Zella Mervis, W&M Class of 1947
Zella Mervis arrived at William & Mary in 1943. During her time as a student, she was involved in a variety of activities, including Balfour-Hillel, service organization Kappa Chi Kappa, and the German and Spanish Clubs.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Zella Mervis
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: November 15, 2018
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 2:40 p.m. on November 15, 2018. I’m sitting with Zella Mervis, class of 1947, in her home outside of Boston. So Zella, can you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Zella: I was born on April 2, 1925 in Mineola Hospital in Mineola on Long Island.
Carmen: And what—
Zella: At the time my family was living in Floral Park, New York, a suburb of New York City. Well, now. It really was…
Carmen: It wasn’t a suburb?
Zella: Oh, yes, I guess. That’s a good way to start out. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s perfectly fine. So it was part of the larger New York area.
Zella: Yeah, but it was Nassau County, so really wasn’t a suburb. It was 18 miles from New York City.
Carmen: Okay. All right. And before we jump into your childhood, do you mind saying the years you attended William & Mary?
Zella: I was at William & Mary from September 1939 till June 1947.
Carmen: So before we jump into your time at William & Mary, will you tell me a little bit about where and how you were raised, and some about your family?
Zella: Well, I was an only child. I was raised in Floral Park. My father was born in Floral Park and he died in Floral Park, and he practiced law, everything from Floral Park.
00:02:01 And he was a police justice. That was an elected police justice. I don’t really remember how many years. It was when I was young, because I remember going to court with my class to hear him. And I don’t know, I had…I didn’t really have any close relatives. My father’s brother lived in town, but we didn’t see them often. My father lived in a…worked in a building that my grandfather had built, and it’s that low building in the edge of the top edge.
00:03:03 It was later torn down, years later when they widened Jericho Turnpike. And my father’s office was in this building, and so he moved back into the house where his father originally had a butcher shop, an old, obviously old house. And there was a barn on the property, and I remember there was, I guess, a sickle pear tree, and I remember my father getting them down with some kind of tool that you took them down with.
00:03:59 And I had a nice childhood. I liked school. I went to public schools always. And the school I went to, the high school, was the central high school for five small villages all abutting each other. And some students lived as much as three miles away, but I lived in convenient walking distance. I always enjoyed school. And I guess I had a very nice childhood.
00:04:53 I always had friends, and so not having siblings, and I do notice today, as I see families, that having siblings isn’t always so wonderful. And I think it’s very sad that families grow to either they don’t pay attention to each other, and we all live so far apart. And my children, who grew up in Newton, one lives in Kentucky, one in Pennsylvania, and the nearest one is Portland, Maine. And then I have grandsons who are in Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Scotland, and I have one more—oh, Vermont. So an interesting family to watch.
00:05:59 And my grandsons are really doing things. One is in medical school. One is getting a degree in, I guess it’s in psychology. Anyway, he wants to be a clinical psychologist, so when he’s finished he’ll have a Ph.D. The one who’s in medical school has degrees from Boston Conservatory and New England Conservatory, and to go to medical school he had to take all the science courses he never had, so that took two years going at night. And so he’s in his second year of medical school. And next year he starts applying for…I think I’m wrong.
00:07:08 His second, yeah. Applying for where he wants to go for his residency, which sounds like an awful chore.
Carmen: It does sound like a pretty long history of hard workers, though. I’m thinking back to even your dad and grandfather and the deep roots in the county you grew up in, and then now all these grandchildren going off and doing really awesome things.
Zella: Well, one of the things I enjoyed the most when I was young is my grandparents lived in southern Illinois, and we would go there during vacations. Not summer, because they still had malaria there. And it was a whole different life.
00:08:00 Much slower. And my grandfather had a shoe store with the rolling ladders. And originally he was also a cobbler and he held all those nails in his teeth, which, it’s a wonder I didn’t make him swallow some because I got so upset. [Laughs.] But it was really a fun time.
Carmen: It sounds like it. And to be able to takes trips out to see a completely different way and style of living out in Illinois.
Zella: Very. Very. I didn’t really realize it at the time. I knew that the black people rode at the back of the bus, but that’s about all I knew. And one day when I was visiting my grandmother said there’s a train master here this year.
00:09:00 And they were living in two cars that were made for apartments, but they had to use the bathrooms in the station which had always been locked. And in there there were colored water things. And it’s funny, I just…the black people I knew there were wonderful, and I never thought they were any different, you know, than anybody else. But that’s the way it was at that time.
