Henretta Band, W&M Class of 1954
Henretta Trent Band arrived at William & Mary in 1950. During her time at William & Mary, she was a member of the Baptist Student Union, German House, and Delta Delta Delta. She additionally participated in the Biology Club, Backdrop Club, and Orchesis. Band also spent a year abroad through a program with Exeter University.
After graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in 1954, Band pursued a Ph.D. in Genetics at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving the degree in 1959. Band and her husband then traveled nationally and internationally, holding positions in their respective fields at a variety of universities and institutions. They continued their travels after retirement on cruises throughout the Mediterranean.
In her interview, Band discusses the multitude of extracurricular activities she was involved in, but states that they "didn’t take that much time." Her fondest memories come from her time living abroad which attending Exeter for a year, during which she befriended the son of the Prime Minister of Libya, traveled throughout Europe, saw Winston Churchill, and frequented numerous plays and operas. Though Band and her husband traveled widely, they made sure to return to Williamsburg for the Jamestown 400.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Henretta Trent Band
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: June 28, 2017 Duration: 01:13:58
Carmen: All right, my name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary, and it’s currently around 2:00 p.m. on June 28, 2017. I’m sitting with Henretta Trent Band at her home in East Lansing, Michigan. Can you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Henretta: Oh, Danville, Virginia, June the 28th, 1932.
Carmen: Danville? South side of Virginia.
Carmen: And what years did you go to William & Mary?
Henretta: 1950 to 1954, but with the exception of 1952-53 I was in England.
Carmen: I want to circle back around to that a little bit, too, because I want to hear about your experience in England.
Henretta: Okay, yeah.
Carmen: We’ll come back to your experience in England, but that’s wonderful. So before we jump into your time at William & Mary, you already told me you were born in Danville, but can you tell me a little bit about where you were raised, how you were raised, and what your family was like?
Henretta: Oh. I was an only child. My father was a pharmacist. After the war he opened his own drug store, Oscar Trent’s Drug Store. I was the high school valedictorian.
Carmen: Another thing to celebrate.
Henretta: Yeah. It took about 20 years to beat my average.
Carmen: Do they have a plaque or something for you in the high school?
Henretta: No, I don’t think so. It was 98 point something.
Carmen: Well, that leads me to ask if you just knew, automatically knew that you wanted to go to college.
Henretta: Oh, yeah. I knew I wanted to go to William & Mary after we…I went on a trip around Virginia with my cousin and her family, and we went by Williamsburg, and it was 1946. And I said, oh, I like William & Mary.
Carmen: And that was all it took.
Henretta: That was all it took, yeah.
Carmen: So you applied to William & Mary as a high school student. You got in, obviously.
Henretta: Oh, sure.
Carmen: And then you went. You went that first year, in 1950.
Carmen: What was your first memory of campus? What was your very first experience coming onto the campus as a freshman?
Henretta: I don’t know. Egads. Well, I was there for four years, and we came back, you know, so much it’s kind of hard to say, you know, what was your first experience. Well, at the time we went we had those green and yellow beanies.
Carmen: Duc cap.
Henretta: And you had to go on and off campus via the Wren building with a curtsy to Lord Botetourt, the Right Honorable Baron…Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, his late majesty’s lieutenant and governor general of the college and dominion of Virginia.
Henretta: And I don’t know whether they still do that or not because they probably moved Botetourt’s statue, it got too valuable. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Yeah, it has been moved and I haven’t seen any duc caps recently, but do you miss those days of having to wear duc caps?
Carmen: Did people dislike those duc caps or did they enjoy wearing them?
Henretta: I think people going to college now are too sophisticated to do things like that, you know.
Carmen: I bet you all were—
Henretta: They’ve already gone abroad and stuff like that, so that’s too childish.
Carmen: Part of the tradition.
Carmen: Do you remember what campus looked like when you started going to school there?
Henretta: Well, basically there was a triangle, you know, with the Wren building, and the Brafferton and the president’s house. And in back of that were the dorms and the library, and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law.
00:03:54 And the first year we lived in Ludwell Apartments, and then the second year I was in Chandler, and the third year I was in England, and the fourth year I was in the Tri-Delt house.
Carmen: Wow. Moving all over the place, weren’t you?
Henretta: Yeah. I think the campus is a lot bigger now. I really haven’t seen the back of it, so I don’t know anything about it.
Carmen: I think that’s fair to say. It has expanded quite a bit. We should get you back out there so you can see all the new buildings.
Henretta: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Carmen: So can you tell me what you studied at William & Mary and why you chose to study it?
Henretta: Oh, I was a biology major, but I initially thought I was going to be premed, but I was slated into graduate school the first semester I was there.
Carmen: Wow. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
Henretta: Yeah. The head of the Department of Biology came around to the lab one day, and he was just talking to people, and he asked me, he said what language are you taking? And I said scientific French.
00:05:01 And he said, start German. You will need it for graduate school. Because in those days you had to pass scientific French and scientific German in order to get a Ph.D. So I took German the next year. I started German the next year. So medical school was out. And I didn’t like it anyway. Which, you know, you go there and you initially…you don’t have much idea, but… I liked his lectures on genetics, and that’s basically what I got my Ph.D. in.
Carmen: Who was the professor?
Henretta: Dr. [Sawyer].
Carmen: And his lectures sparked that interest for you in biology, in genetics?
Carmen: Other than that professor, were there other notable professors you can remember?
