sounds like it would be. One of the questions I actually wanted to ask was how you think William & Mary was shaped during that postwar time with students coming back, or with students coming who had been in the military during the war, and how you think just the nationwide and worldwide sociopolitical climate affected William & Mary and shaped it. Do you have any reflections on that in particular?
Betty: I think for the first time colleges realized they couldn’t act as parents. I mean, that was sort of the beginning where there was a slight student rebellion about the restrictions and what could happen. Of course that was 1949 and not…it wasn’t really terribly revolutionary, but the beginnings of those feelings.
00:17:55 And of course people broke some of the rules. I mean, you know, girls would sneak out, and people did go to the places they weren’t supposed to go. But they were pretty strict, and if they caught you, they could ship you home, and they did do that on occasion. I remember we hitchhiked to Richmond once from William & Mary and of course nobody ever knew about that. And that was interesting.
Carmen: What were you going to do in Richmond?
Betty: We went to a concert, I think. Something pretty tame. But yeah. Then we went to—before I graduated I got a job with Pan Am Airways. Did you know this?
Carmen: No. I’ve spoken, actually, to a couple other individuals who got jobs with Pan Am, though, so I’m wondering if it was something about that time.
Betty: Maybe. And there was, you know, you had to be a college graduate to be a hostess at that time. And Pan Am you had to speak Spanish. And so I could speak a little Spanish, but not very much. And I remember saying oh well, I’m not very good, but I’ll practice. [Laughs.] But anyway, I got the job and they sent us to a tailor at William & Mary, and we were measured for a uniform, and they made our uniforms. And my mother was very unhappy, very unhappy with the fact that I had done this and that I was going off to fly to South America.
00:19:58 And so after I graduated and when we came home, we were supposed to go to Miami. This is irrelevant, isn’t it?
Carmen: It’s not irrelevant. It’s part of your narrative.
Betty: Well, anyway, they delayed the class and said it would be in October instead of in July or whenever it was supposed to be. I remember she was so happy. And then the superintendent of schools in Norfolk called and he said, Mrs. Davis, I understand Betty just graduated from William & Mary. Would she like to teach school this year? And she said yes. [Laughs.] And so she sent me down to interview him. And so I ended up teaching school and I never did fly with Pan Am.
Carmen: Oh, my goodness.
Betty: But that was part of my college experience.
Betty: Was interviewing for that job and having a job before I graduated, which was pretty neat.
Carmen: Somewhat unusual even anymore.
Betty: Yeah, uh-huh.
Carmen: Wow. I bet that was very exciting, the prospect of flying to South America, seeing new spaces.
Betty: Oh, right, right.
Carmen: I remember now who I spoke with this about last. Her name was Sally McBride and she—
Betty: I know Sally. She was—
Carmen: Do you know Sally?
Betty: She was a Pi Phi.
Carmen: That’s right, she was. Do you have any specific memories of Sally that you want to share?
Betty: Oh, Sally was a good friend. And we both worked at the movie theatre. We sold tickets at the movie theatre for two or three hours, one night a week. And I remember Kent used to walk down. I’d get off about 10:00 or maybe 9:30, I don’t really remember, and Kent would walk down and walk home with me. And you couldn’t date or do anything on Mondays. Monday was free. Well, when did you interview Sally?
Carmen: I interviewed Sally last summer, last June, I believe. I was in Chicago.
Betty: When she was—oh, you were in Chicago?
Carmen: I was in Chicago.
Betty: Is she still there?
Carmen: She is. She is living in Chicago and she talked a bit about her time with Pan Am as well, and how that was an experience, so that is so funny that you both knew each other.
Betty: Yeah, that we both went together for that interview.
Carmen: Wow. That’s wild. William & Mary can be such a small world, can’t it?
Betty: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: Well, that’s great. I will have to reach out to her and tell her that I spoke with you. So there are so many things, based on what you just told me, that I kind of want to jump back into, if that’s okay with you.