Carmen: So that was the experience in Illinois that you saw? Well, what was the experience where you were growing up?
Zella: Oh, I was in New York, so there was nothing. We had…I lived in a village that had about 10,000 people, and there was one black family in town.
00:10:04 And I really never saw them. Once in a while. They didn’t go…they went to private school, and I really didn’t know. And we did not have any black children in the school. I mean, to me black and white were no different.
Carmen: Well, I would love to start transitioning to your time at college, but I want to return to that topic when we get to your time at William & Mary because that, I’m sure, was also a very different experience when you got down to campus there. So you said you always enjoyed school. When did you start thinking about college, and how did William & Mary get on your radar all the way from New York?
Zella: Well, I had visited—I don’t know how it got there, to tell you the truth. I can’t explain it. It was the only college I applied to. Fortunately I got in. I wanted to go to a small coed school away from New York, and we had visited Williamsburg once, but I don’t remember it making a particular impression. It turned out that there were three people in my freshman class. One was my best friend in high school—well, one of my best friends—and the other was somebody also from Floral Park, but I really didn’t know her. I think maybe she came from a different elementary school somewhere else, I don’t know.
00:12:07 And the physical education teacher one day asked to speak to my friend and myself, and she was concerned that I hadn’t applied. It turned out my friend had applied to two schools, but one of them never considered the application. We don’t know what happened. Because we were both Jewish, and she had been to William & Mary, and they always put Jewish people together. And they took, I think, I don’t know what, 2% of the class. Very few.
00:13:00 But I think, I mean, how do I know what it would have been like? The men were at war, and the sororities were still existent, and they had the small houses for the fraternities, and the people…it was just room, I think, one bedroom that somebody was there, either one or two. But the lodge was a place where they could have their affairs. I know I shouldn’t say affairs. Their social life.
Carmen: Sure. There’s really only the one lodge left and now it’s a coffee shop, believe it or not.
Zella: Oh, really?
Carmen: Yes. But going in there, it gives you a good sense of what it would have been like to have a fraternity in that small space. And a social event in that small space.
Zella: Yeah. Well, there weren’t, as I say, that many men. And some of them were younger. I would say that they took many more, in my eyes, men than women, Jewish men than women. And there was—I thought that there were two fraternities, but I just remember Pi Alpha, and I don’t even know who’s there anymore. My husband, until he died—obviously after that he didn’t do it—but he was in touch with the fraternity.
Carmen: So I want to talk a little bit more about both of those topics, the idea of being on a college campus in wartime and being a Jewish student on William & Mary’s campus, but I wanted to ask you really quickly if you have any initial memories of coming onto campus, if there was anything that struck you when you came as a student, what it looked like, or smelled like, or felt like.
Zella: Well, we initially, one of…well, it was during the war and so we had three people in a double room, which is a little crowded. We had bunk beds and a single bed, and I think two dressers and three desks. And I lived in Chandler. So we had a sink in our room and we connected with another room, a tub and a john.
00:16:01 And it always worked out fine. There was a shower room down the hall for the people who didn’t have their own bathroom. And my roommate and I came by train initially, from New York to Richmond, and then down to Williamsburg by ourselves. And everything seemed to…I don’t remember any bumps in the road.
Carmen: Well, that’s good, especially while you’re traveling, huh? Well, good. So what did you choose to study, and why? Did you know coming out of high school what you wanted to study?
Zella: Well, I did, but I didn’t do it. I was going to study chemistry. But the ASTP, the Army was there, and I didn’t have the professor I thought I would have.
00:17:04 And whether I still might not have studied chemistry, but I did not enjoy it. And the chaplains were also there, the Navy chaplains. But they really…there weren’t that many of them. I think it was more the Army people. And so they were there for social life as long as they were there. And then one night they told me we’re leaving, and they left. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Just like that.
Zella: That’s what you do with the Army.
Carmen: I guess that’s right. So you were thinking chemistry, but did not enjoy the class, so what did you turn to then?
Zella: Psychology. Sociology with a minor in psychology.
Carmen: And what led you to make that decision? Why did you choose those things?
