Letters to the Editor

Letters: September/October 2023

Readers write back about Marilynn Malerba '15DNP, the origins of Doonesbury, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Celebrating a Nursing alum

When I received your latest issue, I said “FINALLY!” Finally, there is a major article about a Yale School of Nursing graduate on the national stage, Marilynn Malerba ’15DNP (“Decisions of the Heart,” July/August). Of course, there have been many YSN grads on the national stage, but in the 36 years since I graduated I have rarely seen an article highlighting the important contributions of this exceptional school. There are many articles about the Schools of Medicine, Drama, Management, Law, and others, but precious few about the School of Nursing.  

I wonder how many Yale graduates know about Florence Wald, former dean of YSN who founded the US hospice movement. Or Virginia Avenel Henderson, who developed a theory of nursing care implemented around the world and a foundation for professional nursing practice in the US. Or former faculty member Jacquelyn Y. Taylor, a trailblazer in cardiovascular genomics research in minority populations. Where are the articles about YSN in China in the early twentieth century?

These are but a few examples of the important work that occurs and has occurred by YSN graduates and faculty that seems to merit no attention in the alumni magazine. Could there be covert sexist bias contributing to this oversight? Could the oversight be due to a perception that nursing is less important than other professions (especially those traditionally dominated by men)? Perhaps not, but there has been a glaring oversight nonetheless and one that the editorial board should focus on correcting beyond one recent excellent article.
Deborah A. Sampson ’87MSN
Hancock, NH

With 13 professional schools at Yale in addition to the college and the Graduate School, it isn’t easy to get to all of them frequently in feature articles. But for the record, we last published a feature on the School of Nursing in 2021, when we reported on the school’s disaster simulation program (“Scenes From a Fake Emergency,” March/April 2021). We’ve published other pieces about nurses and nursing, including on Helen Varney Burst ’63MSN and Annie Warburton Goodrich (1866–1954), Yale’s first female dean. We plan for more.—Eds.

I wonder about Lynn Malerba’s festive appearance on your cover and on the photo on page 35, with a beaded hat. Is this a type of headwear used by her tribe?
Yona Sabar ’71PhD
Silver Spring, MD

Malerba tells us that the red beaded crown and regalia were gifted to her by the Mohegan tribe when she was sworn in as chief in 2010. The crown is the tribe’s traditional headwear for a female chief; she says she wears red because the color connotes strong women in the Mohegan tradition.—Eds.

Origins of the Doone

I enjoyed Richard Conniff’s article (“Megaphone Mark, the SDS Scuffle Band, and the Birth of Doonesbury,” July/August). I learned a lot about my classmate Mark Zanger, one of the models for “Megaphone Mark,” and I appreciated Mark’s humble acknowledgement that his character’s name was also a nod to Mark Rudd, his SDS counterpart at Columbia.

I did not know Mark at Yale, but I knew of him and recall he was a denizen of Silliman College, where he was thought to be the leader of the Silliman Liberation Front (SLF). Silliman at the time was the most polarized residential college on campus. In addition to the SLF, there was another group within Silliman called the Anti-Blip Coalition (ABC). The ABC was a group of preppies and jocks who had nothing but disdain for SLF members.

In defense of my dear friend Garry Trudeau, however, I do have one minor quibble with Mr. Conniff’s article. The character of Mike Doonesbury was not modeled after Garry! As Garry and I were both St. Paul’s School (SPS) alums, the SPS term “doone,” as Mr. Conniff notes, did roughly translate as “clueless boob,” which at SPS was used as a nasty tag. By our junior year at Yale, however, when I transferred into Davenport College to room with Garry, among others, the term had softened and described an innocent fool, a person capable of embarrassing everyone else without embarrassing himself.

As we all know, Garry was not then, nor was he ever, a clueless boob or even an innocent fool; but as a doone, I’m quite proud of being known as “The Doone.”
Charlie Pillsbury ’70
New Haven, CT

Dick Conniff gives an amusing history of the characters who inspired Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. Yes, the name of the lead character was an amalgam of “doone” (or “dune”) and Charlie Pillsbury ’70. What the article doesn’t say is that Pillsbury was called Dune in boarding school. (He was good-natured about it.) Moreover, the person who first called Charlie a dune was yours truly. Garry, now it can be told.
Jeff Wheelwright ’69
Morro Bay, CA

Richard Conniff’s article on the birth of Doonesbury is accompanied by one of Garry Trudeau’s early bull tales comic strips. If the image shown was the first strip to appear in the Daily News, it might have been understandable to include it with some appropriate context. But it wasn’t the first, and I cannot understand why you would print a comic featuring an anti-gay slur and a joke comparing women to dogs under the caption “hilarious from the start.” Not only is the choice tone-deaf, but it also does a disservice to Trudeau, who over the coming decades of Doonesbury treated women and LGBTQ+ characters with compassion and nuance.
Betsy Golden Kellem ’01
North Haven, CT

It was indeed wrong of us to include that cartoon, and we’re sorry.—Eds.