Carmen: So one of the things I want to talk a little bit more about were these kind of dating restrictions. And not just dating restrictions, but there were also clothing restrictions, right, and curfews, as you mentioned. Do you mind talking about those different things a little more explicitly? And you also mentioned that some individuals did kind of work around or, you know, disobey those rules.
Betty: They broke the rules.
Carmen: Because it might have been at a time where there was starting to be some pushback. So are there any specific examples of that that you want to share?
Betty: There was a place called the Blue Lantern which was one of the off-limits places. And I guess it sold liquor or something. I didn’t drink at the time, so I don’t know. But I did get asked to go one time, and went, and with great fear. I was afraid that I would be discovered, so I didn’t have a good time. [Laughs.] That was the only time I really broke the rules. So what other dating restrictions? We had to be in at a certain hour. And I don’t remember clothing restrictions. No one ever wore slacks or pants that I remember, or shorts. You couldn’t wear shorts.
Carmen: Right. Do you remember if there was widespread frustration with these rules or…?
Betty: I don’t. I remember one case, I think, of date rape. I don’t know that this happened, but I remember a very tearful sorority sister, and people gathering around. She was not someone that I really knew, but thinking back over it and looking at her torn dress and everything, I think that may have happened. So I don’t know how much sex was going on at the time.
00:25:01 And I don’t know how much drinking there was. I didn’t drink and I was a good girl. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Well, the point you brought up about the case of potential date rape, it’s actually something that has been an issue on college campuses essentially probably as long as coeducation or even college campuses have existed, and still is quite a large issue. Do you remember if that was addressed by any administrative…?
Betty: I never heard the term and I never… It was only thinking back over it and thinking back over that incident that I surmised that that’s what had happened.
Carmen: And do you remember—so with all these regulations and with different ways people did work around those rules, do you remember if there was ever a moment where those frustrations or wishes to not have those rules were vocalized to the administration?
Betty: No. I don’t remember any of that.
Carmen: Okay. So I think I also read—and I want to get the date right on that—yeah, so in December. You mentioned earlier you weren’t allowed to ride in cars, either. And I think it was December 1947 that there was the faculty and administration approved, essentially, of allowing women to ride in cars if you were a sophomore, junior or senior and if you had written permission from a parent. Did you ever have to go through any of that, or did you just avoid riding—
Betty: Huh-uh. I never knew anybody with a car. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Yeah. That could be one… [Laughs.]
Betty: Yeah, I don’t remember how I got home, though. That’s interesting. I don’t remember how I got back and forth from William & Mary to Norfolk. I don’t know if my parents came and got me or whether I got rides. I just…that’s interesting. Because I did, you know, go back and forth.
Carmen: Was it difficult being away from home?
Betty: No, I loved it. [Laughs.]
Carmen: How often do you think you went back home?
Betty: Oh, I went home for every holiday and probably not too much in between.
Carmen: So again, there are more things I want to jump into, so if you ever want to return to any of these topics please let me know and we will. When we were talking about Dean Jeffers I was thinking of other prominent figures that might have been at William & Mary, or that were at William & Mary when you were there. So Dean Lambert, his reputation also precedes him. So are there any memories you have of Dean Lambert?
Betty: Not personally. Now my husband has several memories of Dean Lambert. Neither one of us were very good students. And one of the interesting things about William & Mary is that I’m sure we would not be admitted now if we were to apply because although my high school record was reasonable, I mean, you know, it’s about…anyway, I was an honor student, but not outstanding in any way. And my husband got a scholarship, a leadership scholarship because he was the president of his class and the president of the student body at his high school, and that was before he was… But he took a German class and didn’t like it, and so he stopped going.
00:28:58 And one day the German professor saw him on campus and said we are going to the dean right now, and took him by the arm, and they went to Dean Lambert. And he said this young man enrolled in my class and he’s not, you know, he’s not attending. And the story is that finally Dean Lambert said let me see if I understand this. You want to drop this class? And Kent said yes. He said okay. [Laughs.] One of the things about William & Mary at that time was that you could sort of enter and find your way without having to jump through quite so many academic hoops as one has to now.
