Nancy Kurtz Falck
Nancy Falck arrived at William & Mary in 1946. During her time at William & Mary, she participated in W&M Choir, Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Student Association, and Women Student’s Cooperative Government Association. Falck also served as President’s Aide and was a member of Mortar Board.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1950, Falck pursued teaching, but also continued with government, serving on the Fairfax County School Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She was appointed to the William & Mary Board of Visitors in 1970.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Nancy Kurtz Falck
Interviewer: Kim Sims
Interview Date: April 14, 2016 Duration: 00:37:26
Kim: My name is Kim Sims, and I’m the university archivist at the College of William & Mary. I’m interviewing Nancy Kurtz Falck, a member of the William & Mary class of 1950, and former member of the Board of Visitors. Today’s date is April the 14th, 2016, and this interview is being recorded at Mrs. Falck’s residence in Fairfax, Virginia. Mrs. Falck, the first question I have for you is when and where were you born?
Nancy: I was born in a hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 6, 1929.
Kim: Did you grow up in Wisconsin?
Nancy: No. When I was about two weeks old I was put in a laundry basket and they took it on the train to New York. My folks had been living in New York City, and my mother had gone home to be with her family when she had me.
00:01:04 So I made my first move at two weeks. [Laughs.] And they decided, of course, starting a family, that they should have a house, so very quickly they moved into a house in New Jersey. And then from there my father was offered the job of city engineer for Connecticut.
Male: Danbury, I think.
Male: Danbury, Connecticut, I think it was. No, that was something else.
Nancy: I can’t think of the town in Connecticut. The Depression came along and the city told my father they had money to continue to pay him, but not to pay any of his staff, and he said take the money you have for me and pay the staff and I’ll go find another job.
00:01:59 And he ended up with an engineering job in Madison, Wisconsin, so we moved there. And then from there he was going to start his consulting business in Milwaukee. But we moved to Wauwatosa, which was, at that time, a little town outside of Milwaukee. It’s now incorporated, I think, into the city. But that’s the little town he had been born in, was Wauwatosa. And I even have a William & Mary story connected with that. [Laughs.]
Nancy: In our freshman year, the first thing you had to do was to go past the statue that was out in the Wren yard, and the girls had to curtsy and the boys had to bow. But the boys found it was a good place to meet girls, because you could go up to any girl and say what’s your name and where are you from.
00:03:04 And a boy did that to me, came up to me and, you know, what’s your name, where are you from. And at that point I was from Arlington, Virginia. And I said okay, what’s your name? And he said, well, it’s George Wells, but I’m not going to tell you where I’m from because you wouldn’t be able to pronounce it, or spell it, or know where it was. And I said, try me. And he said, well, I’m from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. [Laughs.] And I said I lived for a while in Wauwatosa. And afterwards, when he told his family about our meeting, it turned out his aunt had gone through school with my father. [Laughs.]
Kim: Small world.
Nancy: Small world. And anyway, he was the first boy I met at William & Mary. [Laughs.]
00:03:56 So anyway, we moved…then my father was taking a job with the Corps of Engineers, and he was sent to Washington, and my mother and I moved into an apartment in Milwaukee while we were waiting to hear where he was going to be stationed. And as far as he could tell he was going to be stationed, at least for a while, there in Washington, so we moved to Arlington to reunite the family.
And that’s where we were when the Japanese bombed us. And shortly after that, he was sent to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, so we moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. And then after that he was sent back to Washington, so we went back to Arlington.
Kim: For someone who moved around so much, how did you know about William & Mary and decide that’s where you wanted to attend your undergraduate?
Nancy: Well, I was lucky. I had this wonderful home room teacher at Washington-Lee High School. I moved into that school in the middle of my junior year and got to know Miss [Elliott]. And at the beginning of my senior year she asked me what my plans were, and then said she had to go to Williamsburg on business and would like to take me along to show me Williamsburg and William & Mary, and for me to ask my folks if that would be okay, and they said sure. So she took me to Williamsburg and showed me around William & Mary.