Levin and the unions

I was intrigued to read, in the July/August 2023 issue, a letter from former UNITE-HERE union president John W. Wilhelm ’67 lauding former Yale president Rick Levin for his constructive role in settling the 2003 strike. It sure didn’t feel that way on the picket lines at the time. Levin had already been president for ten years, and there was no doubt in strikers’ minds that his administration’s intransigence was what got us to that point.

I distinctly recall marching past Woodbridge Hall chanting “2–4–6–8, sit down and negotiate; 1–3–5–7, get a pension just like Levin.” (The same Levin who, in addition to his pension, received an $8.5 million payout when he stepped down a decade later!) How much credit does someone deserve for solving a problem that they needlessly caused?
Ben Givan ’03PhD
Saratoga Springs, NY

Breastfeeding benefits

One interview subject in your article about the cost of breastfeeding (“The Steep Price of Breastfeeding,” July/August) is quoted as saying, “I was both in awe and shocked . . . by how little we know about breastfeeding.” Me too. As a psychologist and psychoanalyst, I was both in shock and awe at how little they knew about the psychological effects of not breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has a major impact on attachment between mother and infant. A child who is never breastfed will not assuredly be insecurely attached, but if we are trying to ensure the mental health of our citizens, breastfeeding goes a long way toward ensuring secure attachment and contributes to avoiding all kinds of mental health problems, including those that lead to the kind of gun violence we’ve seen of late. And those have a large monetary cost, not to mention the obvious psychological cost as well.  

It is grossly short-term thinking for society to focus only on the monetary opportunity cost of a mother’s not going back to work immediately so they can breastfeed. This may be one of many reasons that Scandinavian countries and countries like Japan with much better maternity leave policies have much higher rates of happiness and much lower rates of gun violence. It would be better to allocate our resources to helping those mothers be able to breastfeed.
Elizabeth Stringer ’82
Brewster, MA

The authors of the study do not disagree. In the conclusion of their paper, they write that “understanding associated costs is critical to developing maximally effective policy for breastfeeding promotion.”—Eds.

Remembering the regicides

Congratulations on the article on New Haven’s king killers (“Escape to New Haven,” May/June). I first heard about John Dixwell from Professor Edmund Morgan, for whom I was a teaching assistant, who suggested that we all walk over to the Green, where Dixwell’s tombstone was the only one left after burials shifted to the new Grove Street cemetery in the 1820s.

It is striking that Dixwell lived quite openly in a town of probably less than a thousand people, with a huge reward for his capture (probably much more than $100,000 in current dollars), for more than 30 years—and no one turned him in. That speaks volumes of the latent disdain for the British monarchy in the colonies which rebelled to become the United States. And he was not forgotten. When John Adams, later our second president, rode through New Haven in 1774 on his way to the First Continental Congress, he and his delegation stopped to pay their respects to that same tombstone.
Gary Horlick ’73JD
Washington, DC

Women, silent and otherwise

I read Kathrin Day Lassila’s article about the book Speaking While Female (“Lifting Their Voices,” July/August) with particular interest. The Silent Woman restaurant that she mentions was in Waterville, Maine, where my wife Dorothy and I moved in 1974 to begin medical practice after completing our residencies and fellowships. At the time, she was the only woman physician in the region, and remained so until three more women arrived in 1981.

Some 25 years later, we met a woman who recalled, as a child in the late 1970s, being taken by her mother to the emergency room, where she was seen by Dorothy, who was on call that evening. When Dorothy left the examination room, she turned to her mother and asked how she could be the doctor, since “she is not a man.” That woman became a physician.

When we attended medical school, our respective classes were each 10 percent female. A table in the same issue of your magazine shows that Yale’s medical school is now 56 percent female. That’s progress.
Marvin A. Eisengart ’62, ’66MD
Waterville, ME

After reading Kathrin Day Lassila’s column, I noticed the chart showing the gender ratio in each of Yale’s schools (Light and Verity, July/August). The School of Management was 55 percent men and 45 percent women, the third-lowest proportion of women among the 15 schools. Whatever one might think about this percentage, the 10 percent decline from the ratio of my class struck me as the wrong direction. Yes, other admission criteria and objectives are essential. But I hope the powers that be address this performance.
Alan Kittner ’84MBA
Berkeley, CA

In Seabury's footsteps

I very much enjoyed your article on my ancestor Samuel Seabury (“The First American Bishop,” March/April). Reflecting Mark Twain’s adage that history may not repeat itself but often rhymes, I have a side story that you might enjoy.  When my father, John Evans ’61, ’67LLB, retired from the law to pursue his calling to be an Episcopal priest, there was a moratorium on new clergy in his home diocese. With new ordinations barred, Scotland again was the answer.

As it happened, I was a student at St. Andrews at the time. When coming to my graduation, my father was introduced to an opening to be a curate at the Episcopal cathedral in Oban, where ultimately he was ordained. Although my Seabury connection is on my mother’s side, I think there is a lovely parallel between the “second act”—and Scottish ordination—of these two Yalies, centuries apart.
Jeremy Evans
Portland, OR

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