Jean Bruce, W&M Class of 1949
Jean Bruce arrived at William & Mary in 1945. During her time at William & Mary, she participated in Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Student Association, the Women’s Student Cooperative Government Association’s Judicial Committee, the YMCA, and German Club. She was also chair of the Honor Council, served as a President’s Aide, and was a member of the Mortar Board.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts in English in 1949, Bruce worked in a number of fields, including advertising and health and welfare. She wrote copy and advertising for Farm Fresh through Highway Advertising, the agency she started with her husband, Jack. She eventually moved into the health sector, serving as Director of Family Life Education for the Norfolk Health, Welfare , Recreation Planning Council, and sat on the boards of both the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation and the Sentara Health System.
In her interview, Bruce recalls her college experience as being filled with games of bridge in the dorms, attending football and basketball events, and lots of dancing with her would-be husband, Jack. She laughingly states that she "learned more from [her] extracurricular activities than I did in the classrooms." Bruce admits that she still attends sporting events on campus and that she, like other alum, is still attached to William & Mary, stating in regards to alumni connection to the school, "you never lose it."
William & Mary
Interviewee: Jean Canoles Bruce
Interviewer: Kim Sims
Interview Date: December 2, 2015 Duration: 01:09:23
Kim: My name is Kim Sims, and I’m the university archivist at the College of William & Mary. I’m interviewing Jean Canoles Bruce, a member of the William & Mary class of 1949. Today’s date is December 2, 2015, and this interview is being recorded in the Alumni House. So the first question I have is when and where were you born?
Jean: I was born in Norfolk August 26, 1927.
Kim: And did you grow up in Norfolk?
Jean: I did.
Kim: And what years did you attend the College of William & Mary?
Jean: I came in ’45 and graduated in ’49.
Kim: And why did you decide to attend William & Mary?
Jean: My brother had already been here. He came and was here briefly before he went in the Army. And he had had me up for a weekend while he was still enrolled in this college. And I knew immediately it was where I wanted to go.
00:01:00 And that didn’t make any difference because my parents had already said you’ll go where Leroy, Jr. went. [Laughs.] They had said the same thing in high school. Your parents had to sign off on the courses you took, and when it came time for me to do that, they said you just take what Leroy, Jr. took. Well, Leroy, Jr. took double math, you see. [Laughs.] So I did, too. [Light adjustment.]
Kim: What was your major and why did you choose that major?
Jean: I chose English as my major because although I must say my freshman year I took biology and loved it, and made As in it, and it was apparently a killer in the freshman class, but I have always been a voracious reader, and so I chose English.
Kim: And what are your memories of your first day as a student?
Jean: They are vivid, because the men were all off at war. Monroe, which is where I lived my freshman year, had been converted to a women’s dorm. And when my father drove me up, in the front yard there were scores of urinals. It did not suit my father very well. [Laughs.] He said, well, what kind of a place is it I’m bringing my daughter?
Kim: So what was dorm life like?
Jean: It was wonderful. It was so much fun. Nobody ever locked a door. All of our doors were always open.
00:02:59 You could run up and down the hall in your nightgown and nobody thought anything of it. The only time you closed a door was when you were trying to study.
Kim: And so how many women lived in Monroe? Was it—and I don’t mean…well, I shouldn’t say a number, but were your floors, say, like 20 women, more than 20 women on each level?
Jean: I would guess 20. It’s been a long time.
Kim: So since it was converted to a women’s dorm, how much effort do you think the college put into making it welcoming to women? I mean, what did you have to put up with that you wouldn’t have, had it been Jefferson, which was built specifically for women?
Jean: No, actually, it was very comfortable. The rooms were doubles, and the beds were nothing to write home about, but they were okay. And you furnished them to suit yourself.
00:04:00 My roommate, a girl I had known in high school, our parents cooperated on making it a pretty room. We brought our own bedspreads and pillows and made it girlie.
Kim: When you entered William & Mary as a freshman in the fall of 1945, there were 820 women enrolled and 280 men. It was expected that the enrollment of men would increase in the spring of 1946 with the return of veterans. And according to the February 6, 1946 issue of Flat Hat, 235 additional males did enroll, and as a result some women students had to move into different housing to accommodate these new arrivals. And it’s obvious from the article’s tone that William & Mary was very happy to have more men back on campus. So what are your memories of that time when the men came back?
Jean: Our social life improved by leaps and bounds because, you know, the first year, except for a very few either too young to have gone into the Army or, as I said, my brother was here very briefly before he went into the service, we still had a lot of fun. We made our own fun. We played a lot of bridge. I hear the students complain now about there being nothing to do. My goodness, we had one movie and we could not…freshmen girls were locked, literally locked in their dorms at 9:00. And if you rode in a car, it was a shipping offense.
Kim: It was a…?
Jean: You could be expelled.
Kim: Expelled, okay.
Jean: That didn’t keep us from having fun. You could walk on Duke of Gloucester Street as far as the Lodge and back, no further. And you could walk down…was it? I guess it’s Boundary as far as the Indian Grill and no further. There was something called the Women’s Student Government Handbook, which told you how far you could go in every direction, so we were very closely guarded.
Kim: So in that same issue of Flat Hat was an article titled “Inquiring Reporter Asks Female Reaction to Influx of Men.” The article starts, “A wondrous new thing has happened to the William & Mary campus. Skirts and sweaters are now almost evenly distributed among shiny new discharge buttons and tweeds. The female reaction to this new influx of men is quite favorable.”