Zella: Well, I think it was sort of just a general. I mean, we had to take, for two years we had to take the courses that we had to take, you know. Which left us, in our sophomore year, there was one…I guess there were two courses, electives that we could take, so I took one of each. And then psychology and sociology. And then I thought I would choose, but I sort of…I took more sociology than sociology. But, I mean, that’s wrong—more sociology than psychology. And I didn’t do either one.
00:19:07 There were people came in my junior year from advertising, and they just…one—well, one spoke about advertising and this agency had done the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad with the kitten sleeping, and so I decided not that I was talented in any way, but I did get a job in an agency where the man that I worked for was—and incidentally, I never really saw him, because the agency was large.
00:19:59 And he was the one, he was in a hotel one day, and in those days they paged people, and so he asked the page to call for Philip Morris. So he called for Philip Morris and immediately he wrote him down and hired him for himself. But, you know, he would have the contract. But it was for Philip Morris. And for years Johnny called for Philip Morris in their ad. And they developed the 64 Dollar Question for Eversharp and other things. It was interesting because the people who smoked couldn’t smoke, weren’t supposed to smoke anything but Philip Morris or Marlboro.
00:21:05 And so people smoked from the wrong end. But the people from Philip Morris could smell the difference. It was really funny. So I worked there from November, I think, ’47 until March…no. Well, until into ’50 I was married in New York, in March, 1950, to a fellow, someone I met at William & Mary, Stanley Mervis, who went on, after graduating from college at William & Mary, to the law school.
00:22:09 And Dr. Woodbridge was there then, and he was such a down-to-earth man. I later took a course with him in the law school. But he’d walk across campus. I remember seeing him in a sweater in the winter. And he just was a fabulous man. And the professors I had were very nice. I really couldn’t compare them to anybody because they were limited, you know, to two at the time, and one had been recalled to service because they couldn’t get people during the war.
Carmen: Right. We’ll pick right back up, and you were mentioning professors at the time and that there were just two for psychology and sociology both?
Zella: Well, there were other people. There was [Sharve Umbeck], U-M-B-E-C-K, I think. Sharve. It was an odd name. I think it was Sharve. And then there was another one, and it was…I know it was Blo, B-L-O something. What? I can’t remember. He was the older man who came back from retirement. But Umbeck was younger.
00:23:59 He was actually, for people looking for heartthrobs, he was one. He was very good-looking, and very sure of himself.
Carmen: Is Umbeck the man who was called to duty during…?
Zella: No, they weren’t.
Carmen: Oh, they weren’t.
Zella: He was…no. I don’t think we had—I don’t remember. At least no one in our department. And there was a Dr. Kernodle and Caldwell who came in during my time there.
Carmen: Okay, great.
Zella: So I would say they were probably there maybe even three years, I’m not sure.
Carmen: Were any of those professors or other individuals you came into contact with on campus particularly impactful to you?
Carmen: Hey, that’s honesty. I like it. I did have a question about John Pomfret, who was president at the time. So when I talk to students these days or more recently, there’s a really close proximity between the president and the students. And I hear varying accounts of whether or not that was the case earlier on. But I know that during his presidency, during your time there, there was some controversy, one with the article I’d like to talk a little bit more about, “Lincoln’s Job Half Done,” the article in the “Flat Hat” in 1945, but also he ended up resigning in 1951 after kind of a grade changing scandal with the football team, so I—
Zella: Oh, I guess, I really don’t remember.
Carmen: Yeah, that going to be my question, mainly if you had any specific memories of him or his presidency during your time there.
Zella: My husband wrote for the “Flat Hat,” but I didn’t. I mean, other than convocations and places where he should be, I didn’t really. I mean, it doesn’t sound like… I mean, I met Taylor when he was dean of the law school. And we really, I mean, we sort of kept up. I, you know, when he kept coming on as president I wrote and said how wonderful it was that he continued. I mean, he was a very—is a very nice man. I never met his wife, but from seeing, you know, her at all the activities I’m sure she’s lovely.
Carmen: Well, thanks for reflecting just a little bit on John Pomfret. I think that account is pretty similar to others I’ve heard, that over the decades that proximity has become a lot closer between students and the administration.
Zella: Well, he may have been closer to people on student government or something, but I had nothing to do with student government.
Zella: Okay. So I would love to talk—and I have so many different questions, so we can take this really in any direction—about just campus culture during the time you were there. Maybe it’s a good place to start to talk about some of the favorite experiences or memories you had and then we’ll transition into more difficult memories and experiences and we’ll see what we cover.