00:29:59 For example, my husband took a psychology class and the professor, who was Dr. Williams, sort of took an interest in three of the guys who seemed particularly interested in what was going on, and took them under his wing, and sort of mentored them. And when Kent—and he was a senior at this time. And he said to Kent would you like to go to graduate school? I think this would be interesting. I think you have a gift for this and I think this would be interesting. And so he helped him, and then helped him apply to graduate school. Well, he would never get into graduate school now with the kind of undergraduate record that he had.
00:31:00 And yet here was a professor who saw something and was able to help him go on. And he did, and he had a wonderful career, and he really… So that was a nice time to be in college when you didn’t have…when college could also be a learning period, a growing period of a time of…so you could discover your own capabilities and your own possibilities, and you weren’t locked into something by the time you were 22 or 23, there was still an opportunity to go in other directions, to change directions. And I think you can still do that to some extent, but it’s much more difficult.
Carmen: What do you think caused that change?
Betty: I don’t know exactly. What do you think? Things are certainly different now in terms of getting into graduate school, for example. You can have experience. You can graduate from college and then go and have some experience and still get into graduate school, but to go straight from college, as Kent did, with the kind of academic record that he had would be difficult. He lived in the president’s garage with where students still live now, I think.
Carmen: Wow. I wonder what that experience was like for him.
Betty: It was fun.
Betty: It was good, yeah.
Carmen: Being in such close proximity to the president, though—
Betty: I don’t think you…I don’t think the president was very interested in who was living over his garage.
Carmen: That’s a fair statement. Do you have any memories of the president specifically? John Pomfret was the president during the time you were there.
Betty: I don’t at all.
Betty: I don’t at all. What I remember is the Wren Building very clearly. I had an English class, an American lit class on the first floor and then that writing class up. And I remember the Phi Beta Kappa Building before it burned down very clearly. That’s where the theatre was, the stage.
Carmen: Do you have any specific memories, now that we’re talking about theatre again, of any specific performances or favorite performances or experiences you had while doing theatre?
Betty: No, I loved it all. I particularly remember “Macbeth.” I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because I have a picture. And I remember “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.” But I think that was a pretty mediocre performance.
Carmen: Why do you say that?
Betty: Because I think back on it and I—[laughs]—I think I probably wasn’t very good.
Carmen: Well, if only we had some tapes to watch back and see how those performances went.
Betty: Really? You have tapes of that?
Carmen: I wish we did. That’s what I was saying, I wish.
Betty: Oh, yeah. Well, I think I’m glad you don’t.
Carmen: I’m sure it was wonderful. I’m sure I would think it was wonderful.
Betty: Now I did go to a Phi Beta Kappa banquet with Dick [Bethods], who I think was the editor of “The Royalist.”
00:35:01 He was Phi Beta Kappa. But I don’t remember who the speaker was. And that’s as close as I ever came to…
Carmen: To Phi Beta Kappa, is that what you’re saying?
Betty: To Phi Beta Kappa, yes.
Carmen: How was the banquet? Do you have any memories specifically of it?
Betty: I don’t remember. I just remember the dress I wore.
Carmen: What did it look like?
Betty: It was black and white stripe and it had a square neck with stripes that went this way and stripes that went that way. It was pretty. I looked good.
Carmen: Do you have any pictures of that?
Betty: No, I don’t. I have a couple of pictures I did get that I will show you later.
Carmen: Sure. We’ll definitely look over there. So if you look back on the whole theatre experience, and that was just one kind of big, good experience for you, are there any other that you would call favorite memories during your time at William & Mary that just stick out to you?
Betty: Oh, you know, the lodges that were built. Well, Kent lived in the KA Lodge. He and Buddy [Boudreaux], I think, were the first occupants of the KA Lodge. And so I remember going to that lodge a lot. It’s the first time I very heard Nat King Cole sing “The Christmas Song,” was in December of 1948.
Carmen: That is a really good memory, it sounds like.
Betty: Uh-huh, yeah.