Henretta: Oh, well, I think… I think he was only there for a couple of years. J.T. Baldwin was there for a long time, and he was basically head of the department. And Miss Blank was in microbiology, bacteriology, and Dr. [Spiess], female, was also there. Those are basically the only three I remember. Oh, and [Ash] was comparative anatomy and embryology. And then he died, because the guy who took his place, I was the TA for comparative anatomy my senior year. That’s because I had dissected all these animals over in England during my junior year, including a pigeon.
Carmen: Plenty of those around.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: You mentioned that one of your professors was female. Was that a common thing at William & Mary at the time?
Henretta: Well, Dr. Spiess was female and Miss Blank was also female. I don’t know whether it was common or not. Oh, yeah, wait a minute. One of the professors in mathematics was, I think, also female. I didn’t have her, but she was female. So I didn’t think much of it, you know.
Carmen: Sure. Were there any other advisors or mentors you had that you can recall?
Henretta: Not really. Let’s see, Dr. Guy was in chemistry. He wasn’t an advisor, but he was just…he was a very excellent teacher. And he taught physical chemistry.
00:07:57 He taught physical chemistry Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Well, when scientific German was put in my senior year, that was also slated for 8:00 Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so we thought maybe that would change because Dr. Guy had had that so long. Uh-uh. Guy switched. Scientific German was Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. I was Dean’s List. I had that guy twice the same day for scientific German and German conversation, so I think I went to German conversation and I only went to scientific German when we had a test.
Carmen: How did that work out for you?
Henretta: It was all right until I missed a test one day and he really got kind of mad. But he let me make it up.
Carmen: That was nice.
Henretta: So anyway. You know, Dean’s List, he couldn’t do a thing about it. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Before we go and transition into what you did for fun, I want to hear a little bit more about this Exeter scholarship you got.
Henretta: Oh, yeah.
Carmen: So what was that about and what did it entail, other than dissecting pigeons?
Henretta: I knew William & Mary had the Exeter exchange scholarship before I went there. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go. And I applied for it. It usually had gone to somebody who had graduated. But fortunately, it went to my sorority sister the year before I got it because she moved to London and worked at the embassy. Therefore, when I got it, I was a junior, and when I went up to London, she was the one that introduced me to London.
00:09:59 I went over on the Queen Mary, and because it was the year of the coronation, you almost had to camp on the doorstep of the USS United States in order to book to come back in August because so many people flocked over, and when you went over in September, you didn’t make a new reservation. Anyway, it was nice. It was the last year of rationing for England. The food was good, but I don’t eat porridge anymore. [Laughs.] I don’t have to. That was the old standby for breakfast. I lived in Hope Hall, which is one of the dorms for gals.
00:10:58 I took very basically their first year there, which was chemistry…yeah, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, biology—botany and zoology. And I had a full year of vertebrate zoology. We had…it was three terms. It was Michaelmas, Lent and Trinity, and we had three weeks vacation between Christmas and the start of Lent, and three weeks vacation between Lent and Trinity. And the girl who was my roommate on the Queen Mary went to Hampstead College in England, in London, so we got together in vacation to go travel.
00:12:06 So at Christmas time we went over and spent three weeks on the continent. You know, Rome, Italy, Switzerland and France. And then in the summer…wait a minute. No, wait. No, no, no. At Christmas time we stayed in England. Then at Easter we went over to the continent. April in Paris? Uh-uh. God, it was cold. You remember the Doris Day “April in Paris” movie? Well, you know, it was all sunny. Well, uh-uh. It was cold, miserable and rainy, so… [Laughs.]
00:12:56 And in the summertime we went and we toured in northern Italy—no, northern Europe. So we got to see a lot. We did not stay in youth hostels at that time. We walked into one and didn’t like it, and turned around and walked out. Hotels at that time were so cheap that it didn’t make much difference.
I think the only time we ever stayed in a youth hostel was in Frankfort. We were actually advised to. At the train station they tell you. You can ask, you know, where you can stay. And the army had built something. And anyway, it was very nice. But that’s basically the only youth hostel we stayed in, was the one in Frankfort. But otherwise traveling was cheap.
00:13:57 Now traveling is expensive these days, because we’ve been back over there, but this was 1953. Places still had not recovered from the war, and there was still a fair amount of bomb damage to be seen. It’s a Europe of long ago because it sure doesn’t exist now.
Carmen: Sure. It doesn’t look like that now.
Carmen: What was it like being away from home for a whole year?
Henretta: Not bad. You know, at that time junior year abroad was really you got on the boat and you went over, and you were there for a year. Nowadays they kind of…it’s not really junior year abroad. It’s three weeks and it’s a guided tour, almost. No, this was kind of, you know, something that if you did it, you were expected to be able to handle it yourself.
00:14:53 So there were a lot of people that were going at the same time, so the people that you met on the boat, if they were in the same country you were in, you usually met them somewhere else. So it was kind of a loose fraternity of students from all over who were going there.
There were people…at Exeter there were two guys from DePaul, there was a group from Heidelberg and there were a couple of girls from Middlebury, so they had a really large group. And then they also had a lot of Scandinavians over there, and a number of people from Africa. And one of my friends was the son of the prime minister of Libya.
00:15:58 And he had a black and white Chevrolet. Well, I had an American driver’s license. A black and yellow Chevrolet. I had an American driver’s license. I got an international permit and I drove his car. [Laughs.] So we had… It was nice being… The only problem with an American car on English roads is that they are very narrow and you need a navigator in the passenger side because you cannot see to go around anything. So it was…we got used to driving.