00:06:00 And I found out she had made an appointment for me with the dean of admissions, who at that time was Dean Lambert, and so I was interviewed for an opening in William & Mary. And I didn’t know how lucky I was going to be because I had no idea that all the vets were coming back and they wanted all the vets to have entrance to come back and finish their degrees and so on, and they were going to take very few women. And this may be incorrect, but it seems to me I was told that they only took 76 women to be the freshman class. And of course in after years we had transfers in, so the numbers changed.
00:06:58 But when I was a graduate, our friends used to get together about every five years, and we all thought…had heard the same number, that 36 of the original freshmen women had graduated together. But the class, you know, there were more in the class, more women in the class by then, but 36 of us that started together finished.
Kim: So you mentioned how you entered as a freshman right after the end of the war. You came in the fall of 1946, correct?
Kim: So what then was the atmosphere on campus to have so few women with so many more men, some of whom had come back probably, you know, much changed by what they saw?
Nancy: Yes, yes. Actually, it was wonderful to be a woman. [Laughs.] Because you had an opportunity to meet such interesting men. And they were… It was hard to believe, but they were a moderating force. They felt that you could drink, but you should drink in moderation, you shouldn’t drink to get drunk, you know.
Kim: It was the administration who said this?
Nancy: They had grown up already.
Kim: Oh, the men.
Nancy: And for the first time—I’m trying to think. It was my sophomore or junior year. I can remember the dean of women meeting with all the women saying they were going to serve beer in this one part of where we could get food, and to treat beer as we would any other beverage. You wouldn’t drink more than a glass of milk, so don’t drink more than a glass of beer, was the message. [Laughs.]
00:09:05 The school was very much in loco parentis, I think is the old saying. I was dating my husband at that time. Since he was not a William & Mary student, but he was in school elsewhere, for me to date him, when he came to see me, he had to go to the dean of women’s office and get permission each and every time. But I knew he was going to end up to be a salesman when he got to the point where all he had to do was stick his head around the corner and say hi, I’m back, and she said oh, I’m so glad to see you. [Laughs.]
00:09:54 But Monday was a time that was reserved for student government, the women’s student government, fraternity and sorority meetings and so on, so it was sexless Monday.
Nancy: And even the phone calls were limited. More than three minutes constituted a date, and a date was illegal on sexless Mondays. [Laughs.]
Kim: I want to get more into dating in a few minutes, because I think that’s a very interesting part of William & Mary history for women, at least, during this more socially restricted time for them. But do you remember or do you have memories of your first day as a student?
Nancy: My first date?
Kim: Day. Your first day as a student, like the day you…
Nancy: Yeah. [Laughs.]
Nancy: I woke up and something had gone wrong with my neck, and it was like this. And I don’t know if it was from carrying luggage or being tense or something, and it took a long time before my neck could straighten up. And it was very painful, and so I remember it very well. My very first day.
Kim: So at the time you were a student, there were no coed dormitories, so what was dorm life like with this community of women, especially your freshman year when you had so few numbers?
Nancy: Well, we mostly were in Jefferson. Jefferson was a dormitory that was badly in need of restoration. On the third floor there was a big hole in the floor, which we used for playing tricks on—[laughs]—fellow residents.
00:11:55 Somebody had come, for instance, with a great big, huge, very large dead fish, and that fish lived in the dormitory for quite a while. You never knew if it would show up in your bed. [Laughs.] I was glad my mother had never seen the dormitory.
But it did one thing. It made us all become friends very quickly. We became a family. It was a large family, but we became a family. There were so few of us it didn’t take long that we all knew each other. And we all lived in this terribly run down dormitory, and it was great. It was really great. I think we benefited far more from being physically forced into getting together than if we had had rooms with reserved sitting areas and stuff like that.
00:13:10 And of course we had to be in at 10:00 in the evening unless it was Friday or Saturday. We were very carefully watched. We had to be able to walk—walk past the dorm mother who was looking after us. There were many ways to deal with that, we found. [Laughs.]
Kim: Such as?
Nancy: The phone system was…there was one system for all three floors, so that if you took a phone call on the third floor, nobody else could use it on the second or third floor. If you were passing the phone and it rang, you answered it as Jefferson, and then they’d say who they wanted, and you’d yell, Mary Jones, phone! [Laughs.]
00:14:08 It was different. It was really different. But we all got well acquainted.