Carmen: Just being able to place that back in one of those lodges.
Betty: Uh-huh. Yeah. Uh-huh.
Carmen: Well, one of those lodges, and only one, still exists, and now it’s a coffee shop on campus.
Carmen: I don’t know how recently you’ve been back or if you have, but yeah, it’s just the one lone remaining lodge.
Carmen: Do you have any memories of your time as a Pi Phi that you want to reflect on?
Betty: I lived on the top floor and I remember somebody yelling at the top of their voice, “Who did not scrub out the tub!?” [Laughs.]
Carmen: Was it you?
Betty: No, it was not I. No, you know, that was interesting living in the house. So that was my senior year. I think only seniors could live in the house at the time.
Carmen: Sure. And was that located where Sorority Court—
Betty: Exactly. Where it is right now. Same place.
Carmen: I have a question for you, actually, about your time as a Pi Phi. So I was looking through the “Colonial Echoes” in preparation for this interview, and I saw…it was almost written like a script for a play, the part of the “Colonial Echo” from this particular year.
00:37:58 But one of the lines said something about the homecoming float collapsing or falling. Do you have any memory of that?
Betty: No, I don’t. I don’t at all.
Carmen: I think I wrote down also that you were maybe part of a committee to build the float one year for homecoming.
Betty: I don’t remember. I could have been. You know, everybody had to do something, so I probably was out there, but I don’t have any memory of it.
Carmen: Well, I’ve heard by a couple individuals that homecoming parades used to be so much bigger even than they are now, and it was really a thing to be seen.
Betty: It was, yeah.
Carmen: Do you have any memories you’d like to share of that?
Betty: No. I do remember football games, though.
Betty: And, you know, the big chrysanthemum corsages that you used to have. And I remember when [Jill Wattles] was the homecoming queen. The Pi Phis were all very pleased with that.
Carmen: I’m sure.
Betty: So that was fun. I remember dances at the Williamsburg Inn, going to that. I really had a good time at William & Mary.
Carmen: It sounds like you had a lively social life—
Betty: I did. I did.
Carmen: —and that you really did enjoy your time there.
Betty: And it was a lot of fun.
Carmen: Well, when you think back on your time at William & Mary then, are there any negative or difficult memories at all that stick out to you as particularly hard times?
Betty: Well, I wish I’d studied harder. I wish I had taken advantage of my education, which I did not do. I could have learned so much more and with just a little more effort. You know, just a few more hours of studies I could have done so much better, so I regret that. I regret wasting my college education in a way.
00:39:58 On the other hand, I had so much to learn, and I was learning all this other stuff, so that… But I do wish I’d worked a little harder.
Carmen: You were getting life experience one way or the other, right?
Betty: [Laughs.] Yeah, I was.
Carmen: Do you have any memories that maybe weren’t directly your memories, but of events or difficult periods on campus during the time you were there?
Betty: No, I really don’t.
Carmen: It just was an interesting time in history. And you already brought this up a little bit, that it was in that postwar period. And it was really also when, I mean, historians look back and kind of consider the kickoff of the Cold War with the Truman Doctrine. And during the time you were there McCarthyism became, the red scare became a big thing. Do you remember any of that manifesting on campus?
Betty: I remember voting—the first time I voted, I voted for Truman. I remember that. But we graduated in ’49. The Korean War didn’t start until what, ’51 or something, ’50, ’51.
00:41:07 So a lot of…a couple of the boys that we knew at William & Mary had to go to Korea. And one of them, I remember, was killed, that we knew. It was a time when what you thought you had to do, what you thought you wanted to do more than anything else was to graduate from college and get married. That was, you know, if you weren’t married by the time you were 25, it was pretty bad. So that was definitely part of the whole “feminine mystique.” You know, it was also… But at college, we all thought we needed to get married as soon as possible. I think that was the definite feeling.
Carmen: Okay. So then do you recall if you had a specific career path you wanted to take with the degree you were working toward, or was your focus more on getting married after college?