Unfortunately, when he went back, his father was killed, he took over, and later I heard from…yeah, I heard from a friend that he had, you know, succeeded his father. And then later on when Gadhafi came to power, he got killed. The whole family got wiped out.
Carmen: Wow. So he became prime minister after his father?
Henretta: Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, well, he became the king’s minister or whatever it was, you know, he took over, yeah.
Carmen: But you met him on this trip abroad.
Henretta: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, he was there for a full year, yeah. There are a lot of… Exeter really had a lot, a lot of foreign students. I guess by that time it was still…Europe was still, or Britain was still a part of the British Empire, right? That didn’t really dissolve until later. After all, India was still part of the British Empire. And yeah, they had a lot of students from Indonesia. So it was really…the British council was really a mix of foreign students, and you really got to know an awful lot of people from all over.
Carmen: It sounds very diverse.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah. So it was very international.
Carmen: How did that compare to your time at William & Mary? Did you find William & Mary to be less diverse, the experience to be different?
Henretta: Oh, well, William & Mary was certainly not as diverse as England was. It may be that Exeter was an exception because they had so many international students from all over, but William & Mary certainly could not compare. It still wouldn’t compare to something that they had, so… No, it was fun. It was different.
Carmen: It sounds like you have fond memories of that experience.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: And what about the courses you took? So you did a lot of dissection. So did it just add to this love of biology and…?
Henretta: Oh, yeah. Well…yeah. We certainly had…you had a full year of zoology. You had a full year in terms of zoology. You had to have a full year of vertebrate and a full year of invertebrate. So I was not there for the invertebrate, but I was there for the vertebrate, which gave me the dissections from dogfish right on the way up to mammals, including birds. So when I came back and they needed a TA for comparative anatomy, I was right there to be the TA for comparative anatomy.
Carmen: So what was the favorite course you took? What was your very favorite course?
Henretta: Probably German literature. Dr. [Kalis]. We had selections from “Faust,” which is a five act play, not just one, and selections from “The Sorrows of Werther,” and things like that. I liked that German literature course very much.
Because we got to…yeah, Nat and I saw “Faust,” the opera, in Paris. And oh, the ballet. That was really great. Mephistopheles in this red costume prancing all over the stage. Yeah, we got to do a lot of things in Europe that you really just can’t get to do, you know, in a year in college over here, but going to Paris opera was one of them. We went to the opera in Rome and it was a Wagnerian doozy.
00:21:02 And by 12:00—[laughs]—we didn’t know what was going on. Brunnhilde, the gal that played Brunnhilde was as big as the gal that played Siegfried, so we didn’t know what was going on and we just left. [Laughs.]
But the Paris opera was so much better because that was “Faust.” Oh, and when I went to see Nan in London, we went to the ballet and we saw “Giselle” and others like that. Yeah, she introduced me to London. I think I stayed with her when we went to the coronation, because she saw it from the inside, you know, of the embassy. They had places.
00:21:55 Whereas I walked over to…I went by St. James’s Square to the mall and put my raincoat down to mark my place for Nat and me, and I went out to Hampstead to get her, and so we came back and we spent 24 hours on the mall. So yeah. We got to see the coach going down and we got to see the coach coming back. And naturally we saw Winston Churchill in this.
But we had already…the two of us had come up from London to see…just to sightsee in January, and we had been just outside 10 Downing Street and started to leave, and the bobby said wait a few minutes, Churchill is coming out.
00:22:59 And sure enough, he came out and he smiled, and he gave V for victory, and we waved, so we got to see Churchill close up as well as, you know, in the coronation parade.
Henretta: So that was exciting, yeah. I’ve never seen an American president up close, but I’ve seen one of the major figures of world history up close.
Carmen: That’s incredible.
Carmen: So it sounds like your time abroad, in all your free time you went to operas and ballets.
Carmen: So what did you do in your free time when you were at William & Mary?
Henretta: I think I studied. You know, what else was there to do? [Laughs.]
00:24:03 Well, whatever it was—[laughs]—we had so much more fun in Europe. [Laughs.] It paled in comparison. Of course, you know, you had your normal sorority activities and stuff like that which kept you busy. But no, that year was…you know, it can’t compare. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Gave you plenty of time for your studies.
Henretta: Oh, yeah, it gave us plenty of time for studies. Of course there was the usual dating, etc. The usual sorority activities. But…
Carmen: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that, though. So what was the usual dating scene?
Henretta: Well, you couldn’t do much anyway because then you didn’t have any cars. You had, you know, football and things like that to go to. There was the movies. Walking around on campus. [Bell rings.] Oh, that’s the fire alarm.
Carmen: So you were talking a little bit about what the dating scene was like.
Henretta: Uh-huh, yeah.
Carmen: What about the social rules of engagement? I know there were a lot of rules and regulations, especially for women—
Henretta: Oh, yeah.
Carmen: —on campus at the time.
Henretta: Yeah, at that time you had to be in, I think, at 10:00 at night, and maybe 11:00 on the weekend. If you were Dean’s List you could be out till 11:00. So there were advantages to being Dean’s List.
00:26:00 And maybe it was 12:00 on the weekends, I don’t know. But anyway, there were restrictions. I don’t know what they are now, but no, there were restrictions on us. And you couldn’t have a car, so you were really confined to the campus and whatever activities you could dig up through Colonial Williamsburg. But now it’s all different, so…
Carmen: It is different.
Carmen: And you also had dress regulations, right, what you could and couldn’t wear?