Kim: Well, you’ve…kind of leading into my next question, which was to talk about the social freedom that, you know, women had or didn’t have on campus. And in addition to curfews there were also rules about dress and behavior that did not apply to the men. So why do you think women were socially restricted?
Nancy: Well, of course you were not…a woman was not allowed to smoke on campus. A woman was not allowed to wear anything other than a skirt. And if you had to do something that required slacks or shorts, like tennis or whatever, you had to wear a raincoat.
00:15:08 And it didn’t matter whether it was raining or not, you had to, in order to cross campus, you had to put a raincoat on. It was…you were urged to participate in the activities that we had, the women’s student government. And sororities played a bigger role, I think, than they probably do now in that William & Mary did not offer anything else for us to do, so we joined sororities. But the sororities didn’t keep you from having friends in another sorority.
00:16:01 In fact I can remember vividly during rush, one of my very best friends was a Theta and I was a Kappa, and we’d meet after the rush was over in the backyard and go off and have a cup of coffee together. [Laughs.] And we still stay in touch.
Kim: That’s great. So I think a lot of students today would be surprised to learn that there were rules about riding in cars.
Nancy: Oh, yeah.
Kim: You know, students couldn’t have cars, but women were not allowed to ride in cars without—
Kim: —permission. And while you were an undergraduate, I think it was your sophomore year, there were finally some changes made to where women could ride in cars within a tight geographical area, basically Williamsburg, but not too much past that without permission.
00:16:59 And a lot of this was generated by the women’s student government. And I wonder if you have an opinion about why do you think the administration wanted to forbid women from riding in cars, and then eventually agreed to start making some changes.
Nancy: Well, of course I don’t remember that they loosened the rules on riding in cars because I know that George had to get permission from the dean of women every time he came to see me, and that was mostly in my junior and senior years. So since he was an off campus person, to ride in his car I had to have special permission. And nobody else had a car.
Kim: Upperclassmen could ride in cars within the city limits during their social hours provided they signed out first with their house mother, and then special permissions to ride outside of the approved area would have to be granted by the assistant dean of women.
00:18:06 And then if they wanted to go to a football game in Richmond they would need to have their parents’ permission. And this was in the Flat Hat in the December, 1947 issue. So a lot of it, I think, was geared for, you know, social dating, social…being able to get out and not have to walk just down Duke of Gloucester Street as your only, you know, social activity.
But I wonder if, you know, there were several changes going on, not massive changes, by any means, but women in the late 1940s were starting to make some strides due to the work of the women’s student government to get some of these restrictions loosened just a little bit. And I wonder if you can tell us if there was a sense of, you know, empowerment, for lack of a better word, among the women during your four years. Did you feel like you were being heard as a group and listened to by the administration?
Nancy: No, because I don’t recall the driving being loosened. We walked everywhere that we went on dates. We walked to the movies, we walked to the dances. I just don’t recall that there… You could ride in a car if someone was taking you to meet their parents, and they had the family car and they’d pick you up and you’d go to meet their parents. But I don’t recall cars playing any kind of major role.
However, I do know some of the women who had problems because they were in a car where they weren’t supposed to be, and the car got into an accident, and there was a lot of concern as to whether they were going to stay in William & Mary.
00:20:13 A couple pregnancies that were being hidden from the administration because that was an automatic you’re out if you were pregnant. Anyway, everybody…as I say, women were rather tightly knit, so there was a certain amount of cover-up going on, but a couple of those things.
Kim: So were the ones who were pregnant successfully able to keep their pregnancy a secret?
Nancy: Well, I know of one that was. [Laughs.]
Kim: But they covered for each other.
Nancy: Yeah, yeah.
Kim: In the spring of 1948 the women’s student government, judicial committee, presented a resolution that was approved by the administration, and this resolution granted freshmen and sophomore women permission to date until 12:00 midnight on Saturdays, which, from what I gather from the Flat Hat, was a pretty big deal.
So if you wouldn’t mind going into some more detail about the dating scene during your time at William & Mary. So in addition to your husband having to come let the dean of women know that he was there to pick you up, were there other rules you had to abide by in public? Such as were you allowed to hold hands in public?
Nancy: They never commented on that, holding hands. But everything you did, though, was so much in the open. You were walking everywhere and what have you. You weren’t accorded a lot of privacy. And that seemed to be how they felt they should handle it. No privacy, no problem, you know.