Betty: Oh, I think my primary focus was to get married. [Laughs.] Which I did.
Carmen: Well, that might be—unless at this moment you have any other reflections of your time at William & Mary, that might be a good opportunity to transition to your trajectory after William & Mary. So you met your would-be husband at William & Mary. So can you talk a little bit about your trajectory after graduation, what happened?
Betty: I think I’ve already mentioned I taught school for a year. I taught the sixth and seventh grade at Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk. And finished that year.
00:43:01 And then Kent came home from his first year of graduate study at the University of Missouri, and we were married in September of that year, 1950. And then I went with him to Missouri, and he got his master’s in psychology, and then applied to University of Texas, and we went to Texas. And our first child was born in 1952 in Austin, Texas. So those were student years, when we were on the GI Bill and Kent was working as an intern. Not really an intern.
00:44:02 Anyway, he had some sort of fellowship with the Veterans Administration as a psychology kind of thing. And that was one of the ways that we supported ourselves. And I went to work and worked—the year in Missouri I worked as an assistant counselor with Stephens College for that year. And then when we went to Texas in ’51, I was pregnant, and so I got a job, but then I just was so sick every morning that I didn’t keep it but about two weeks and I stopped. So I didn’t work again till maybe Ann was six months old or a year old, something like that.
00:45:04 I went back to work and I did various things. But it wasn’t until we moved to Tallahassee that I decided to go to graduate school myself, which I did do. And actually did because I was going crazy. I had by that time a second child, and very much part of the “feminine mystique.” You know, she put her finger right on the sort of psychology of what it was to get the “Ladies Home Companion” and the “Ladies Home Journal” and to be told over and over again that the most wonderful thing you could do was to keep house and to have children.
00:46:02 And by 1956 or seven or eight I wasn’t believing that anymore. I was thinking that there’s got to be more than keeping house and babysitting. And so a friend of mine, we went to…we asked if we could audit a class in adult literature in the library school and the teacher said yes, we could. So we got a babysitter and we took this class in adult literature, and it was so much fun. Read all these good books, you know, and talk about ideas and so forth. Anyway, that was the beginning.
00:46:56 And so I went to library school and finally got a degree. And this was after our third daughter was born that I finally got the degree. But the people at the library school were wonderful. I mean, they were very supportive, very helpful. And so that was a good time. And in the meantime, then, my husband, who had come to Tallahassee to start the first mental health clinic in Tallahassee—and this was with the Department of Health, so he was part of the whole medical community—got a fellowship to go to Harvard to get a public health degree. So we left and went to Boston and lived in Boston for a year, and then came back.
00:47:58 And then I went to work. It’s always interesting how life works, I think, and the circumstances that happen. But you get so you know people in the community and everything. And the person who was the clerk of the court here in Tallahassee, and also on the library advisory board of the state library in Florida, after I got my library degree, said to me one day, I hear you’re going to work at the state library. I said I am. And he said yes, he said, I was talking to Dorothy Dodd the other day, who is the state librarian, and she said that she thought you were coming. Well, I hadn’t heard a word about this. Nobody had said anything at all to me.
00:48:56 And then the next day I got a telephone call from Dorothy Dodd and asked if I would come down for an interview, would I like a job. So that was my first job.
Carmen: Yeah, I mean, it is, in a way, serendipitous, right, the way it all worked out?
Betty: It is. I mean, all of these things that happen. And, you know, it’s just who you happen to know, who you happen to meet.
Carmen: Yeah, it’s still very much the case. Networking, they’re always saying work on networking.
Betty: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Carmen: Well, so I have so many questions about—so when you entered this MLS program, did you know you wanted to do something with librarianship or was it your interest in English that brought you to those adult literature classes?
Betty: Well, one of the things I did when Kent was in graduate school in Texas was to work for a…one night a week—my next door neighbor was a librarian. I think that’s the first time I ever realized that librarians, that that was a career, that was a career path.