Henretta: Yeah. I guess. Back in those days girls wore skirts and bobby socks, and nowadays we all wear slacks. [Laughs.] And okay, at least when I started there, the first six weeks when you had to wear that little beanie and go by the Lord Botetourt on and off campus with the curtsy.
00:27:10 I think the boys had to bow, the girls had to curtsy. And you had to recite the inscription over him if anybody asked you. So that’s all changed.
Henretta: Yeah, so…because Lord Botetourt I guess got too valuable to stand out in the rain.
Carmen: Yeah, I think it was doing a little wear and tear.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah, mm-hmm.
Carmen: Do you recall there ever being any sort of backlash to those rules and regulations or anybody subverting them? Did you ever stay out past curfew or wear slacks, anything like that?
Henretta: No, we were pretty good. Of course if the bus was late, getting you back too late, well, that was the bus’s fault, not your fault. But beyond that, no. I guess one girl got in trouble by having library books that she didn’t have checked out, which caused a little stir. But beyond that, that’s the only thing I remember.
Carmen: It sounds like you all followed the rules pretty well.
Carmen: You were really active in organizations when you were at William & Mary. You were in Tri-Delt, you were a member of the Biology Club, understandably. You were in the Backdrop Club.
Carmen: You worked on the Colonial Echo.
Carmen: You were part of a dance, group, right?
Henretta: Orchesis, yeah.
Carmen: And a member of the Baptist Student Union, German House, and then you were Phi Beta Kappa. So what motivated you to be so engaged? How did you have enough time?
Henretta: That didn’t take much time.
Carmen: That was a long list.
Henretta: Well, you know, things don’t overlap. Orchesis didn’t really overlap with Backdrop. I mean…Orchesis was really…you had to take modern dance as part of physical ed, and so Orchesis was part of that. And that didn’t take up much time, other than, you know, each thing. But Backdrop Club probably took up more than anything. But I wasn’t a major player. No, I was just, you know, on the sidelines.
00:29:58 I was not one of Althea Hunt’s prize—[laughs]—products, no. No one like [Jeep Freeman], who became a very noted comedian on Broadway. So no, that stuff didn’t take that much time.
Carmen: What about your functions for your sorority?
Henretta: Well, freshmen don’t do much. I mean, once they pledge, you’re a pledge. Sophomores don’t have that much activity either. Junior year I was abroad. And that left me…I could be house president because that didn’t take up much time, you know, for me to be away, so I was house president when I came back, and just managed the house, and that wasn’t much.
Carmen: If you say so. It sounds like a lot to me.
Carmen: It sounds like a busy schedule.
Henretta: Just to, what, make sure people follow the rules. We had house mothers. They’re the ones that said follow the rules. They don’t have house mothers now, do they? No. We had house mothers, so they were the ones that managed the stuff.
Carmen: Do you remember if there were every any rule breakers?
Henretta: No, I don’t think so.
Carmen: Well, good. So what was it like working on the staff of the Colonial Echo?
Henretta: I don’t even remember.
Carmen: Your picture is in there several times.
Henretta: I know. A lot of people’s pictures are in there.
Carmen: I mean as part of the staff.
Henretta: Uh-huh. Frankly, I cannot remember a thing.
Carmen: Well, then you may or may not remember the name I’m about to bring up. A woman named Mardie Pontius worked on the Colonial Echo at the same time as you. Her name is Mardie MacKimm now.
Carmen: No? No recollection? We’re actually sitting down with her tomorrow, so I was going to see if you had any stories to tell us about her.
Henretta: Yeah, no.
Carmen: No recollection?
Henretta: Hm-mmm, no.
Carmen: That’s all right.
Henretta: What year was she?
Carmen: The year after you.
Henretta: Oh, okay.
Carmen: That’s all right.
Henretta: No, hm-mmm.
Carmen: So did you make any lifelong friends while you were at William & Mary?
Henretta: Oh, yeah. I still have to write my college roommate in…my sophomore college roommate. She was Alpha Chi Omega. She lives in Indiana now. I still correspond with some of my Tri-Delt sisters who live in California. And that’s about it.
Carmen: That’s a good number of people to keep in touch with.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah, mm-hmm.
Carmen: If you had to pick, what would be your very favorite memory from your time at William & Mary?
Henretta: [Laughs.] The coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Sorry, that’s…
Carmen: That’s fair.
Henretta: That’s not… [Laughs.] I got there because of William & Mary, but it’s…
Carmen: It counts.
Henretta: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Carmen: Are there any other favorite memories you have?
Carmen: Were you ready to get out of there?
Henretta: Not really. I enjoyed it. Yeah, mm-hmm, so…
Carmen: Were there any difficult experiences you can recall, any at all during your time at William & Mary?
Henretta: No. Sure, if it rained and you didn’t have a raincoat. [Laughs.] Running from the library back to your dorm when it rained, that could be a bad day, yeah. So yeah.
Carmen: So let’s talk about the presidents who were residing over William & Mary at the time. First it was Pomfret, right?
Carmen: And then it was Chandler.
Carmen: And there was kind of a scandal at that point regarding athletics. Do you remember anything about that?
Henretta: Not really. It’s too far back.
Carmen: It was a scandal over grade changing for the athletics. I don’t know if that…
Henretta: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: Did you have any interactions with either of those presidents?
Henretta: No, they were too far above us.
Carmen: Were they?
Henretta: So yeah.
Carmen: Was there not a lot of interaction at the time between administration and students?
