Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Depression-era Yale

“Life at Yale during the Great Depression” (November/December) revived many memories of my college years, 1934–38. I came from a penniless factory worker’s family in Oakville, Connecticut, and barely made it through Yale on two scholarships and a board job. Senior year cost me exactly $1,000, $450 of which went for tuition. My drawing course ended with an unexpected charge of $15 for a watercolor kit, and I was at odds for money to pay that bill to get my diploma until I won $25 in an Italian essay contest.

Finding money to buy a nickel Coke at the Toastie was a project. The only students as broke as I were first-generation New Haven Italian day students that I got to know by studying Italian.

In 1935, about 40 percent of our class had some kind of job, mostly bursaries. One ’38er bought with a small inheritance a hamburger stand on the edge of town that he said cleared $3,000 a year.

Ellsworth Mason ’38, ’48PhD
Lexington, KY


Your article stirred many memories of experiences told to me by my two husbands from the Class of 1935. Franklin Pierce (Chris) Whitcraft III and Samuel Harvey Fredericks were both sons of privilege but had very different experiences during their years at Yale from 1931 to 1935. Chris, to whom I was married for 36 years, studied economics with 817 other students during 1932–33. While on his Christmas reading period, he read Karl Marx while his father worked long hours handing out money during the bank run as president of the Eutaw Savings and Loan in Baltimore. Samuel, to whom I was married for ten years, studied industrial engineering and lived in a dormitory with other engineering students. An avid train fan, he watched trains on the New Haven Railroad tracks for entertainment. Both men were strong supporters of Yale and gave to their Class of 1935 endowment fund.

The 2007–08 annual report for the Yale Tomorrow campaign showed that the endowment income from the Class of 1935 was $2,019,410, the most by far of any class from 1932 to 2008. As the widow of two wonderful Yale men, I hope you will agree that the men of the Class of 1935, who lived at Yale and supported it during the Great Depression and until their deaths, deserve special recognition in the history of Yale.

Carol Whitcraft Fredericks
Austin, Texas


My father, Holland M. Gary ’33, ’36LLB, entered Yale in the fall of 1929. He had attended a public high school in Cincinnati and came to Yale on a scholarship he learned about at school. His father sold wallpaper; his mother cared for the family and sometimes gave piano lessons. They were a hard-working family that valued education, and they were used to living without a lot of money.

In the stories my father told about Yale, I never heard him talk about feeling like an outsider because he was a bursary student, working his way through school. To the contrary, he felt his experiences growing up helped him adjust to the Depression when more affluent students struggled. He spoke of students leaving school when their families lost their fortunes, leaving them without resources. My father pulled his small savings account out of the local bank before the bank failed, and with his campus job and a bit of doing without, he was fine.

My father spoke glowingly of his time at Yale. He majored in history, sang in the glee club, and played trombone in the band. He coveted a Yale “Y” sweater, which members of athletic teams received, but he was in no way athletic. To get his “Y,” my father decided to “heel” for the position of manager of the polo team. (Why polo he never explained; he had no experience with horses as far as I know.) My father’s competition was a prep-school boy who assumed that he would be chosen based on his background. My father worked hard during the heeling period, and despite his public school background, the team chose him as their manager. I still have the “Y” sweater of which he was so proud.

When I attended Yale my father was delighted, but he always told me that he thought he had been there at the best possible time.

Susan N. Gary ’77
Eugene, OR


As a graduate who attended both Yale College and Yale Law School during the Great Depression, I applaud Gaddis Smith for his very accurate description of Yale during that period. I would like to supplement it with my own experiences. I was a trolley-car Jewish student from West Haven. My middle-class family was brutally shaken when my father abruptly became unemployed as a salesman of men’s clothes at upscale Chichester’s on York Street at Broadway, when its sole owner committed suicide because of Black Friday in 1929.

While I was assigned nominally to Branford College, my Yale home was a locker in the basement of the building of Silliman College. I never had any student involvement with Branford College. When I asked the bursar to allow me some time to raise the $15 chemistry lab fee, he coldly replied, “Young man, my job is to collect money, not to lend it.” Later, I worked the evening shift, 4 p.m. to midnight, as a temporary clerk at the main post office, until I was persuaded to give up that job for a person who planned to make it a career. I also sold programs at the Yale Bowl. My need to be self-supporting left me meager time for academic pursuits. My economics course was completely unrelated to reality, stressing the immutability of supply and demand and the role of business cycles. I was fortunate to enjoy scholarships for the $465 annual tuition, for which I continue to be thankful. I was unaware of the quota on Jewish students at the time, but there was a vast gulf between us and the vast majority who came from fancy prep schools.