Zella: Well, there wasn’t a lot of activity, social activity, that I participated in. I did belong to Hillel, which was an organization that now is much more important in its place on the campus.
00:28:09 Somebody would come on Friday nights—I think it was Friday night, or Saturday—a rabbi from Portsmouth. Name was Greenfield. Which is where my husband attended synagogue. And he would come. I don’t really remember whether he always came. And I know that I didn’t always go. For no reason except, I guess, the interest wasn’t there. I was…my husband was president of Hillel in our, I think it was, our junior year.
00:29:07 And I was secretary, but I told him I’d be secretary, but I will not read the minutes at the meeting. So he didn’t like that, but there was nobody else who wanted to be secretary.
Carmen: So you got your way.
Zella: And I have to say that my husband and I became very good friends. And it wasn’t until about a couple months before graduation that we decided it was more than a friendship. And that’s…I really did not have any social life.
00:29:58 Well, when the Army was there, there was a young man I met and I saw him when there was something doing, but they weren’t there that long. But I didn’t miss the social life. And I had some friends, mostly people in the dorm, that were friends of mine. And as I say, there were very few Jewish…I mean, there were under ten—I’d have to stop and thinking about it—in my class.
Carmen: Can you speak a little bit more, actually, about the experience of being a Jewish woman on campus during the time you were there? You have mentioned there were so few, and you mentioned something about quotas as well, so do you mind talking a little bit more about that?
Zella: Well, I think, I mean, nobody ever said anything derogatory or anything, but they just, other than the people who were, you know, near me in the dorm, unless in class you were friendly in some times. But we always ate together. There were three of us roommates, and we… And there wasn’t anything that I can remember, but I guess it’s the people we knew the best.
00:31:58 The sororities were not interested in Jewish people at that time. But there was nothing that made me think oh, I shouldn’t be here. Because I guess I wasn’t that interested in a social life because, I mean, one of my roommates was active in sports and she met, you know, people doing that. And one of them was even in the honor society, so she was recognized, and she should have been. But I was completely satisfied. But I didn’t expect a lot.
Carmen: Sure, okay. Yeah, that is part of it. Well, did you have any friends who would have liked to rush sorority if they had have been allowed, do you recall?
Zella: I don’t think we ever talked about it. Well, it would have been impossible here because I said it was really very good we didn’t have one, because if you didn’t take someone into the Jewish sorority, that would have been a killer, it really would have. It wouldn’t have been fair. So I think it just would have been like another Hillel because first place you wouldn’t want to hurt people when there’s only one. I mean, not everybody gets into a sorority anyway, but…
Carmen: So what did Hillel, what sort of activities did you all do as part of Hillel? You said you brought in a rabbi from Portsmouth routinely. Were there any other sort of activities or social events?
Zella: Well, if they did, I really didn’t go.
Carmen: Sure, okay. And is that where you met your would-be husband, through Hillel, or did you meet outside of that?
Zella: I’m not really sure. It was the one thing we had in common. But I knew several of the men just classes. And of course they were in a different situation because there were more of them.
Carmen: Sure. So one of the things you mentioned a little earlier about your time when you were living in New York and traveling on vacation to visit family in Illinois was the very obvious racial segregation that you experienced in Illinois. So I’m wondering if you could reflect a little bit about the racial climate on campus.
00:35:02 So obviously William & Mary was not integrated at this time. But maybe the Williamsburg area at large, or the—I had mentioned it really briefly a few minutes ago, but in 1945 the editor at the time of the “Flat Hat,” Marilyn Kaemmerle, wrote an editorial, “Lincoln’s Job Half Done.”
Zella: I remember that.
Carmen: And it sparked a major controversy, right? And she was removed as the editor and the “Flat Hat” was temporarily suspended. And we have a collection in Special Collections that has newspaper articles from all over the United States about that event, and students on campus, whether or not they agreed with that article, being very frustrated about the censorship. And so I know a bunch of things happened in the wake of that. There were some student protests. And I was hoping maybe you could share any memories you have of that whole event or the article and the response on campus.
Zella: Well, I remember the article. And I do know there was upset. But I don’t think I remember anything significant about it. In Illinois I really didn’t even think about this until I went into that station, so it was only then that it struck me. Because otherwise everybody was, you know, I guess they were people who worked for my family down there, and other families. And my mother grew up there, so she knew people still living there.