00:07:06 I don’t know if you remember this, but you were quoted in the article saying, “Things are taking on the aspect of a real collegiate spirit now that we have men back on campus. Here’s to more.” What did you mean by that, and can you describe how the campus atmosphere changed from the fall of your freshman year to that spring?
Jean: Well, there are now men to go to dances with. I mean… [Laughs.] You know, having been practically a female school, and having expected to be a coed school, now there were the possibilities that there were men to do things with. We were very, as I say, closely guarded. The men not at all. They could do anything they wanted to.
00:08:00 The conclusion at the administrative level was if we take care of the girls, that’ll take care of the men, because they won’t get any… They were allowed to do anything they wanted to in the first place. Many of—almost all of them were retiring vets, and you couldn’t lock them up.
Kim: So you’ve alluded to this, obviously, just now regarding social freedom. So could you expand more on how much social freedom women had on campus? What were some of the rules about dress, behavior, curfews? You established that men pretty much had no rules. And why do you think women were so socially restricted? Which you, again, just touched on.
Jean: I suppose it had to do with the time. You know, women’s lib wasn’t even thought of. And so as far as dress is concerned, we had these hideous outfits that we wore for gym, but you couldn’t walk across campus without putting your raincoat on to cover them up.
00:09:11 You couldn’t walk and smoke. You could smoke indoors, but you couldn’t walk across the campus smoking. Don’t ask me to explain any of this. It’s just how it was. Most of us arriving as freshmen didn’t smoke. Unfortunately, we all learned to smoke as sophomores, which was stupid. Students smoked in class, if you can believe it, and so did the professors. Most of my classes were in Wren. I mean, the original Wren before it got fancied up by the…and is used now as a place for tourists to look at.
00:09:58 G. Glenwood Clark taught me American Lit in there, in the Wren, and it was just perfect. Henry Billups tolled the bell in the Wren at five minutes before the hour so you had time to get to your class, and then at the hour he would toll the hour. I don’t know when that stopped, but it was an enormous help. You knew exactly when you had to scurry to your next class.
Kim: So you bring up a good point. I want to go back to Henry Billups in a second. But just for the benefit of current and future women students, would you describe that hideous gym outfit you had to wear?
Jean: They were blue. They came down to your knees and they buttoned up the front, and they had sleeves that came down to about elbow length, and they were really ugly.
Kim: [Laughs.] Well, Henry Billups has quite a history here at the school, serving for so many years as he did.
Jean: Oh, yes.
Kim: And known as the bell ringer himself. And it’s great to have an opportunity to speak to someone who was here when he was here. Could you describe him for people who aren’t sure of who he was?
Jean: He was a very kindly black man, and we all just said hello. I mean, we had no further contact with him. We knew who he was, we knew what he did, and we were grateful for it, but we had no way to get to know him better. He was a distinguished looking person.
Kim: So today’s student body might be surprised to learn that when you came to William & Mary—and you mentioned this just a few moments ago, that women were not allowed to ride in cars. And you served on the Judicial Committee for—or on the Women Students Cooperative Government Association for three years prior to being elected as chairwoman in 1948. In May of 1947 your committee’s resolution to allow women permission to ride in cars was approved by President John Pomfret in December, with some modification.
According to the Flat Hat, “The privilege of riding in cars was extended to sophomore, junior and senior women. Upperclassmen may ride in cars within the city limits of Williamsburg during their social hours provided they have signed out first with their house mother. Special permissions to ride outside of the approved area will be granted by the assistant dean of women. With special letters of permission from their parents, students may ride home or to football games in Richmond. One woman stated, ‘We’ve been struggling for this new rule for years now.’”
00:13:02 What was the reasoning behind the administration forbidding women from riding in cars, and why do you think the administration agreed to the change?
Jean: Well, I remember hearing somebody quote one of the administrative folks, I don’t know which one, that it opened the door to immorality. That’s, you know, that’s just how it was. It was a time when girls—and nobody objected to being called girls—just knew that that’s the way things were.
Kim: Can you describe the experience of actively contributing to changing the social restrictions placed on women?
Jean: You know, it’s so long ago I don’t remember doing much. I know that I didn’t campaign for anything. I know I was elected, but I don’t remember any campaigns.
00:13:59 I know I didn’t campaign. It just happened. I did remember going to see Dean Lambert. I think he was the one that I spoke to about that. And I was terrified. Years later I got to know him as an adult, and he had the best sense of humor, and told the funniest stories. But at the time it was a whole different thing.
Miss Wynne-Roberts was the dean of women—assistant dean of women, and she was a lovely person. And the sign-out business, we just expected to do that. I know that if your father brought your luggage upstairs, you had to go before him shouting, “Man on second! Man coming up!”
00:14:57 So it was, you know, it was…women were very protected. And you know what? There were some good things about that—if somebody asked you to go somewhere that you thought was not such a hot idea. I remember being invited to go to the Blue Lantern, which was a little ways out Richmond Road. I never did go there because I never saw it. But it was off limits.
And I was invited and I said I am so sorry, I can’t, I would get kicked out of school if I did. [Laughs.] And there was a certain amount of comfort in those rules because you didn’t have to do anything you didn’t want to do by just explaining that you weren’t allowed to.