By extremely good fortune, I was able to attend Yale Law School and enjoy the dynamic thinking of its professors, especially their realist approach to law. Most of them supported the Roosevelt New Deal administration. There, I was moved to support liberal causes for peace, economic stability, and the end to racial discrimination. I was particularly inspired by the emergence of positive labor unions in the merger of the AFL and CIO. My wonderful professor, Harry Shulman, wisely admonished me that I would be better able to support my causes if I concentrated on becoming a good lawyer first. The higher-ups who controlled appointments refused to name him dean because he was Jewish, the first such person nominated to the post. But shortly afterwards, Eugene Rostow ’33, ’37LLB, passed muster for an illustrious career.

At 92, in my long retirement, I am gaining a rich education by thinking deeply about the nature and general functioning of the human by drawing a rough analogy to computers and presuming to write a book about it for other non-scientists. That seems to be a natural step after having introduced computer law to the world in 1960 and been its guru until retirement in 1986. In the process, I am learning much more psychology than was available at Yale College because of the state of the field.

Roy N. Freed ’37, ’40LLB
Canton, MA


I entered Yale in 1929 and remember that my first-year fee for room, board, and tuition was $1,200. I had a partial scholarship for tuition, and my board was paid by my dining-room job. When I was a freshman, upperclassmen tried to sell me window-seat cushions. They had on their Yale sweaters and easily intimidated me as a lowly freshman, so I ordered the cushions. They measured, but apparently incorrectly, because the cushions never did fit.

I don’t remember worrying much about outside economic events as a student, but economic reality hit when I graduated in 1933. My degree was in applied economic sciences from the Sheffield Scientific School, but the only job available was as a bill collector for a loan company. What a difficult and demoralizing job, trying to collect a dollar a week from poor people. My salary was $89 a month, but I had to have an automobile. My father helped me buy a Model A Ford, which cost $90. Finally, in 1935, I got a job in a bank. I ended my career in personnel at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and lived in Connecticut until 2006, when I moved to Virginia to be near my son and daughter. I will celebrate my 100th birthday in July.

Allen Anderson ’33
Manassas, VA


Gaddis Smith’s article about Yale during the Depression brought to mind a family story from that era. My grandfather, Henry H. Benedict Jr., Class of 1896, lived the good life after graduation until he was brought to his knees by the Crash in 1929. My father, Henry W. Benedict, was accepted into the Class of 1934, but there was no money to send him. In an act of unusual brotherhood, three or four of my grandfather’s college friends who were less affected by hard times offered to send my father through college with a generous allowance. He wrote annual thank-you notes to his benefactors but was otherwise unacquainted with them.

At the Yale-Harvard game in the Bowl, Dad’s junior year, he was completely in the swing of things, somewhat intoxicated, and yelling passionately at the proceedings to the annoyance of the distinguished gentleman sitting in front of him. Despite a few glares in his direction, my father continued with his exuberance. At some point, the disapproving alum withdrew a monogrammed silver cigarette case from his pocket to offer his companion a smoke. My father noticed that the initials were the same as those of one of his unknown benefactors. As Dad told it, he piped down immediately and made a polite, rapid exit at the end of The Game. The event was quoted to us in later years as a parable involving the value of respect and forethought. Dad lived those values the rest of his life, and the story has been handed down as far as his granddaughter, Class of 2012.

Ben Benedict ’73, ’76MArch
Shaftsbury, VT



The cartoon question

Painful irony: the November/December cover featured the statue of Nathan Hale, a Yale symbol of courage, with the words “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” discernible on the pedestal. In the same issue, John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, backed by a pusillanimous President Levin, pleads that Muslim extremist violence, the threat of violence, or even the implicit threat of violence creates a fear that rightly justifies abandonment of principle (“No Middle Ground,” November/December). Does not history teach that when we show extremists we will mute our criticism in response to threatened violence, we actually increase the incentive to be violent and increase the ignorance which causes it?

John W. Mauck ’69
Evanston, IL


Yale University Press director John Donatich says the cartoons of Muhammad are “deliberately grotesque and insulting, gratuitously so.” What in the world is he talking about? Only 4 of the 12 cartoons seem even remotely controversial. Their main sin is to suggest that Muhammad has something to do with Islamic terrorism. Since certain governments (in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Gaza) and Islamic terrorist organizations (Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic Jihad to name three) explicitly draw the same connection all the time, it’s not clear to me why even this aspect of the cartoons is controversial. When I show non-Muslims the cartoons, their first reaction is almost always something like “These seem really tame; what’s all the fuss about?” The main consequence of hiding the cartoons from easy view is to perpetuate the fiction that the complaint against these cartoons is legitimate. It isn’t. Jews and Christians regularly observe without violence far more sinister calumnies against their faiths. Muslims should learn to do the same.