00:50:04 That she was…it’s interesting. I guess I thought books just magically appeared on the shelf and programs just happened in libraries. I don’t know what I thought. But anyway, she asked if I would like to work at the library one night a week. And so we were doing anything we could to get a little bit of money as poor graduate students, and so I said yes. And that was interesting. I enjoyed doing that. So it was not unusual that I would have thought of library school once I came to Tallahassee.
Carmen: Sure. So when you did decide then to go to library school, did you have an intended career path that you were wanting to take?
Betty: I guess I thought I would work in libraries.
Carmen: That’s fair.
Betty: Right. So. But it was not until I went back to… So I did a number of different things in the state library. I came in as what at that time was a group loans librarian, and you made group loans and sent them out to state prisons and to state schools, and to rural schools that did not have a library. And we would just simply do book selection and send out these group loans. And then I became a recruiter for library services under the LSCA Act, which is Library Services and Construction. And because there was so much money for libraries at the time we were recruiting librarians. And so I got to travel around Florida some and do some recruiting.
00:51:57 And then we left and went to Washington, D.C. My husband got a fellowship with the Department of Corrections or something. Anyway, we went to Washington for a year. And then when I came back they had this program, also money from LSCA, I guess, to get a postmaster’s degree. And so one of the teachers wrote and asked me if I would like to apply for that, which I did. It wasn’t until that time that I became really interested in children’s literature. And that’s what the bulk of my career was at the state library. So I really never did work too much with books. I always worked with people, more or less.
00:52:58 Because my work at the state library was, we directed a summer library reading program. That’s where I first began to do that. And then did program services and all of that. What were we talking about? I’ve lost my thread.
Carmen: No, you followed that train of thought. So really I was just asking for a description of your trajectory post William & Mary and you’ve definitely given some of that.
Betty: And so in between times my husband and I wrote a book together about the death penalty in Florida. And then I did a book after that with a friend who was a Christian educator, and we wrote a book called “Children’s Literature for All God’s Children.”
00:53:58 And it was a book on using children’s literature in Christian education. But it was not Christian oriented. It was what you could learn from children’s books that could be used in Christian education. Anyway, that was interesting. So I wrote that book with her. And then, after I… I was injured, pretty severely injured, in an automobile accident in 1989, just after I had retired from the state library, and I, after that injury I began to… I got a brochure in the mail. I’m not sure exactly how this happened.
00:55:00 But anyway, about poetry. And so I began to write poetry. And I had a little success and published a book of poetry in 2000. So that was good.
Carmen: That’s wonderful. I actually didn’t realize you had published anything, so I need to look all of these up, the books and the poetry. That’s incredible. So if you had to say what you view as your proudest accomplishment over all those years then, what would it be?
Betty: Well, I loved my career as a youth consultant. That was good. I got to meet most of the children’s librarians in Florida and I got to travel the state, and that was very satisfying. I really enjoyed that. That was good. And then I loved writing, actually. I’m still writing a little bit.
Carmen: That’s great. Well, it does sound like some of those things you initially took classes in at Norfolk and William & Mary you have carried through the rest of your life.
Betty: Oh, absolutely. Without any question.
Carmen: How would you say William & Mary helped or hurt or shaped your trajectory afterward, or helped prepare you for your future career?
Betty: Well, it certainly did introduce me to my husband. [Laughs.] It made a great difference in my life. You know, what happened to him also happened to me. I’ve always been interested in theatre, and I still am. I still love the movies. And I think the fact that I was able to be in the theatre and take speech classes helped me be able to work with other people.
00:57:00 And I’ve ended up doing what I like doing. And I started out doing that at William & Mary.
Carmen: That’s wonderfully put. And I think really all anyone could hope for, to look back and think—well, this all makes me wonder then if when Dean Jeffers, Dean of Women Jeffers, told you or asked you if you would ever consider graduate school, did you ever think that you would go to graduate school?
Betty: I didn’t at that moment. I said oh, no. Once I get my degree that would be it. And in my mind at the time that was it. But I still remember that she said that.
Carmen: Retrospect is 20-20, right?