00:37:05 In fact we took her there on her 80th birth—not her 80th birthday, when she was 80, and the woman who played at her wedding in 1922 was at the party, and one bridesmaid, and this was a wonderful town. I mean, everybody was close. And I just, I knew that the black people lived in another section. But I had never really…I mean, it’s just like I lived in one section and somebody else. So I didn’t think anything of it.
00:38:00 And in later years, when we had so much going on, controversy and when I look back I think it’s just like it was all part of it. But it became significant to me later.
Carmen: When you were at William & Mary, like we said, it was still a segregated campus at that time, but do you have any memories of the racial climate in Williamsburg or on campus? Because a lot of the staff persons working for William & Mary—
Zella: Yes, well, I knew the people who were there. I mean, there again I just felt the color…I didn’t think about the color.
Carmen: Well, thank you for responding to that. So a couple other questions about the culture of campus during the time you were there. We’ve mentioned this a lot already, but you were on campus during wartime.
00:39:02 So can you explain what it was like to be on William & Mary’s campus during World War II? What sort of activities were going on in response to it, or what it was like to have fewer men on campus, all of those things?
Zella: Well, the men, the fewer men, I really, I guess, I mean, I certainly like social life, but I didn’t get upset if I wasn’t invited to some dance or something because I’m sort of, I don’t set my expectation high in what I’ll get out of something socially. I’m more interested in what I can get out of it in other ways. And I’m really not much help on this subject.
Carmen: No, that’s perfectly fine. I think one of the things I was interested in or wanted to ask was I think just what the experience of being a Jewish student in America was during World War II, with everything else that was going on in the world, the horrendous acts. Was that something that was being discussed on campus, do you remember?
Zella: Well, people did talk about it. But people weren’t talking about it in a lot of cases. I mean, I, you know, I’m sort of shocked when I look back now because I knew that Franklin Roosevelt was not letting people in.
00:41:03 I mean, some were coming. But we, I mean, we were all concerned. And I had family in Germany on my father’s side. But we did talk about it, I guess, amongst ourselves.
Carmen: Did any sort of…well, maybe not events, but I know from other interviews that there were some war efforts women undertook on campus during that time. Do you have any recollection of any of those or an involvement in any of those? I know there were plane watchtowers at different locations and just different efforts.
Zella: No, I really can’t say that I do.
Carmen: Okay. Well, thanks for reflecting a little bit on campus during wartime, because I think it was a very different campus than you would see during any other time. I mean, you kind of bridged, you did bridge the end of the war period, though, so was there a noticeable difference from the end of the war to a couple years later?
Zella: Well, the men started coming back, and then there was social life for the Jewish students. But, you know, there were students who look for their social life anywhere, you know, with any religion. I think that all religions now, intergenerational, happenings. I think the people now, although there were people there with the situation in the “Flat Hat,” who were active.
00:43:06 I think they were maybe ahead of their time. But I know I always enjoyed the “Flat Hat.” It was good to read and to find out. And I think, as I said before, the social life, not that I object to social life, but between men and women, I mean, it didn’t really exist. But it did in my junior and senior year. People came back and the fraternities had things.
Carmen: Yeah. Well, that actually is a really nice kind of segue to another topic, though, which is the dress regulations, the curfews, the different sort of social regulations that were in place while you were there. So can you talk a little bit about what it meant and looked like to be a William & Mary woman during those years?
Zella: Well, I mean, the women, really they had…they were taking care of us, I guess. And the curfew I think was 10:00. And you could get permission, written permission, to stay out until 11:00, until the movie ended. I remember thinking that anything that happens after 11:00 can happen before 11:00, too. But you went to Miss [Win] Roberts, who was in Barrett Hall in the office, and she wrote, like if you were going somewhere, she had to know where you were going, what the phone number was, etc.
00:45:10 Not locally, but if you went for the weekend. And she would sit—I can still see her—she had this writing. It was perfect. And it was very slow. [Laughs.] Writing it out. So you had to do that. Because the dorms were locked, and you couldn’t get in, although some people came in through the windows, I understand.
Carmen: Were you one of those people?
Carmen: No, never entered through the window?
Zella: I was on the…I think I was on the second floor of Chandler. At the time it was the newest dorm. And we had a house mother.