Kim: So given that, it obviously was some importance for many of the women to have this one extra bit of freedom, to have the opportunity to ride in cars, for whatever reason, for a dance or whatever, so—
Jean: Yeah, I did work very hard for that.
Kim: So what…in retrospect now, I mean, that was a pretty significant contribution to creating some social changes for how women were treated on campus, and, I mean, in retrospect, can you describe what, you know, I mean, that’s a legacy that you’re leaving behind. You were one of those, if you’ll pardon the expression, pioneering women that, you know, allows the women of today’s William & Mary, you know, to appreciate a lot more freedoms than they would have had then.
Jean: Well, I have to tell you none of it was planned. I just, as most of my life has been, I just stumbled into things. It came along and it was an opportunity to try to do something, and so I did.
Kim: So what do you…or can you describe the mood among women, you know, at this time?
00:16:57 Was there a…looking back, was there a sense of empowerment, meaning like, you know, the administration gave us something, let’s, you know, move forward to next thing, or was this enough, that ability to ride in a car, was that enough for now?
Jean: I think it was. You know, we had everything we needed and wanted right here. There was the Corner Greeks
. We were allowed to go to the Corner Greeks, which is where William Sonoma is now—that is, sophomores and up during the appropriate hours. And then there was the Middle Greeks, which was a little further on.
Incidentally, the Middle Greeks had a phone booth, and that’s when Jack had proposed to me, and I said you have to ask my parents, and so we went down to the Middle Greeks and used that phone booth to call my parents so that Jack could ask them if I could wear his ring. And he did, and they agreed, and that was that.
Kim: And this was while you were in school, both of you.
Jean: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Kim: I’ll get to that because I do want to talk about dating at William & Mary, especially with some restrictions, again, placed on women. But can we turn back? So the administration did agree to make this change with modification.
Kim: The original resolution asked that women be allowed to ride in cars pretty much within the historic triangle—Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg. And the compromise was just in the local vicinity. Why do you think the administration—because they didn’t have to agree to any change. Why do you think this was the time that Pomfret and the other administrators agreed to this?
Jean: I don’t know. I do know this. John Pomfret was a…he was the quintessential southern gentleman. He knew everybody’s name. Mortar Board was invited to lunch at his house with Mrs. Pomfret acting as the hostess. It was lovely. We were a small school and they knew us all by name. So much different than now.
There’s a book that… It’s called “Williamsburg, My Hometown,” written by Fred… I will think of his last name. But it describes how the Pomfrets behaved towards students. The boys that were here on the work-study program and were working at the Travis House on Christmas Eve, the Pomfrets had them come there to their house for Christmas Even dinner. They were lovely, lovely people.
Kim: Women’s social roles—and there was an editorial regarding women and social roles in the Flat Hat that said women were asked to make suggestions, and the suggestions were turned in, and the chairman read them back to the women for final approval before presenting them to the faculty advisory committee. So the women had asked permission to ride in cars, even though they were told—and I think this was one of the quotes you alluded to earlier, that opening the door to a car is the door to temptation.
00:21:00 And the women agreed with what was stated in the column, in the paper the week before that the parents who send their girls to William & Mary trust their children, and if they didn’t they would send them to an institution and not a college. So there were several other times during your time at William & Mary when women asked for some other changes. The riding in cars seemed to be the one thing that actually got.
So I wonder if you can talk some more than about at this point the dating at William & Mary, because you met your husband while you were both students at William & Mary. You had these social restrictions, the riding in cars, the curfew. So would you describe for us how you met, as well as the experience of dating at William & Mary while adhering to all of these social rules and restrictions?
Jean: Sure. At that time there was a bonfire the night before the homecoming game. I can’t tell you where it was. I can see it in my mind’s eye. But I had gone with my roommate, [Bobbie Daughtry], and the fire…she ran off to talk to somebody and I was standing there alone. The fire got hot. I backed up and stepped on Jack’s foot, and I turned around to apologize.
And Bobbie saw me talking to these boys and she came flying back. And she was really cute. And Tommy Thompson was Jack’s roommate. And he immediately was attracted to Bobbie. And when the bonfire was coming to a conclusion, there was a snake dance down into town, which is nothing more than students holding hands and running down Duke of Gloucester Street.
00:23:04 So he took Bobbie’s hand and ran off, and he turned back over his shoulder and said, “Take her.” [Laughs.] And so Jack did, in fact, take me and we ran downtown. And then we came back and I said good night and went back to my dorm, and he said good night and went back to his dorm.
But in the next day or two…he lived in OD at that time, I think, and he came across the sunken gardens, and appeared at the door and asked the call girl if I could come down. And I came down. And then he had to ask Miss Wynne-Roberts, who was down in the office, if he could take me out.
00:23:59 It was all very convoluted. But everybody agreed and so we went to the homecoming dance together, and the rest is history.
Jean: That was October 24, 1946. It’s engraved in his wedding ring and mine.
Kim: What did you do when you went on dates? Since you had the curfew, was it limited to campus activities?
Jean: Pretty much. We played bridge and we played pinochle in the dorm. There was a living room there that… There was also something called the Japanese Room over on one side, and this is over in Barrett now. I’m out of Monroe. I can’t remember how to play pinochle, but we did then.