Henretta: No, I didn’t think so. Hm-mmm, no. Hm-mmm. If girls had any interaction at all, it would be with the Dean of Women. Anybody higher up, no, we didn’t, uh-uh.
Carmen: Did you have interactions with the Dean of Women?
Henretta: Let’s see… I think Dean Jeffers was the Dean of Women when I was there, and that’s about all I remember. That’s all.
Carmen: When you were attending school—I’m starting to think of what was going on in the broader world. You just talked about what it was like in Europe when you were over there, but when you were in school at William & Mary the Korean War was in full swing.
Henretta: It was what?
Carmen: The Korean War. Do you recall—
Carmen: What was that like on campus?
Henretta: Some of the guys who were at William & Mary officers training later went into the Korean War, but those were about the only ones that we…you had contact with.
Carmen: So it wasn’t really a noticeable difference in the male population on campus during that war?
Henretta: No, I don’t think it affected the male population too much, uh-uh, no. But those in ROTC eventually served, but that was about it.
Carmen: So during the Vietnam War we have seen stories in the Flat Hat and have heard stories told to us about there being some backlash or reactions to the war. Do you remember there being any regarding the Korean War?
Henretta: No, I don’t think there was any backlash in the Korean War. The backlash was in the Vietnam War, yeah.
Carmen: Okay, so you met—this is a transition—you saw Churchill while you were—
Carmen: Did you see Eisenhower when he came to William & Mary in 1953?
Henretta: Yes. I don’t think I saw him on campus. I saw him in Colonial Williamsburg, because I think I got a picture of him, yeah.
Carmen: Well, there you go. You have seen someone, an established figure—
Henretta: Oh, that’s right. He did become President, didn’t he? [Laughs.] I don’t think I was as close to him as I was to Churchill, you know, just across the street, hi, you know. Eisenhower didn’t acknowledge my existence. Churchill did. [Laughs.]
Carmen: But still a pretty big thing to have seen two major world leaders just during your time at William & Mary.
Carmen: So a bunch of other things were going on in the world around the time you were at William & Mary as well. The landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, that decision or the ruling came down right before you graduated. Do you recall any reaction on campus at all to this ruling?
Henretta: Uh-uh, no.
Carmen: At the time you were there, Hulon Willis, Sr.—I don’t know if you know that name.
Carmen: Hulon Willis.
Henretta: He was after I got there.
Carmen: He came in through the School of Ed in 1951 as a graduate student. He was the first African American to attend William & Mary.
Henretta: Did he come in in ’51?
Carmen: ’51, yeah.
Henretta: Because I graduated in ’54.
Carmen: Yeah, he hadn’t graduated by that time. He graduated in ’56. But yeah, he was there and another man by the name of Edward Travis was at the law school at that time.
Henretta: Oh, yeah, yeah, the only two, but they didn’t…it didn’t create much of a scandal on campus.
Carmen: It didn’t? You don’t remember any reaction?
Henretta: No, huh-uh.
Carmen: Did you ever interact or meet these individuals?
Carmen: I don’t imagine you would have, since they were in graduate programs.
Henretta: No. But I thought he came later than ’51.
Carmen: No. So he came in ’51, but there were only a handful of students who came between ’51 and ’67. ’67 is when we started having African American students live in residence.
Henretta: Yeah. Yeah.
Carmen: So I wondered what that was like on campus, or if it was even—
Henretta: No. No, I don’t remember anything. I think Brown v. Board of Education had much more impact on the high schools and grammar schools than college.
Carmen: Well, we do know that it took a while, obviously, for the black population of William & Mary to pick up because it wasn’t adopted across the board. But do you remember any staff persons or people who worked for the college who were African American?
Henretta: Yeah. Let’s see, the maids were African American. And I think the janitors and groundskeepers were generally African American. But that was traditional, so, you know.
Carmen: And again, there was just the one—well, the two students at the time you were going there, and they were in graduate programs.
Carmen: Okay, well, thank you for answering that. It helps us fill out kind of historic memory of that period of time at William & Mary. So if you don’t mind, can we transition to your life post William & Mary?
Carmen: You became a noted researcher and an evolutionary biologist.
Henretta: Yeah, uh-huh.
Carmen: So how did you see your William & Mary education play out in your professional career?
Henretta: Well, it certainly made it easier to get into graduate school.
Carmen: You said you were slated early on, so…
Henretta: Yeah, yeah. I got a fellowship to Indiana, a fellowship to Wisconsin, and a teaching assistantship to Berkeley.
00:41:55 If I had gone to Indiana, I would have followed in the footsteps of [Ralph Austen], who had just graduated. For me, I didn’t want to compete, you know, with him. I had an aunt and uncle in Wisconsin and I had an aunt and uncle in California. I didn’t know the ones in Wisconsin. I did know the ones in California and I liked them very much. That’s why I went to California. So that’s why I ended up in Berkeley.
Carmen: And you believe your William & Mary education helped prepare you for that?
Henretta: Oh, yeah. It was no problem. No problem. I was in the Zoology Department and I was a TA for zoology, and egads, all that stuff I’d had in England, you know, and this was baby stuff, in effect, you know.
00:43:00 Graduate school, a TA for beginning lab, it’s the same stuff you’ve had before, so that’s no problem. But of course when I initially started I thought I was going to be a Ph.D. in the Zoology Department. I had to take physics. And then there was also the bird watching requirement in Tilden Woods on Saturdays, and the course in invertebrate zoology at the marine station.