00:46:03 She had a little living room and a bedroom. And you could…I mean, she watched over things. Nobody had a telephone, so there was a telephone downstairs. And the people who lived downstairs got sick and tired of answering the phone and then having to go up to the floor and call for the people. But that’s the way it was. And you couldn’t—men were not allowed in the dorm. Your family could go. And you’d have to go up and yell, “man on second” so people would know there was a man around. Very different than today.
Carmen: Yeah, very. And what about the clothing you were and were not allowed to wear?
Zella: I don’t remember anything about the clothing. We wore saddle shoes and socks. Anybody who wore stockings we wondered about. And skirts and jackets.
Carmen: A couple individuals have recalled, and also it’s just some [take up] in the “Flat Hat” or in the William & Mary Woman booklet, but that pants and shorts or anything of that nature were not allowed, and if you had to wear your shorts to gym I think you had to wear a trench coat or something over top of it.
Zella: Well, I’m sure that was true.
Carmen: Do you have any recollections of anybody trying to subvert those rules or get around those rules, other than the people coming in through the window?
Zella: Well, yes. I mean, there were people who did things that they should have signed out for and they didn’t. I don’t know of anybody who got into trouble, but I do know either they forgot or…
Carmen: So kind of along this topic, it’s a question I like to bring up because it’s something that has existed as long as time itself, maybe, but has changed at different periods of time on campus, so it’s definitely more talked about today, sexual harassment and assault. And I think, or at least I recall reading in a lot of these articles, it’s not said explicitly, but I think the reason for some of these regulations was to prevent some of these activities from occurring. But sexual harassment and assault on college campuses is not a new reality, but it’s a reality for a ton of people. Do you remember what the culture was surrounding that on campus or any reports of that happening, any discussions of sexual harassment or assault?
Zella: Well, it brings back another regulation. To go out to Lake Matoaka you had to have three women. You couldn’t go with two. There had to be three. And I forget what the couple was. There was something with the couples. But you could go. But you couldn’t go, I mean, like…well, I guess you could. But like if you…now it’s so beautiful down there. There was nothing there except the lake. I mean, it sort of ended at the sunken gardens and, you know, and the campus is much larger. But I’m sure that they have no restriction now.
Carmen: Oh no, nothing like that. I think you can go down to Lake Matoaka whenever you want and with whomever you want.
Zella: Well, it’s probably more open than it was then, too.
Carmen: Yeah, there’s the amphitheater. It’s cleared out. There’s still wooded areas, but it’s cleared out a lot more.
Zella: Yeah, I know about the amphitheater. I keep getting invitations to things I can’t go to. And I felt badly because they spend all this postage. But there’s no way. Either you can stop it all or you have to let it all come.
Carmen: So you’re letting it all come so you can still get the things you want to get.
Zella: Well, yeah.
Carmen: For sure. That’s interesting.
Zella: They’re working on it.
Carmen: Right. Well, good. You keep them in line.
Zella: [Laughs.] No.
Carmen: You’re reminding them. So you’ve mentioned several times that you didn’t have that much of a social life, but in the Colonial Echo there’s a list of things you were involved with, like extracurriculars, including the Monogram Club, Hillel, German Club.
Zella: No. Well, yes, German.
Carmen: Spanish Club.
Zella: Well, I took Spanish, so maybe.
Carmen: And then there was also…yeah, no, that’s the list I have here. So you were motivated to be engaged in those things. Do you know what led you to get involved in any of those things in particular, beyond Hillel?
Zella: Well, mostly I’m interested in people. And there was a Scout, a Girl Scout thing. It was…I guess it had a Greek name.
Carmen: Oh, yeah, I have that here. Kappa…
Zella: Kappa Chi Kappa or something.
Carmen: Yes. What was that like?
Zella: Well, they were just really meetings. I mean…
Carmen: So do you have any other memories, positive or difficult, of your time on the William & Mary campus you’d like to share at this point before we transition into your time after William & Mary?
Zella: Well, I did enjoy being there. I would recommend it to anyone, at this point. Shortly after I graduated, if anybody would ask me what I thought, I would say if you really wanted a social life you would have to look into it. I mean, it started getting much better because there were just a few more men, you know, trickling back. And how important the social life is. But the best thing about William & Mary is that I met my husband.
Carmen: That’s a good testimony to have coming out of it. Well, that leads to this next question in a lot of ways. My question is how have you seen your William & Mary experience play out in your life? For one, you found your would-be husband there. And you can talk more about that, for sure. But in what ways do you feel like William & Mary prepared you for the rest of your life?