00:25:00 We played a lot of it with other students, and we played bridge. And Jack had a friend from New Jersey named Jimmy Stewart, who was a ticket taker at the movie house. As a consequence, he managed to find a ticket for Jack so that we saw every movie that was played there. [Laughs.]
And as I say, we played bridge. We walked. We were allowed to walk up and down Duke of Gloucester Street. And many Sunday nights we would walk up to the Lodge and sit in front of the fireplace and then walk home. I mean, they were simple things, and we had fun doing them. As I said, the Indian Grill, which was behind where the Kappa House is, they had wonderful cheeseburgers. I’ve never had one since that was as good.
00:26:00 And we could walk down to Rexall’s, which is where The Trellis is now. And behind Rexall’s was a kind of mall, and that’s where the postboxes were. You went back there to get your mail. And further up Duke of Gloucester Street there was Rexall No. 2, which was owned by the Hall family.
Anyway, we could walk off campus to Rexall’s and get a chocolate ice cream cone, walk back there and get our mail, and walk back to our dorms. And we were a very docile group. We made our own fun. Eventually we were allowed, sophomores and up were allowed to be out till 11:00 on Saturday night on campus. And we had our dances on campus in what is now Blow Hall.
00:26:58 The swimming pool in Blow was covered, and that’s where we danced. So we didn’t have to go very far to do the things we did. I must say it was a protected campus. It was a happy time. We had everything we needed or wanted to do right here and we did it. We danced a lot in Blow gym on that dance floor. Jack not only was a good dancer, but he liked to dance. [Laughs.]
And of course all of the students went to all of the football games and all the basketball games. In that original basketball, in Blow gym you were practically in the game, it was so close. And we could walk over to Cary Field to the football.
00:27:58 And of course Jack had come on a football scholarship. Otherwise he would not have been able to come. He was a first generation Scots immigrant, and his parents hadn’t been in this country long enough to amass any resources. And of course I went to all the games, as all the students did then. I don’t think they do that now. But I would wait for him outside the locker room. And when he’d come out, with his hair still wet from showering, we’d go to the Wigwam. I don’t know what happened to the Wigwam. It was a wonderful place.
And he would get a chocolate milkshake after having played. And then we’d go to supper. Everybody went to the Caf, Trinkle Hall. And there were a few people who ate in the special dining hall. I was not one of them. Because the Caf is where you saw everybody. It was kind of the hub of our social activities.
00:28:58 And you just went along with your tray, and you got what you wanted. I don’t remember whether they punched your ticket or how it worked, but I remember the men had some very derogatory names for the chipped beef on toast that they had learned in the Army, which I won’t repeat. But I remember they had good hot dogs. I remember people complaining about the mystery meat. I had no complaints. I thought it was all just fine. I was not a finicky eater. [Laughs.]
Jean: Matter of fact, I gained weight my freshman year. I was…my…when I went home for Christmas, my mother said, as gently as she could, she said, “You really, you need to take off a few, honey.” [Laughs.] It made me cry. Anyway, the next year, after Jack came, I immediately lost weight. I went down to 119. [Laughs.]
Kim: You were a very active undergraduate. In addition to serving on the Women’s Student Cooperative Government Association’s Judicial Committee, you were also a member of the Student Assembly, the YWCA, the German Club, which was a social club, and Mortar Board. What motivated you to be so engaged?
Jean: I can’t tell you that. It just happened. For instance, the Mortar Board. I was the most surprised person in the United States when I was tapped for Mortar Board. It was not something I sought. None of those things did I seek. I didn’t run for anything. I don’t know how the elections were held. They just…it just happened.
Kim: I mentioned the German Club was a social club which organized various dances, and—
Jean: Those things I did join because they were fun.
Kim: And the Mortar Board originally served as a literary, music and dramatic society, and also focused on social activities before focusing solely on service, scholarship and leadership.
00:31:04 And if I understand correctly, anyone could sign up to join the German Club, but one had to be elected to Mortar Board. And you mentioned you’re not sure how you got tapped for that. But I was interested to learn that Mortar Board published a handbook for women which described the social events, the customs, and the appropriate clothing. And you alluded to this earlier in the interview. So what are your favorite memories, though, of these two groups? Considering they were kind of the same, but very different.
Jean: Well, the German Club that organized the dances, I remember one dance. I made my formal. There was a rickety sewing machine in Barrett Hall, and I went downtown to Casey’s and bought some material and made myself a dress.
00:32:01 And I wore it. [Laughs.] I don’t know why I did that. I could have just called my mother and she would have sent me something. Anyway, that’s what I did. But for further dances my mother did make, or had made, and sent me lovely things to wear for dances.
I will tell you that our June finals was held on Matoaka, which was then used for the Common Glory, and it had that stage, that wooden stage. And we danced on that in a gown that my mother sent me. It looked straight out of “Gone With the Wind.” And there was a full moon and it was just…it was beautiful. Barbara Daughtry borrowed that dress from me sometime later, and I never got it back. And I’m really sorry because it was really pretty.
00:33:00 And with the full moon, and Jack and I were already pinned, and I guess we might…and we may have been engaged. Anyway, it was straight out of MGM.
Kim: So when you say you were already pinned, can you describe what that means?
Jean: Yes. I have a Kappa key and Jack was an SAE, and so he gave me his SAE pin. I have both of them in my jewelry box right now. And pinning came before the next step, which was engagement. And I can tell you where it all happened. There are some steps from the sunken gardens that you go down and then there was, at that time, a path over to Barrett.