00:22:07 And one thing I can remember happening, though, during the war all the fraternities lost their houses. They were no longer able to keep up the payments and so on. And when they all came back, they wanted houses or something. And I can remember we had a student march on campus asking the administration to provide housing for the fraternities.
And so they built the lodges that are used now for various and sundry other things, and each fraternity had one. And in those there was one large gathering room, a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchenette, and that was about it, if my memory’s correct.
00:23:03 And on weekends, Saturday nights, the idea was you started in one fraternity’s lodge and you worked the rounds. And when you got there you sat on the floor and you sang. And Friday nights was reserved for, oh, what’s the beer place in Williamsburg?
Nancy: I can’t hear you.
Nancy: No. Anyway, it mostly served beer. And the idea was to go there and have a beer and sing. We did a lot of singing.
Kim: What kind of singing? Was it popular songs of the time, or…?
Nancy: You know, anything anybody came up with. And there were several very fancy dances each year.
00:23:59 There was a fall dance, a winter dance, and a spring dance. And those were formals where the girls wore long dresses and the men had tuxedos, and the girls got corsages. And those you could stay out until, I think it was, 2:00. And that was a very special time. And we looked forward to it. They were always built around weekends, where in the fall there was a football game, and the big dance, and what have you, so that you changed your clothes a lot. [Laughs.]
Kim: You were a very active undergraduate. You were a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and the Mortar Board, William & Mary Chorus, and the Women’s Executive Council. So what motivated you to be so engaged?
Nancy: I truly don’t know. [Laughs.] I think my freshman year someone said they wanted me to run for treasurer of the women’s student government because they liked the way I kept track of numbers. [Laughs.] So I didn’t know anything about it and I said oh, okay. And I got to be treasurer. And that sort of got me into it. Then I found out what it was all about and what have you.
Now with Mortar Board, you were chosen to be on that. It wasn’t something you said I’d like to be a Mortar Board. They had this big meeting, and people, for the first time, were told that they had been chosen to be on Mortar Board. And the very last person they told was the one they had chosen to be the chairman.
00:26:02 And I was the last one, because by the time everybody had been chosen I felt, well, I missed out on that one, you know. [Laughs.] But they had chosen me to be the chairman. I was the last one notified.
Kim: Women were first invited to serve as president’s aides by President John Pomfret in the fall of 1948, and you were in the second group of women to serve in that role.
Kim: And can you describe the experience of working as an aide as well as the experience of working with President Pomfret?
Nancy: Well, President Pomfret was a marvelous man, a true academician. I think I’m mispronouncing the word. He was an absolute joy to work with because you learned a lot from just being with him.
00:27:02 And sometimes he gave us things to do that gave us opportunities to meet other people that made a difference. And sometimes he gave us things to do that had us meet people that we never forgot, for different reasons. [Laughs.]
For instance, old John Rockefeller. On occasion he would come to the campus. And he always liked to sit on the steps leading into the sunken garden. However, he always got cold. And we were, the president’s aides, were notified ahead of time he was on his way, and we had to run around and find blankets for him. [Laughs.] Things like that. But President Pomfret was marvelous, just marvelous.
Kim: Did you have the opportunity to interact with John D. Rockefeller at all, short of getting him blankets?
Nancy: Well, we chatted a little bit. But he was pretty elderly.
Kim: So during your time at William & Mary women’s sports were both intercollegiate and intramural, and sororities played against each other in activities such as basketball and tennis. And you were a part of Kappa Kappa Gamma’s tennis championship team.
Kim: So did you participate in other sports as well? And what was this experience like of being an athlete?
Nancy: Well, I enjoyed playing basketball. The women’s rules were different than they are now. It was half court basketball instead of full court, which really made the women quite grumpy because we felt we were capable of full court. But that wasn’t how women…not just at William & Mary, but everywhere, we were relegated to half court.
00:29:02 And tennis was fun. My roommate and I buddied up. She was tall, so she took the baseline, and I was short, so I took the net. [Laughs.] And we laughed a lot. One thing about athletics that I remember vividly. They decided to try women playing…
Nancy: Lacrosse. They chose the class I was in to be the trial. Everything, including the outfits we had to wear, were aimed at hurting us. [Laughs.] In those days, to play any sports, you had to wear these bloomers and then a sort of dress-like thing that came over the bloomers.