Zella: I guess, you know, you grew up essentially from young, being young and it developed your thinking, which I think would happen at any school.
00:53:58 There was nothing negative. And I think that overall it was a good experience. And I think now I don’t know how many Jewish—well, now they take people into sororities, don’t they, that are not—
Carmen: Oh, yes, absolutely. And yeah, the Jewish population is much larger at William & Mary now certainly than your time there. They’re building the new Shenkman Jewish Center. It should be about to—
Zella: Yes, it opened.
Carmen: —open. Did it? Yeah. I was about to say—
Zella: Because I think I saw, and I [need to] go look because I think I didn’t read it at the moment it came on the email.
Carmen: Yep, I noticed, I drove past it the other day and noticed they were starting to finalize it. Can you share some thoughts on the value of having a designated space for Jewish students on William & Mary’s campus?
Zella: Well, the center, I would assume, is for the community. I think it’s nice for the people who want to further their Judaism and learning more about things, or just being with people who do. And some people are really, now it would be hard to say, but there are some people who just like to be in a climate that has Jewish people, to live in a certain area. Now I would choose to live in an area with a mixture of people, and certainly Jewish people would be included. But it never mattered to me what people were.
00:56:03 In fact my best friends, both in elementary school and in high school, I had this one who went to William & Mary. I just don’t want to be in a segregated kind of thing, so I wouldn’t want to be where there are only Jewish people.
Carmen: Yeah, but as you mentioned, a mixture of every type of person.
Carmen: I know the answer to this question, but we’ll get into it. Are you still involved with William & Mary, and in what ways and why? So you do have…well, there’s the lecture series and endowment in your husband’s name. Do you want to speak a little bit about those?
Zella: Well, when he passed away I never thought about it beforehand, but he was very interested in the law school.
00:57:00 And very proud because it is a wonderful law school. He didn’t have his…his degree changed so he could be called doctor. He thought that was ridiculous. But anyway. I don’t remember the specific titles. And so I stayed involved there primarily. And then when I decided to do something at the college, I’m very interested in libraries, and so I thought if I could give them whatever I could give them, and unrestricted, that it would be a good thing to do.
00:58:05 And I must say the library has sent me people and really made a contact, made contact with me. I think that in the law school I did the lecture on patent law. It’s really turning out to be on trademarks and whatnot, but I guess that’s what’s important at William & Mary. And I don’t have any objection to it. And I usually get a recording of the lecture. This last man who was there didn’t want the speech recorded, so I didn’t get one.
00:59:00 But Sally [Kellum] and now Laura [Beach], did you ask me something I…?
Carmen: No, you answered just…that was the question, just how you’ve remained, just your involvement with William & Mary. And I was going to bring up the fact that you have been involved in supporting the library. I know your commitments to the library have helped support Library of Congress trips for faculty, and they’re doing all sorts of ground floor renovations upcoming, and they already have before, and yeah, so I just…I mean, there are several ways you have stayed kind of in touch.
Zella: And I have had…Sally used to give my name to people, and I have had a few, not many, but that’s not complaining. I know young people. Or everybody, nobody nowadays, people can’t add, they can’t spell, they can’t even talk to each other.
01:00:12 And it really seems to me a ridiculous waste, but that’s life.
Carmen: Well, that kind of goes into this next thing. I was going to ask about changes, not so much in society, although it sounds like that’s one you’ve noted in society, but what changes have you seen at William & Mary over time, and what do you think of them?
Zella: Well, unfortunately I haven’t gotten there. When my husband was living, we went. Because his family was from Portsmouth, we were there. And there are still Mervises in…there’s one in Virginia Beach, a niece.
01:01:02 And I’m not sure anybody else is there. Well, her children. No, one child is in North Carolina. Well, the campus has grown, I mean, huge. In fact when we were there one year just visiting in Williamsburg, I went into Chandler, and it was aaahhh! I mean, it didn’t look like Chandler—
Carmen: So different?
Zella: —when you go in because there were, you know, there was like a sitting room because you couldn’t go upstairs. And of course the house mother’s apartment I’m sure was gone. But right away there are people. And I turned around and walked out. And I must say that when I went there, I’m not sure I ever went to the alumni office.
01:02:05 When we did go back we sort of just walked around the campus, memory lane or something.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the other changes that have gone on, one of the most notable being we have our first female president of the college. So I’m wondering if there are any changes in particular you’d like to see or hear about in the future for William & Mary.