00:33:57 At the top of those steps he gave me his pin, and 20 years later—well, more—to celebrate our 20th anniversary, at that same spot he gave me this ring. So that spot has a lot of memories for me, and it’s where I got my engagement ring all those years later…before. It was a very enclosed campus. It was a small population. Everything that we needed or wanted to do was right here on this campus. And it was such a happy time.
Kim: So you were a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Kim: And can you tell us when did you rush, and why did you decide to rush Kappa Kappa Gamma?
Jean: Well, we rushed the first week we were here, which was a terrible mistake. You hadn’t had a chance to get to know anybody.
00:35:01 But Buddy had—my brother Leroy—Buddy had invited me up to spend a weekend, and I came up on the bus, as I recall. And of course I had to spend the night, and he had to find a place for me to sleep. So he was dating a Kappa, and so I slept in the Kappa house.
Well, when I came back as a freshman, and they were rushing, I could have chosen Kappa, or Pi Phi or Theta. All three of them bid me and I went to all three rush parties. And I liked them all. But obviously I was going to go Kappa. I had been introduced to that place already.
Kim: So women were first invited to serve as president’s aides by President John Pomfret in the fall of 1948, and you were in that first group of women to serve in that role.
00:36:03 So describe the experience of working as an aide as well as the experience of working so closely with the president.
Jean: Actually, our duties were just symbolic. We were there for…I think there were occasions when we marched in the… Well, let me back up. Convocations were held in the original Phi Beta Kappa Hall, which is now Ewell. And those convocations, I believe the aides to the president marched in that along with the faculty or whoever was marching. I think that was the case. If we had any duties, I don’t remember being called on to do any of them. I do remember having dinner with the Pomfrets, which was lovely. But as I say, our duties were symbolic more than anything else.
Kim: So was it a surprise to you when you were asked?
Jean: Yes. [Laughs.] Everything that happened was a surprise to me. It all just was a revelation. I will say this. I learned more from my extracurricular activities than I did in the classrooms.
Kim: How so?
Kim: How so? In what ways?
Jean: I don’t know. It just did. It exposed me to different ways of thinking. One thing I can tell you, I had come from [Murray] High School, where I think I was second in my class. I was not a salutatorian, but it was the next one after that. And I was accustomed to being the smartest one in the room. When I got up here I found out I was not the smartest one in the room. I wasn’t even close. Particularly women who had come from out of state.
00:38:00 I didn’t even know about SATs, but their records, I’m sure, exceeded mine by a mile. And so I had a lot to learn from other people. And one of the things I learned was that you didn’t have to look like everybody else. In high school, where I came from, you wore saddle shoes with white bobby socks and you had a certain kind of skirt, and a certain kind of sweater, and a white scarf for your head. Well, when you got up here, you could dress like you wanted to, and I did, and they did. It was a revelation.
Kim: During your time at William & Mary women’s sports were both intercollegiate and intramural. Sororities played against each other in activities such as basketball. And I wonder if you participated in either intramural or intercollegiate sports.
Jean: No. One time the Kappas were playing an intramural basketball game and they were short a player, and I said I am absolutely no good. They said, well, you have to go in, we need one. And so I said okay. And somebody threw me the ball, I aimed it at the basket, and it went in, to my utter surprise, just as Jack came in the door. [Laughs.]
Kim: Perfect. Perfect timing.
Jean: I said okay, I’ve done my duty, I’m out now. And so somebody else had come to take my place.
Kim: What are your memories of Martha Barksdale?
Jean: She was wonderful. I had to play field hockey, and I had no idea how to play field hockey, because the high school that I came from, they did not encourage women in competitive sports. I was given a hockey stick and Miss Barksdale would run along beside us saying, “Up, up, halves; up, up, inners!”
00:39:57 And I’ve got my hockey stick and the ball and I’m trying to get out of the way of those girls who had come from the western part of the state, and they knew how to do this. [Laughs.] So mostly I was just staying out of the way.
Kim: Was this part of the regular physical exercise?
Jean: Yeah, in my hideous outfit. [Laughs.]
Kim: Were you aware, at the time you were a student, that Martha Barksdale was one of the first women to enter William & Mary in 1918?
Jean: I was not then. I am now. I read about it sometime later. And she was the first homecoming queen, I think.
Kim: I’m not sure. That would be interesting to verify.
Jean: You look that up.
Kim: What impact do you think she had on women students, looking back? She seemed like a force to be reckoned with, from what I’ve read about her.
Jean: Oh, yes. She’s a force to be reckoned with. You put that very well.
Kim: Do you feel like she was a…looking back, a role model or, you know?
Jean: At the time it did not cross my mind. I was just trying to do what she said and not get hit. [Laughs.]
Kim: You mentioned Dean Lambert, who I know has…there’s a lot of fondness for him as well, and he had quite a long and storied career here as a dean of students. Would you mind expanding some more on your memories of Dean Lambert and his relationship with students?
Jean: All of the students that I knew were terrified of him because when the dean called you in, you were in real trouble. I had been quoted as saying something that he didn’t agree with, and he called me in to discuss it. And I stood my ground, but looking back on it I should have said how dare you? Do you not know about freedom of speech? Anyway, I just meekly accepted whatever he said. But as I say, later on I knew him as an adult, and he had the best sense of humor and the most wonderful stories.