00:30:06 And I can remember one of my friends running down the field, the lacrosse… The field is about as long as a football field. And she was running full out, and the elastic in her bloomers broke. The bloomers went down and tripped her up. On the side of the field we were playing in there was sort of a little rise and the boys would come and sit there and watch us attempt to play lacrosse, and when her bloomers went down, they laughed and laughed. And I remember I thought I was going to lose my teeth because here were a bunch of women who didn’t know what lacrosse was like waving sticks around. [Laughs.]
00:31:00 And we survived, but they never did put lacrosse on women’s must play list.
Kim: Your senior yearbook states that you were part of something called—and you’ll have to forgive me if I mispronounce it—Der Steuben Verein.
Nancy: Der Steuben.
Kim: Der Steuben, yes. And I was not successful in finding any information about this organization, so could you enlighten me, please?
Nancy: Well, it was the German Club. And there was a French Club, and German Club, and Catholic Club. You know, there were a bunch of clubs. And in order to get my degree in biology, I had to take courses in either German or French. And for some reason I picked German. And the sorority was looking for sorority members to take leadership roles in a lot of places.
00:32:02 So they said, Nancy, you’re the only person we know taking German, you have to join Der Steuben Verein. [Laughs.] Which I did. And I don’t think we ever had a meeting. [Laughs.]
Kim: [Laughs.] Just in the yearbook. What are your memories of Martha Barksdale?
Kim: Barksdale, the PE teacher.
Nancy: Right. I never had any contact with her. I always had the junior members of the administration.
Kim: So you, before we started recording, shared some memories of Dean of Students J. Wilfred Lambert, and I was wondering if you would mind sharing some more of your impressions of him as a student, because you worked with him again when you were on the board, which I imagine, of course, was much different than when you were a student and he’s kind of in that position if you get called to his office it’s probably not for a good reason.
Nancy: That’s right.
Kim: So what was his kind of reputation on campus when you were an undergraduate?
Nancy: He was highly respected by everybody. They knew he was going to be a tough guy in enforcing the rules. But he also understood kids very well, and he… It’s something we now call teaching moments. I think he invented them. Because if you were doing something that was verging on sliding into real danger or something, he would use that as a teaching moment for you.
00:33:58 So it wasn’t how can you be so horrible, it was I think you’re smart enough to know better, which makes a totally different impression. But Dean Lambert was very, very respected by all the boys and the girls. And that included the returned vets, who were all considered by themselves to be adults at that point. But he always had a wonderful reputation.
Kim: Someone else who was kind of infamous in William & Mary history is Carl “Pappy” Fehr, who directed the choir and the chorus.
Kim: And with your being on the chorus, I’m hoping you’ll be willing to provide some memories of Pappy Fehr for us.
Nancy: Well, he was a fantastic guy, just fantastic. I can remember going to try out for the chorus, and he said, well, you haven’t got much of a voice, but you sing softly, so you’ll be okay. [Laughs.] But he taught us not only how to sing, but he taught us a lot about music, about the composers, about what life was like when the music was written, the different countries and so on, so he didn’t stop his teaching just with can you sound an A, it was all about music. And he made it, to some extent, a challenge. Sure you can do better next week when you come, you know.
00:36:00 And an invitation. Go ahead and try it, I think you’ll like it. But he was great.
Kim: How challenging were your studies at William & Mary?
Nancy: I’d say they were quite challenging, particularly as a woman. I was a woman who was actually premed. I had one teacher say I don’t teach women, and I had to have the class to be premed. And I had to go through my usual thing, oh, try it, you’ll like it kind of. Being the only girl in comparative anatomy, where the boys all wanted to see what I’d do if they dropped a cat’s eye down my back.
00:36:54 But I was at least smart enough to know that if I did anything outrageous, I would see a lot of cat’s eyes, so I simply laughed and said now what’s your next joke? So I never got anymore cat’s eyes. But it was not only an academic challenge, but it was a challenge just getting used to women in science.
00:37:26 [End of recording.]
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