Zella: Well, I think it’s wonderful.
Carmen: Are there any other changes you’d like to see in particular at William & Mary?
Zella: Well, I would just like them to stay modern in their thinking, which they certainly seem to be doing. I have not seen all the things, you know, the buildings, so I like to be in touch, like to get the gazette and to see.
01:03:04 I have…the people I knew in my class have all passed away now. And there were some people I kept in touch with, and they weren’t necessarily Jewish, but because, you know, maybe once a year or something we might write. But I don’t know whether they are living either. I mean, I’m sure I could write the alumni office, but…
Carmen: Yeah, probably, to see if…yeah. Well, I was going to say a couple—there are buildings going up all the time, it seems like, and coming down, and being renovated. But some of the ones that you were familiar with, the Wren Building and others are still there, so there are—
Zella: Are the dorms still there? All the dorms, the women’s dorm, except for the sorority houses, were around the sunken garden and the academic building.
Carmen: Those still stand.
Zella: I mean, that was the end of it, you know.
Carmen: Much smaller then, yeah. All of those still stand, but they have been renovated.
Zella: And they are using the sunken garden?
Zella: See, during the war they didn’t use it at all.
Carmen: So did anyone ever go out and just sit on them?
Zella: Oh, yes, yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, but not using for drills and such, yeah.
Zella: And yeah, for the activities. I mean, they used to have the name bands for graduation and things like that.
Carmen: No, it’s in use now, for sure. So this whole oral history is part of an endeavor to collect the stories of 100 years of coeducation, and I was wondering if you could share a little bit about what you believe to be the value and contribution of women at William & Mary and beyond.
Zella: Well, to me the women contributed all along. I don’t think sex, the sex of the person determines how much they contribute. And so I would just hope that things go well for men and women, and the reputation of the school and the law school goes on as it has. I mean, it enjoys an excellent reputation in the ratings, you know, the different rating people do.
01:05:58 I just think that it should give an adequate, more than adequate education to the people who go there.
Carmen: So, Zella, we’ve come to the end of my question list, but before we turn off the recording I would just like to ask you if there’s anything that you thought I’d ask you that I didn’t, or anything else at all that you’d like to share at this point before we close out the interview.
Zella: Well, I’m not much good at sharing unless somebody asks me a question. I participate, continue to participate in giving to the college because it gave a lot to me. Of course I paid for it, but… [Laughs.] And I’m sure it continues to give a lot.
01:06:59 And like anything else I’m sure that I didn’t always take advantage of the opportunities that were offered. So my experience was good.
Carmen: Well, thanks so much, Zella. It was really wonderful to sit down with you and hear your story. And I appreciate you speaking with me over the past hour or so.
Zella: I’ll get to hear this?
Carmen: Yes, you will.
Zella: And I will cringe.
Carmen: Oh, I hope not. You’ve seen me. I haven’t been cringing.
Zella: No, you haven’t, but you have to play a role, too. If you were going uh-uh-uh, you wouldn’t get much response.
Carmen: Well, I thought it was great, so thank you again. I really appreciate it.
Carmen: So Zella, you were mentioning one more thing that I think is definitely worth adding into this oral history, and that is why you’re interested in supporting the libraries in the first place. So would you mention what you were saying to me off recording?
Zella: Well, I’ve always enjoyed volunteering in libraries. In our elementary school, at the time we did not have a librarian, and the PTA took over the libraries, and I was chair at the elementary level for several years. And we staffed the library and bought books and catalogued. And I just find it so worthwhile to have books at people’s fingertips, children especially. And then I did the same thing at the synagogue. I belong to Sisterhood, and I chaired the library there and did a lot of…I usually work Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and put in a lot of time.
01:09:07 And that’s why I’m interested in the library of William & Mary at the college and also at the law school.
Carmen: Well, that’s great. I think that’s super important to know why you choose to give back to the libraries in addition to the law school. So thank you for going back on recording and adding that. Is there anything else you want to add at this time?
Zella: I don’t think so.
Carmen: Okay, well, thank you again, Zella.
Zella: Thank you.
01:09:36 [End of recording.]
*Note about the interview: About 00:01:30 into the interview, Zella states that she attended William & Mary from 1939 until 1947. She actually attended from 1943 until 1947.*
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