00:42:02 I have asked his grandson if any of that is recorded and he seemed to think that there was. I knew Ann Lambert better. She was a Kappa. And she was very kind to us. She would have us over to her apartment, I think, house? I’ve forgotten now. We all rejoiced when she cut her hair finally. You know, she wore in a coil on top of her head for years. And then she finally cut it, and it took years off her life. When she was dying I went to see her in the hospital and I had smuggled a bottle of gin in because I knew she liked her…whatever you make with gin. And she was asleep.
00:43:00 So I came back the next week and she was awake, and I told her, and she said, I wish you’d come sooner, I’m too sick now to drink it.
Kim: Did you have a favorite professor?
Jean: Yes. G. Glenwood Clark.
Kim: Why was he your favorite?
Jean: He taught American Lit. And as I said, I had it right in Wren, with those scarred tables and benches.
Kim: And why was he your favorite professor?
Jean: Several reasons. He really knew his stuff. And he was fun to listen to. He didn’t just stick to the script. And he had us write papers. I remember writing a paper as a sophomore on sororities.
00:44:00 I said that I belonged to one, and I enjoyed it, but I thought that they should be abolished, that they hurt so many girls, that everybody wasn’t chosen, and it was a very hurtful system, and I thought they should be done away with. Nobody paid any attention to me.
Kim: So you alluded a few moments ago about how challenging the studies were, that you came in realizing you weren’t the smartest person in the class. So how challenging were your studies at William & Mary, and how did you manage the work load plus your extracurricular activities?
Jean: I have a very good memory. I didn’t know how to take notes. When I came from high school, we didn’t take notes. I knew nothing about taking notes.
00:45:00 And so I scribbled some things down and remembered the rest. That’s the way I got by. My lectures, particularly in Washington Hall, where there were so many people, I wrote as fast as I could, but none of it was legible by the time I got back to my dorm. And when I would get back I’d try to remember what I had heard and write it out more sensibly.
I remember philosophy being difficult, which I had under the…I think it was the Romes. I had a history professor that I thought a great deal of, whose name I can’t summon right now.
00:46:01 But he was famous for his Henry the Eighth lecture. And at one point Jack, who was president of the William & Mary Alumni Society in Tidewater, got him to come down and give his Henry the Eighth lecture in the auditorium of the Chrysler before it was all changed, and I think it was taped. And it was the first time that he had agreed to do that. We had driven up here for Jack to convince him to do it. He lived in a house off of…one of those cute little houses off of Richmond Road where you turn in there in one of those little circles. I can’t remember. I wish I could remember. If I had my yearbook in front of me I could tell you.
Kim: You, I believe, are the second alumna to refer to this same history professor, the Henry the Eighth lecture, so I’m going to have to look and see if we do have any kind of recording of that. That would be fun to learn.
So you mentioned you and your classmates played bridge and you made your own fun on campus and in the short locations outside of the campus proper that you could go to. Did you have much chance or any interest, really, in interacting with the local community? How were the town-gown relationships while you were here? I mean, I guess it’s kind of hard to have that relationship if you can’t really go much off campus, but…
Jean: That’s right. We didn’t have any. I mean, I know that when we went downtown there was, on one side of Duke of Gloucester Street there was the Corner Greeks, the Middle Greeks, and there was also a bakery.
00:48:07 And sometimes Jack and I would go in that bakery and buy a half of a strawberry shortcake, and then we’d walk out to that cemetery and sit on the wall and eat it and walk back. I mean, we were well within the radius of the places we could walk to. And as I say, we could walk down Duke of Gloucester Street to the Lodge, as we did on Sunday night, and sit in front of the fire, then walk back home. It was a very circumscribed college life, and it was one that we all just really enjoyed.
Kim: So what were your aspirations upon graduation from William & Mary?
Jean: I had, at one time, wanted to be a journalist. Don’t ask me why. But between semesters at William & Mary I had worked in what was called the Morgue, that is, the library of Norfolk newspapers. And while I was there I met—didn’t know it at the time—two Pulitzer Prize winners, because they would come in for clippings. And while I was working there, the newspapers employed their first promotion manager. His name was Fred [Lowe]. And he asked me to come and be his staff. And I learned how to write copy and to lay out ads.
00:49:55 And that served me in wonderful stead later on, because after Jack and I were married and we had two little children, then I wrote little columns for the newspaper about what I knew, which was home and family. And Jack audited the books at Farm Fresh, and so he went over there one day and he said, could I have that tear sheet? And they said, why? He said, that’s my wife’s column. I want to send it to my mother.
And they asked me to then write their advertising. So I said okay, and I did. And then a little while later on they said, well, why don’t we have our own advertising agency? We will call it Highway Advertising—because their store was on the highway.
00:50:55 And I said, well, I don’t know how to do that. And Jack, who was always in my corner, said go ahead, you can do it, I know you can do it. So we had an advertising agency in my laundry room called Highway Advertising, and I placed ads for Farm Fresh, and I placed ads—later on I got a call from Walter Wilkins, who was the Oldsmobile-Cadillac distributor. And he called me up and said he would like me to be his advertising agent. I said, Mr. Wilkins, I have a client.