00:44:03 Well, I couldn’t get credit for having worked at Gloucester Point Marine Station, and I didn’t want to do bird watching at Tilden Hall at 8:00 in the morning…in the woods. So I wanted genetics anyway, and they had a genetics department, and I switched. So that way I was able to get a lot more statistics than just the one course.
But other than that, I did have to take physics my freshman year, but that’s the only requirement that I did for the zoology Ph.D. I got out of the rest of them by going to genetics. My husband, who was a graduate of the University of San Francisco, he had already had basically the bird watching from another professor who was also a Berkeley product, and naturally he got credit for it, so he didn’t have bird watching at 8:00 in the morning on Saturdays.
00:45:07 So he got his Ph.D. in zoology and I got mine in genetics. And then we got postdoctoral fellowships to go to Amherst College. He worked with George Kidder in biochemistry and I worked with P.T. Ives in biology with Drosophila melanogaster at Amherst College. He had been a longtime researcher on the South Amherst Drosophila melanogaster population. And I continued with him after we went to University of British Columbia. My husband got a job there.
00:46:00 And so initially I was still doing research with Phil. But they needed somebody to take charge of the comparative anatomy labs, so that fell onto me after we got there. But the next year I got a fellowship to do research, and then the year after that they had an over enrollment in zoology, a basic zoology course, so I was drafted as an assistant professor to teach that. And then my husband moved to Michigan State in ’63, and at that time, you know, husband and wife couldn’t be in the same department.
00:46:57 But six weeks after my daughter was born, the professor who was to teach population dynamics got killed. Well, the chairman of the department asked me to take over, so somehow or another we got this wonderful babysitter, and I taught basically a graduate course in population dynamics, etc. Instead of all the mathematical formulas, I turned it into evolutionary biology.
And then my husband went to do a postdoc in Cambridge, so we applied for fellowships. And he worked with [Wilmer] and I worked with [Thoday] in genetics. And again we had a nice babysitter. My daughter really learned to walk over in England.
00:47:57 And my cousin was working with the State Department in Greece, and so we visited her in May with our fingers crossed that my daughter could walk. She finally started walking in March and she was really, you know, still wobbly on her feet when we went there, but she really learned to walk on the Parthenon. This little blonde kid, blonde, blue-eyed kid in a dark eyed, you know, brown-eyed, dancing around on the Parthenon. She was so cute, and everyone would pick her up and hug her. But she learned to walk on the Parthenon.
So when we came back, I waited a year. Then I got an assistant professorship in the Nat Sci Department.
00:49:03 But again we had problems with babysitters, and so I didn’t continue after that year, and waited until after she went to…was old enough, you know. And by that time I had discovered a fly that was cold hearty, because I had gotten knocked down on a grant working for Drosophila melanogaster. He said if they fly up from the South. So that killed Phil, that killed me. Well, a species that is cold hearty, you cannot argue if they’re going to fly up from the South. In fact my husband and I did research on the larval stage, and it was…
00:50:01 It did not produce carbohydrates, but it produced…it was using a protein. So Karl Erik Zachariassen and somebody else that he had worked with had just published a paper in Nature on species that used protein, so I wrote the guy that we had just, you know, discovered a Drosophila that was using a protein, too, and he got me in touch with Zachariassen, who stopped by MSU to teach me how to get hemolymph out of a little tiny Drosophila larvae, and he spent a couple days here teaching me how to do that, and then he went on, you know, over to Cal.
00:51:02 So this little species I was working on was called Chymomyza amoena, and it had black banded wings, and it’s real pretty. They just flap. It’s a primitive species. They don’t…they kind of flap their wings back and forth all the time, and the males fight. And I was doing some work down at Mountain Lake Biological Station reviewing starch-gel electrophoresis, and I found more species down there. Basically, it’s a foreign species with the exception of what I was working on. And I worked on two species down there and decided that they were more primitive than Drosophila.
00:52:01 They had…[Throckmorton] had said they all came off the same root, Chymomyza and Drosophila, and I said no, the Chymomyza is more primitive, and they were. [Gyala] did the biochemical work, and they were more primitive. But the Chymomyza that I was working on uses…it’s a secondary invader because it uses previously parasitized apples and nuts to lay its eggs, so its larvae grow up in frass. It’s a frass feeder, and you have to put protein in the media to make it grow. They found them in Europe.
00:52:57 And so from 1997 to about 2004 my husband and I were over there with our colleagues at the University of Zurich working with Chymomyza amoena in Europe. Because in many cases when a species migrates someplace else, they change behavior. But no, this remained a frass feeder. It not only was in parasitized apples over there, it was also in parasitized chestnuts. Well, chestnuts had…they’re dead over here, so evidently they bred in chestnuts at one time as well as acorns. So it was nice, you know, to go over there. And we were in Austria, a lot of places in Switzerland, a couple of places in Italy and in France.
00:54:01 And one of the most unusual experiences that I ever had was we were in a little Austrian town. The little cathedral is at one end, the cemetery is at the other end, and this World War II veteran had died, and so marching up the street everybody stands in respect for this World War II veteran coming along. The Austrian Nazi, he would…a Swiss and his wife and an American and his wife, enemies at the same time standing up with respect to this Austrian soldier. But he probably didn’t want to fight anyway because Germany took over Austria and made everybody fight.
00:55:04 So anyway, I thought that was a very strange experience, that two of the people on the opposite side were paying respects to a World War II veteran.