Mark Casey ’92
San Francisco, CA


It seems ironic that, while the aim of the Muslim proscription of images of the prophet Muhammad is to prevent him from becoming an idol, in this instance the hysterical reaction to the cartoons produced the very effect it would proscribe.

Canon Hugh Magee ’56
St. Andrews, Scotland



Problem solved?

It was only a few years ago that many politicians were encouraging Yale and other “well-endowed” schools to spend a far greater percentage of the endowment funds each year. Indeed, some filed or threatened to file legislation requiring greater annual expenditures from endowment. The brief piece on the endowment’s troubles (“Yale Tightens Its Belt Another Notch,” November/December) suggests to me that follow-up with those politicians to see what they think now is in order.

Fred Graf ’70
Concord, NH



The punt that wasn’t

My local newspaper carried an Associated Press account of the final minutes of the Yale-Harvard game in which Coach Williams is quoted as saying “We weren’t going to play scared.” Scared of what? Winning? The positives that argued against Williams’s failed play have led me to try to recreate his thought process and play judgment, but I have been unable to do so and arrive at his decision.

Having suffered a reversal of fortune in the last minutes of the Princeton game also, we must ask, “What is to be done?” Perhaps we could prevail upon our historic opponents to shorten our games by, say, three minutes, but even there we might find last-minute ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We have ten months to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.” And, perhaps, the coaching staff could entertain a conference call to Ducky Pond for a fresh approach to fourth down and 22 to go on our own 26 yard-line.

Bromwell Ault ’49
West Palm Beach, FL


There will probably be a ton of Monday-morning critiquing of coach Tom Williams’s calling for a fake punt with long yardage and with a slim lead toward the end of The Game. Our cups actually should be raised to Coach Williams for teaching Yale students to take exciting calculated risks, a skill these students will need after graduation. Thanks, Coach Williams, for being a teacher first, truly trusting your players to do their best, and already making a contribution to the Yale community and athletics.

Paul W. Buckwalter ’56, ’60MAT
Tucson, AZ

For more on that much-discussed play call—including some Monday-morning critiques—see “Saving Graces of The Game.”—Eds.



You say Yalie, I say Eli

As you noted (“From the Editor,” September/October) the term “Yalies” is now widely applied to all Yale students, past as well as present. Its usage dates from 1969–70, when coeducation came to Yale College and forced into retirement the ancient and, to many, lustrous term “Yale men.” Rather quickly the unisex replacement became common parlance. I was therefore surprised when, some six or seven years later, in a small discussion group where Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41 was present and someone casually mentioned “Yalies,” to hear KB interject a heavy sigh.

“I wish people wouldn’t use that word,” he continued. “I think it’s condescending. It juvenilizes our students.”

Was there a term Yale’s president would consider more suitable?

“Yes: Elis,” said KB. “Yale students are Elis.”

Donald M. Marshman ’45
Darien, CT



Heads of the class

The year women were admitted to Yale (“On the Advisability and Feasibility of Women at Yale,” September/October), 1969, happened to be the year I enrolled as a graduate student to study psychology. During my four years there, I was a teaching assistant or teacher in several classes, and one of my duties was grading papers and tests. I soon learned that the first women at Yale were an impressive group. Some of my graduate-student friends joked that we did not need to read the women’s tests and essays; we could just stamp them with an A and move on. However, none of us did that. Instead, we typically read a few samples of the best at the outset and used them as the template by which to grade the others.

Coeducation at Yale and at every other classic “men’s school” that I know of (including my own alma mater, Washington and Lee University) has been an overwhelming success. The only puzzle in hindsight is why anyone could ever have thought this would not be the case.

Henry L. Roediger III ’73PhD
St. Louis, MO





Our review of the book Intellectual Trajectories (November/December) stated that Professor Walter Cahn was “smuggled to France” from Germany in 1940. In fact, he and his family were arrested and deported to France. The review also reported that Cahn did not serve in the U.S. armed forces. He was in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958.

In our November/December list thanking donors to the Yale Alumni Magazine, we left off the name of Hilary F. Ryder ’04MD.

We regret the errors.

The comment period has expired.