Well, nobody had ever said no to him, so nothing would do but I must have his. So I said okay. And so then I had his…I did his ads. And I would have to come in and see him from time to time. And so I would take my two little children and drive into town, and they would sit on the floor in his office with their little stuck out while I delivered the stuff.
00:52:00 And all of it just happened. None of it was planned. I have just bumbled my way along my whole life.
Kim: You received the Alumni Medallion in 1992. Describe that experience and what it meant to you.
Jean: Tom Mikula proposed me. I had known Tom a long time, and we had both been engaged in seeing that black people were treated equally. I had been on the school board in Norfolk, and it took two years of my life, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, but we managed to stop cross busing elementary school children for enforced integration.
00:53:00 And during that time—anyway, Tom proposed me for the Alumni Medallion, and it was the greatest honor I’ve ever received anytime, anywhere. My children all came. And it was, as I say, it was the most...the greatest honor I’ve ever received.
Kim: How did attending William & Mary influence your life?
Jean: It made all the difference. I met the man that I would marry and we had 56 years together. It prepared me to make a living. Not only that, it gave me what I remember reading is important, a well furnished mind.
00:54:00 There are always going to be times when you have nobody but yourself. If your mind is well furnished, you’ve got someplace to be.
Kim: In 2018 William & Mary will commemorate 100 years of coeducation. What are your thoughts about the value and contributions of women?
Jean: Well, we are certainly going to live in a world where there are men and women together, and it seems to me unnatural to not be prepared for that. It’s the same reason that when enforced integration took place in the Norfolk Public Schools I didn’t take my children out, as so many did. I said this is the world you’re going to live in. You’ll just have to learn to get along.
00:55:01 It’s the same reason our parents never sent us to private schools. They said you need to learn to live in the world as it is, not some ivory tower.
Kim: Well, great. Do you mind answering a few extra questions? I submitted them as supplemental questions, but—
Jean: Sure, go ahead. Anything you want to—
Kim: —it was just something I came across that was of interest to me.
Jean: —ask that I don’t want to answer I’ll tell you.
Kim: All right. Well, you mentioned earlier the smoking in class. And I think a lot of students today, and, you know, even 20 years ago would have been really surprised, I think, to learn that it was the norm for students to smoke in class. In 1948—and this was, again, I came across this in the Flat Hat. There were faculty members who wanted that to stop, it was distracting, but the students didn’t want to.
00:55:59 And the students themselves voted to say no, we want to continue smoking. So can you describe what it was like to actually be in classes where, you know, all around you could be people lighting up and smoking? Like how distracting…did that distract from your ability to actually—
Jean: I can tell you now it did not distract me at the time, but I wish to the good lands I had never started because stopping smoking, I found out, was really hard to do. But it never occurred to me to smoke until I got up here to William & Mary. And I didn’t start smoking until my sophomore year. And then I got hooked, as one does, and it took me forever to stop. And I am so sorry I ever started. None of my children smoked. I would tell them don’t ever start because it’s so hard to stop.
00:56:58 I remember my brother saying to his girls, take up dope if you want to, but don’t smoke. [Laughs.]
Kim: You mentioned before we started taping the frosh tribunal and leading to the Flat Hat. It’s an experience I don’t think I could ever describe, having not seen that or participated in it. And I wonder if you would mind describing that experience. Explain what the frosh tribunal was and kind of the whole trauma of it.
Jean: Well, we all went to the original Phi Bet[a], you know, the original building, and everybody was seated there. And Harry [Stinson] was the sophomore who called us to order, and he picked me out and I was required to sing the laundry list, which I did.
Kim: Sing the laundry list?
Jean: Sing the laundry list.
Kim: What laundry?
Jean: Well, you know, we all had a laundry list that we checked and put our stuff in and threw over the balcony to be taken off to the laundry. I remember what I had on. [Laughs.] I had on a dress my mother had made for me. It was white at the top and it had a red cummerbund kind of thing and a red skirt. And I had, of course, on my saddle shoes, because that’s what you wore.
Kim: So it was pretty much a good natured—
Jean: Oh, yeah.
Kim: —welcome to William & Mary, freshmen.
Jean: Yeah, yeah.
Kim: And then, as an upperclassman, did you participate anymore, or as an observer, or…?
Jean: I don’t remember doing it again. I thought kind of once was enough. Although I will say this. All of the convocations were held in Phi Bet, and we all went. I mean, you just went. Opening convocation. And I loved it.
00:59:00 I loved the choir marching and singing the William & Mary hymn. And when we changed, when Taylor changed to the arena, I thought what a mistake. Well, the first time I went I thought, no, it was not a mistake. It’s just perfect, because the William & Mary hymn was sung. It’s just that now all of the underclassmen could come. And they did, by droves.
Kim: Referring to Charter Day?
Kim: Yes, yeah. And this is the last question. But I noticed in doing the research for this interview from the Flat Hat that while you were a student, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower all visited campus. Did you have the opportunity to see any of them?
Jean: You know, I think I did. I don’t know whether I really did or whether I remember their being here and so I thought I did. I think I did. I’m not sure about Truman. I’m pretty sure about Eisenhower.
Kim: It seemed like there was a lot of activity going on during that time to make preparations, and didn’t know if there was a great buzz. This was right after the end of the war. Eisenhower was still a general, and not, of course, President, but Churchill, the most recent prime minister.