Henretta: Then we happened to be in France when they had the Madrid train bombing. And initially they were trying to blame it on the Basques. But then the Basques said we never touch civilians. So it took them a long time to realize that it was a terrorist bombing. Well, that was our first experience with terrorist bombings, but we were in France at the time.
00:56:01 Well, after we finished work, you know, with this…when our colleague retired from Zurich, we were still traveling. And my husband comes up August the 8th and says we’ve got to re-pack. I said, why? He said, the British have discovered that there’s a plot to blow up planes across the Atlantic, so we have to take all the liquids out of our suitcases. So I don’t know what year it was, but I know it was August the 8th because we flew into Berlin and there had been a lot of holdups. I mean, people were straggling in all day long on this tour.
00:56:58 We finally got everybody there. I think the last flight came in around 8:00 that night. And everybody got on board to go on an Elba River cruise. But that was our second experience. And then after 9/11, we had…everything changed after that. You couldn’t take stuff that you used to. So before and after it was just night and day traveling. So I really would not like to have to fly anymore. It was so easy before, whereas nowadays you have to get an X-ray to get on board, practically.
Carmen: Much different than your experience crossing on the Queen Mary.
Henretta: The Queen Mary.
Carmen: When you went across for the Exeter scholarship.
Carmen: Much different travel experience.
Henretta: Oh, yes. Oh, Lord. The Queen Mary’s the rocking tub of the Atlantic. I think everybody got seasick.
Carmen: Did you ever get used to it?
Henretta: No. No. Hm-mmm. I don’t think you ever want to cross the Atlantic in September.
Carmen: Okay. Rough seas?
Henretta: Because it’s a rough sea. And of course the Queen Mary was just up and down, sideways. Evidently those things have stabilized because I never had that experience again.
00:58:58 Well, of course coming back on the USS United States, that was in the summer, it was August, and that was okay. But we’d gone, you know, in the passages, out into the Pacific, you know, go up. And it’s just a world of difference between those ships and the Queen Mary, up and down and sideways, up and down and sideways. [Laughs.]
Carmen: You have had so much travel experience, and you’ve seen so much of the world.
Henretta: We never went to China. I did go to Japan at the conference of genetics. But we did not go to China. And we never went on safari. Those are the only two things that really, we think we really missed doing, but other than that we did travel a lot.
01:00:00 Cruises, you know, to the eastern and western Mediterranean. And up north, Baltic. We had National Geographic tours in Egypt, which you wouldn’t want to go to now anyway. And National Geographic tours to the Dordogne region of France for the Paleolithic tours. Well, now they’re including the French as well as the Spanish, whereas before, when we went, there was just the French Paleolithic caves. So if you’re interested, I’ve got the National Geographic traveler if you want to know what to do when it comes to those.
Carmen: It sounds fascinating.
Henretta: Yeah, but, you know, we did a lot of traveling. But yeah, when we initially thought about going to Egypt, they shot up those 40 tourists in Khartoum and we thought, well, we better not do that. But we were on a tour, or a cruise that stopped at Alexandria from Cairo, and that was nice, and so we booked a National Geographic tour the next year. So that was very nice. But now it’s just back in turmoil again so you can’t go. So we were just lucky.
Carmen: You mentioned something earlier when you were outlining everywhere you worked and all the places you went with your husband, and you mentioned that you came back to Virginia, to Pembroke at Mountain Lake to research for a period of time. That was the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, right?
Henretta: Yeah, it was probably the ‘80s, yeah.
Carmen: Did you know—and if I have the dates right—when you were there they were filming “Dirty Dancing” at Mountain Lake?
Henretta: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Carmen: Did you see Patrick Swayze?
Henretta: They had finished it. But what I heard was they shot the scenes in the fall and they had to paint the leaves green because it takes place in the summer. Yeah, I heard all about that they filmed “Dirty Dancing” down there, yeah. Mm-hmm.
Carmen: What was it like moving back to Virginia after all that time?
Henretta: Oh, well, first of all I went down there to review starch-gel electrophoresis. Well, up in the mountains, you know, it was nice and cool.
01:02:59 My mother still lived in Danville. It was hot. But I’d go visit her on the weekends. But yeah. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Did you have the opportunity to go back and visit William & Mary at all during those years?
Henretta: When we got married we went to Williamsburg for a honeymoon. We went to Williamsburg for Jamestown 350. We went to Williamsburg for Jamestown 400.
Carmen: And on your honeymoon.
Carmen: So you must have liked it.
Henretta: Well, my husband was not familiar with Williamsburg—was not familiar with Virginia, so I figured the best place to take him was down to Williamsburg.
Carmen: What did he think about it?
Henretta: So we stayed at the Williamsburg Lodge, and I got to show him Williamsburg as well as William & Mary.
Carmen: What did he think? Did he like it?
Henretta: Yeah, well, he’s from California. [Laughs.] He really likes San Francisco. And of course we were still there as graduate students. But you can’t beat California weather, and especially in the summertime. Whereas… [Laughs.]
Carmen: So after the 400th, have you been back to William & Mary or Williamsburg since?
Henretta: No, hm-mmm. I don’t travel anymore, no.
Carmen: During the time you were still traveling, were there any ways you were still connected to the college or just visiting?
Carmen: Didn’t get involved in any foundations or anything like that?
Henretta: No, I don’t think so. I contribute, but that’s about it.
Carmen: Well, you had a very busy life. You were traveling all over the place, so it might have been hard to pin you down anyway.