Carmen: Well, that is wild. So I have a couple more questions, now that we’ve kind of covered your trajectory after William & Mary. Are you still involved with William & Mary in any way, and if so, what ways?
Betty: I’m not really. And for a long time we had no association with it at all. And then somebody we knew at William & Mary said they had gone back to a homecoming and they saw that our names were on a list as being unknown or lost or something, and she wrote and she said you’ve been lost, do you want to be found? Should I tell them where you are? And we said yes. And so we went back to the 50th reunion. And that was very interesting. We got to see lots of people we remembered and knew. But we never have really been good alumni.
Carmen: Well, I mean, you’re participating in this oral history now and sharing your history, so I don’t know if I would say that at all. And then you mentioned also to me, I think, that your granddaughter attended William & Mary.
Betty: Yes, yes.
Carmen: So there must have been some idea that—
Betty: Oh, no, we both loved William & Mary, and we both have very fond memories of it, so no, we spoke well. We never said anything negative because I don’t think we had a single negative feeling about it, except both of us said we wished we’d studied harder, that we really didn’t take advantage of the education that we could have had, that we wasted our college years. We said that to all of our girls. We said we wasted our college years; now you study hard.
Carmen: Well, first I should say I don’t think it sounds like it’s hindered you at all. However, you felt the academics of your time at William & Mary went, I don’t think it sounds like it’s hindered you because you’ve had a really interesting and fascinating trajectory since then, and successful one at that. I’m wondering when you returned in 1999, I guess, for your 50th, what you noticed that had changed, or had anything changed?
Betty: Well, certainly the buildings had changed, and that. I don’t know that I did. All of us were much older.
Carmen: Well, is there anything, when you think about William & Mary in the future, or if you have any hopes for William & Mary in the future.
Betty: Well, I was delighted to hear about the new president. And she sounded interesting to me. And also the fact that she was very interested in liberal arts. And the fact that she was a woman.
01:01:00 So that was good. And my granddaughter, she loved William & Mary as much as we did. And she was a much better student. She was summa cum laude and I think did take advantage of her years at William & Mary.
Carmen: So is there anything else at this point, then, that you would like to say about William & Mary or your memories at William & Mary? I’d like to open it up for the opportunity for you to reflect on that or add anything if you don’t think—or if you thought there was something I would ask you but I haven’t about William & Mary.
Betty: I didn’t spend much time in the library, but I do remember a couple of very long study sessions, particularly when I was taking that invertebrate zoology class, going there and studying, because it was hard to study in the sorority house. So I remember the library as a place you could go and really get some work done. So I don’t…
I hope they continue to keep the architecture the way it is. I think that’s one of the beauties of going to an old school is the feeling of history that you get. And I hope that students—I think they do a good job of tradition, so I think the college will continue to do that.
01:03:00 And hope it doesn’t grow too much larger. There were about 2,000 students, maybe 2,400 students when we were there, and I read today that there were about 8,500 students, which is getting large.
Carmen: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Betty: If it gets much larger than that, then you’re getting…you’re changing the character, I think, of the college experience. So I don’t know whether that’s based on fact or sentiment.
Carmen: Well, in either case, what do you think the benefit of having kind of a smaller college experience is?
Betty: Well, I think you know people. I think you get the feeling that it’s a manageable milieu, that you can cope with it.
01:04:01 A big university like Florida State is so large that sometimes students tend to get lost. I don’t think—at least I didn’t know anybody that felt lost at William & Mary. So I don’t know exactly. But all of our girls went to smaller schools because I think there’s some… I’m sure that wherever you are you have a small community. I mean, even in a huge university you have a smaller community. But there’s something nice about knowing a lot of the people as you walk across campus and so forth.
Carmen: Sure. It sounds like it makes it feel more like a community just like that.
Carmen: Well, great. So I just have a couple more questions, and these are pertaining to the two anniversaries we’re celebrating. We’re currently in the midst of celebrating 50 years of African Americans in residence at William & Mary. Since it has only been 50 years, there weren’t African Americans in residence or even attending the school while you were attending because the first came in 1951. So do you have any reflections just on the value of diversity and inclusion at a school?
