IT is ten years this June since the sweltering day on which mine was one of ninety moist hands extended in the direction of a B.A. diploma. It is even five years since the rather more sweltering June day on which mine was one of one hundred and twenty-five moist hands extended in the direction of a further diploma, while the fiery red dean murmured something about ‘all of whom have made an original contribution to knowledge’ and the audience, mercifully, laughed. Now the latter anniversary can be forgotten (graduate students are only statistically desirable or desired), but it is more difficult to escape the former. The relation between the two days may perhaps be expressed by saying that it was from my Alma Mater that I received the first diploma, whereas the second came from my Alma Mater-in-law. At any rate, there on my desk a few days ago lay the first of the rousing appeals of our class secretary, intimating that now is the time for all good women definitely to reserve rooms.
Am I going? In the negative spirit of one who has just been asked to fill out even a mild form of questionnaire, I began to think of reasons why I should not go. In the first place, what right had the class secretary to remind me that we have been out ten years? It had n’t occurred to me; why should she force it on my attention? A horrible memory came back to my mind. Back in the year 1920, between the ice creams of an outdoor reception, some of us were critically regarding the alumnæ who were then ten years out.
We pitied them, generously. At that moment a member of the class of 1910, noted for her beauty, crossed our path. ‘Well,’ admitted one of our number dubiously, ‘I guess it can be done.’ No, far be it from me to offer food for such comparisons.
But what about your own classmates? inquired a voice within me. Would n’t it be interesting to see what’s happened to them?
I know what’s happened to them, I replied crossly. This is what’s happened to them. This is what happens to any class of any woman’s college.
There are those who are on the way to becoming ladies, social pillars of the city-suburban life mirrored, I believe the phrase is, by the more dignified columns of Town and Country. They have married the bondhouse-bound brothers who were our contemporaries at Yale-Harvard-Princeton. They have a graded series of infants, dressed charmingly and identically — is it to expedite a rapid census, I always wonder? They are board members of all the best hospitals and charities. Practically the only question on which they are divided, though on this they wax passionate, is that of nursery schools.
Then there are those who married stocks rather than bonds. Their heels have become higher and thinner and their voices have grown huskier with the years. They have fewer children and more antique shops than the former group and their agile vertebræ do not form part of the backbone of the community.
A third group, on the fringes of both of the preceding, consists of those who were a little too vigorous to have a certain type of husband and a little too aimless to have a certain type of job. They end either by taking courses somewhere or by traveling on the Continent with their mothers.
Distinct from these are the women who have gone into the professions, who have taken positions while the others were achieving position. A considerable number of these are women who have married but at the same time kept and developed their own interests; from the rest is drawn the recently waning statistical correlation between college attendance and spinsterhood.
The range which they cover is fairly wide. At one end are those who went straight from college into underpaid teaching positions and to whom the reunion is a great event. (The ladies, appreciating this en bonne hôtesse, will say, ‘ We must see to it that N—— has a good time and does n’t feel left out.’) At the other are those whose acknowledged success in ‘pioneering the opening up of certain careers for women’ has complicated the problem of their personal dignity. Between is the classmate, correctly but just a shade obviously dressed, member of the Business and Professional Women’s organization, who will be telling how she just held on until the manager finally saw the possibilities of the thing. That’s all.
Does that description quite account for ——? pursued the voice, naming one or two of the people I most admire.
I tacitly admitted the point. (The effects of the questionnaire were beginning to wear off.) But, I parried, you know that it is much more satisfactory to see them individually, to walk out into the country with one of them, or to sit in somebody’s study before a deliciously superfluous wood fire.
At this stage the voice was heard to murmur something indistinct about rhododendron. There was a pause.
What it really comes down to, broke in the voice suddenly, is whether you can make it by Saturday night, or whether you can’t get there till Sunday morning.
I reached for the blank.