Jean: Yeah. I’m sure I must have been because I’ve always been a Churchill fan. And Eisenhower too, as well. And Truman not so much. Although later on I have come to believe he was probably one of our better presidents.
Kim: And so learning minutes before this interview that you are one of now 15 or 14, hopefully 15 people in your family to come to William & Mary, so what is that like? You were the second, your brother was the first. I mean, that’s pretty substantial and significant. I don’t know that I have actually met anyone else who has had so many family members attend the same university.
Jean: Well, my brother married Marian Lewis-Jones, my sister-in-law. We lived in the Kappa House together and we graduated together. My sister Carolyn and her husband Russ both graduated from William & Mary, she in ’57, he in ’56, I think. And then some of my nephews, Jack’s nephews from New Jersey. Bob West, who is an attorney in New Jersey. He graduated from William & Mary and then got his law degree from Richmond.
01:02:00 And before that, Ron Martin. Ron is now an oral surgeon in Douglasville. Both of them came down here following their Uncle Jack. Let me see, how many more? I counted them all up once.
Kim: It’s a lot.
Jean: Travis will be coming soon, Travis Redmond. He’s Carolyn’s grandson, and Russ’s, Carolyn and Russ’s. They would so love to have been here to see that. Their son Don graduated from William & Mary Law School. And Dave took his undergraduate degree here, and then he went on to be…
01:02:58 Don is now a general counsel for Portfolio Recovery and Dave works for a big real estate concern in Virginia Beach. Anyway, they took their William & Mary education and spread it all around.
My son, who graduated in ’73, when he was 27, Chief Justice Lawrence I’Anson called him up and said that Bob Irons had just dropped dead—he was the chief staff attorney—and did Jack want the job. And Jack said I’ll think about it a minute, because they had just bought a little house. And he called back and said yes. And he went back and he was the chief staff attorney until he just recently retired at, I think, 35 years, 30 years, a long time.
01:04:00 Now my son-in-law, Noah Palmer, better known as Butch, graduated in ’75. He’s a builder. He has built wonderful houses all around Williamsburg, in Governor’s Land and in Kingsmill. And right now he’s finishing a house for Hank and Dixie Wolf up on…it’s not Boundary. I forget. It’s close to the college. My daughter Linda, class of ’77, has kept the books for their construction company on a computer, which is incredibly complicated.
01:04:58 Her father Jack taught her how to do it. Not on the computer, but just how to keep books. Their daughter Liz did not apply to William & Mary. She went to Elon and now she’s in the physicians assistant school learning how to be a physician’s assistant. I had no idea how difficult that was to get into.
Kim: I understand that is very tough.
Jean: She was a scribe at Riverside’s emergency room for two years and apparently the doctors were so impressed that they wrote wonderful letters of recommendation. She was home over Thanksgiving. I told her to hurry up and get qualified so she could take care of her aged grandmother. [Laughs.]
Kim: [Laughs.] All right, well, Mrs. Bruce, thank you so much.
Jean: Oh, you’re so welcome. It was—
Lisa: I just have a follow-up question. What do you think it is about William & Mary that this legacy has spread throughout your family?
Jean: Well, I can tell you this, that—
Lisa: Talk to…sorry.
Jean: Okay. I have friends who have moved here from far away. They immediately align themselves to the college. And they have said, in my presence, I’ve never seen a group of alums who are as attached to their college as you all are to William & Mary. And it’s true. You never lose it.
Kim: I have said the same thing enough to where I have actually thought about applying to another master’s program just to be able to have that connection, because I don’t have it with my own schools, undergrad or graduate school, and I haven’t seen it at the other places that I’ve worked like I see it here.
Jean: We used to drive up here from Norfolk, Jack and I, to go to homecoming. And when we had a house built for us in Kingsmill, and when homecoming was over, and we would start home, I would say to Jack, now I don’t have to be sad. I used to always be sad when we left. Because we’re still here. I have loved living in Williamsburg. I was always a small town person. Norfolk was a small town when I grew up there, and Williamsburg has suited me just perfectly.
Lisa: Because we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of coeducation in 2018, do you have any advice for the women on campus today?
Jean: Make the most of your time here. You’ll never have a better chance to prepare yourself for life.
Lisa: All right, thank you.
Valerie: What’s your prediction? The football team has qualified for the NCAA championship this year and they’re playing University of Richmond this Saturday. What’s your prediction?
Jean: We’re going to win, of course. [Laughter.] My daughter and son-in-law are driving up. I will watch it on television or my computer, depending on which. I watched the last one on the computer. Since I hurt my knee, I can’t climb up to my seat. But as soon as I realized there was an opportunity for playoffs, I gave them my credit card number and mailed it in. And so Linda and Butch saw the last one.
They sent one of my grandchildren to get me and took me over to Cary Field so that I could tailgate, which I did. And then one of them took me home to my apartment so I could watch it on my computer. The one before that was on television, and I watched it in my nightgown. That was just perfect. [Laughter.] Anyway, Linda and Butch will drive up to Richmond this Saturday.
01:09:00 And as I say, I’ll watch it on whatever it shows on because I have season tickets to football and basketball. I can’t go to basketball now because of the knee. But I will keep on until it gets well, and then I will be right there.
Valerie: Go Tribe.
Jean: Go Tribe is right. [Laughter.]
01:09:23 [End of recording.]
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