Betty: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We were very much interested in that whole civil rights movement here in Tallahassee and refused to send our children to private schools at the time when public schools were being integrated because we felt it was very important for everybody to get to know everybody, for one thing.
01:06:00 Ad to be able to talk to people and to understand the value of stretching yourself beyond what you know and to learn new things and new ideas and new ways of doing things. So I think that’s very important.
Carmen: And do you remember if those conversations were being had on William & Mary’s campus during the time you were there?
Betty: Not by me. I think we were fairly…not exactly, but not as introspective as we probably should have been about the divisions in society.
01:06:59 Not questioning the status quo as much as we should have. Sort of accepting the way things were.
Carmen: Well, it definitely sounds by the time, as you said, you were in Tallahassee, the broader social climate had changed, but also kind of the ways you were—
Betty: Very much.
Carmen: —reflecting on those things.
Betty: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Carmen: And then for the other anniversary, the one you’re actually being interviewed for, 100 years of coeducation, I would love to hear your thoughts on the value and contribution of women.
Betty: Well, I think women are different from men. For one thing, they are the ones who have to have the children. And that takes time out of any kind of trajectory that you have career-wise.
01:07:57 And I think society ought to pay attention to that and take it into account because if we don’t have children, then we don’t have a world. So I think women have a special contribution to make. I think physiologically they’re different, obviously. So I think it’s… But I think that men and women need to learn to get along together, that they need to appreciate each other and to appreciate how much alike they are and how different they are. And that each has a contribution to make, a different kind of contribution.
01:08:56 And that there are many things that they can both do equally as well. And some things that one person can do that—that one sex can do much better than the other. Men are stronger. I mean, that’s obviously. Not all men are stronger than all women, but men are bigger. So there’s some things that men can do better than women can do. I think that’s why they have divisions in sports, because it’s not fair for a woman to compete in tennis, for example, against a man who is much stronger, can hit much harder, just simply because of the way they’re built. On the other hand, I think women can be just as good doctors, just as good lawyers, just as good computer scientists as anybody else. So I think it’s important to teach the differences and the alikenesses.
Carmen: Would you say during your time at William & Mary there was a good understanding of the assets each gender or sex brought to the table?
Betty: I don’t really know. As I told you, what we thought we had to do was get married right away. I certainly have changed my opinions about a lot of that. Not changed opinions as much as become aware that I didn’t have to be put in a box. And I think that has taken a long time to happen. I mean, the fact that women have just been able to vote for what, not quite 100 years, is amazing.
Carmen: Yep, that’s coming up right almost alongside this anniversary for coeducation at William & Mary. A hundred years.
Betty: Right. Well, and I think the whole pill, the whole birth control thing made an enormous difference in the kind of freedom that women have.
Carmen: So would you say that things have changed a lot from your time at William & Mary to now?
Betty: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I would say that. And I would say probably the biggest change has been the pill or that kind of contraception that gave women some control over their biological functions.
Carmen: Was that being discussed while you were at William & Mary?
Carmen: Was it sort of taboo to talk about, do you think?
Carmen: Was it taboo to talk about, do you think?
Betty: Well, I guess no one thought it was possible. I mean, you know, the one thing you were afraid of—not me, but, I mean, women knew that they couldn’t have the same sort of sexual freedom that men had because they were the ones that were going to get pregnant, and they were the ones that were going to be left behind, and castigated, and condemned.
Carmen: Well, thank you for reflecting on both of those anniversaries. Before we wrap it up, is there anything else you want to add at this time that we haven’t already covered?
Betty: No. But thank you.
Carmen: Thank you so much. You, I think this interview is a perfect example of demonstrating the change over time and how different lived experience for a woman at William & Mary now might have been from a woman graduating in 1949.
Betty: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Carmen: So we appreciate it so much, and this was very enjoyable, so thank you so much, Betty.
Betty: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it.
01:12:59 [End of recording.]
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