Carmen: I want to span out a little bit to ask you just a few more questions, if that’s okay, but they are pertaining to William & Mary. Between when you were a student and the last time you went back and visited, do you remember any changes that you noticed between the first time and the last time you were there?
Henretta: I don’t think we really went on the campus. We were too busy going to Jamestown 400 and then going over to Yorktown.
01:05:59 And no, I don’t think we went to campus. I think by that time Botetourt had been moved anyway, so it would look different.
Carmen: Yeah, he’s currently on the ground floor of the library. He’s missing his nose.
Carmen: From wear and tear, but he’s there now, protected from the elements.
Henretta: Yeah. No, I wouldn’t recognize the campus. I wouldn’t even know where the buildings were. So no, we didn’t go.
Carmen: Well, the ancient campus, the old triangle is still there, so you would at least know that much.
Carmen: You would know that much.
Henretta: Mm-hmm. Do they still have classes in the Wren building?
Carmen: Yes, they do.
Carmen: Yeah, and they still do different dinner events there, or I think different ceremonies are still held there.
Henretta: Because I know when we had English classes, tourists coming by would open the door—[laughs]—and, you know, come in and stay a while and then leave, and I just wondered if they still do that.
Carmen: I don’t know about the tourists. Maybe. The place is as busy with tourists as ever, so that might still happen. Do you have any hopes or well wishes for the future of William & Mary, or a direction you would like to see it move in?
Henretta: Well, I think everything is getting bigger, so it’s a lot bigger now. There are more graduate programs, etc., etc., and it’s already incorporated a biological station over on Gloucester Point. Gloucester Point Marine Station is already part of it, yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, it’s VIMS.
Henretta: Yeah, so…mm-hmm.
Carmen: And you mentioned earlier that you—
Henretta: I worked there—
Carmen: —worked there for a period of time.
Henretta: —the summer of my sophomore year.
Carmen: What did you do there?
Henretta: I was mostly operating the calculator. See, I’m pre computer. And so I was doing a lot of summations from data that they had accumulated. So I was operating a Monroe calculator.
Carmen: I’m sure they appreciated your help.
Henretta: Yeah. [Laughs.]
Carmen: So just a couple more questions. Is there anything specific that you would like people to know about you?
Henretta: No, hm-mmm.
Carmen: Nothing we haven’t already covered?
Carmen: They do know now that you saw, almost met, really, Churchill, and that you saw Eisenhower, so those are pretty cool.
Henretta: Oh, yeah. I think a lot of us saw Eisenhower when he was there, yeah.
Carmen: What about anything you would like people to know about William & Mary?
Henretta: It’s a great school. It always has been. Yeah, mm-hmm.
Carmen: Do you think there is anything about William & Mary that people don’t know but that they should know?
Henretta: Well, a lot of people don’t know that it’s a public university. They think it’s private. It’s a public Ivy. Yeah, mm-hmm.
Carmen: Do you think that prevents people from applying there?
Henretta: Well, let’s put it this way. It makes it harder to get in if you’re out of state. They’ve always had a lot of out of state students. I think it’s—is it still 70-30? Because it used to be 60-40 and then they made it 70-30, 70% in state, 30% out of state.
Carmen: Yeah, there’s still a large out of state population. As you know, we’re about to kick off the celebration for 100 years of coeducation at William & Mary. Can you tell me what you believe to be the value and contribution of women to schools like William & Mary and to the world?
Henretta: Well, I’ve always had good role models, and I’ve always had, you know, Ph.D.s in front of me, so that was…I was never really denied the fact that women couldn’t do what they wanted to do.
01:11:07 So, you know, that’s kind of new for me, but… [Laughs.] Okay, maybe they didn’t try hard enough to begin with, let’s put it that way.
Carmen: So you didn’t feel like being a woman hindered you in any way?
Henretta: No, huh-uh, no. Because William & Mary was accepting us. The major universities were accepting us for graduate students. They were giving scholarships. So if you couldn’t make it, it was your fault, not the fault of the school.
Carmen: But do you think it’s valuable for schools to be coeducational, to allow in both men and women?
Henretta: Yeah, because a lot of the so-called men’s colleges have also become coed now in New England, yeah.
01:11:58 And maybe because there were too many…trying to compete for men, but they had to open them up or what. But anyway, a lot of them have become coed.
Carmen: Do you think there’s anything specific that women can add to education? Say a school changes from being all men and opens up their doors and it becomes coeducational. Do you think it adds a certain amount of value to do so?
Henretta: No, because I’ve always been basically coed. I mean, William & Mary, University of California Berkeley, they were giving TA-ships to both, so I was never faced with…it wasn’t all… It wasn’t a Smith College. Like, you know, my college sorority sister, Mary Maples, was dean at Bryn Mawr, which was female, and then president of Smith, which was at the time female.
01:13:06 So she went from coed to all female to all female. Which is a different experience from what a lot of us had yeah.
Carmen: Well, thank you for answering that.
Carmen: So before we close, I want to ask you if there’s anything that I haven’t asked you that you thought I would ask you.
Carmen: Or anything that you’d like to talk about, any memories you have that you want to add to the record before we close out.
Henretta: No, hm-mmm.
Carmen: Well, in that case thank you so much for giving us this time on your birthday, of all days.
Henretta: You’re quite welcome.
Carmen: It’s been very pleasant and you’ve helped us hear and learn a lot about the time period that you were at William & Mary and your experiences ever since, so thank you again. It’s been a pleasure.
Henretta: Thank you.
01:13:58 [End of recording.]