Doris Kadish retired from the UGA department of Romance Languages in 2011; Anne Williams from the department of English in 2008, and Judith Willis from the department of Cellular Biology in 2014.
I walked uneasily into a meeting of 30 UGA male department heads in 1993. I was the new kid on the block, the new head of the UGA department of Romance Languages, and I was the only woman. The academics I knew at Kent State in Ohio dressed very casually, even shabbily. Here was a roomful of men impeccably dressed in summer suits and ties. They stared at me.
Growing up in rural New York state in the 1940s and 50s, I never envisioned becoming a professor. While my parents valued education, they and society expected girls to be wives and mothers. “Be prepared to teach high school just in case. Translation: “if your husband dies or can’t provide, you can support yourself.” So, I got my degree in French from Skidmore in 1961, and of course, I got married later that year.
I also took summer courses in education so that I could start teaching high school after the wedding. The path I dutifully followed entailed supporting my husband while he finished law school and then quitting work once I had children.
Later, since I loved studying, I took graduate courses at night and in the summer. For a stay-at home mom, graduate school was an intellectual oasis and lifeline but I gave little thought to career.
When we moved to Ohio for my husband’s career, ever the student, I began a doctoral program and had my third child. As I approached the end of classwork, I met with my advisor about my dissertation. He nixed the topic I proposed and said dismissively, “Write on whatever you want; if you expect to get a job, get divorced.”
Undaunted, I asked what I should write on. His suggestion, an unknown French writer who, lucky for me, would later win a Nobel Prize. Since mine was one of the fist dissertations on him, it led to my first academic position at Kent State University; my cutting-edge subject had impressed a member of the hiring committee. My career was launched, and as my advisor had predicted, I got divorced!
“…if you expect to get a job, get divorced.”
After 20 years at Kent State, remarried to another professor, and raising three children, I sought out a new position here at UGA, even though members of the department were known to be at war with one another. Academia is a small world and I got all the gossip from the Spanish Medievalist, who was buddies with the one here.
Lucky again, my husband wanted to shift gears professionally and agreed to the move and my ambition. He became what was by then called “a trailing spouse,” and offered a nontenured position. Universities had begun to realize that recruiting faculty, especially women, required paying attention, or at least lip service, to the professional lives of their spouses or partners.
The Steel Magnolias
Feisty and outspoken, the late Margaret Dickie had come to Athens from Illinois in 1987 and found UGA at that time to be inhospitable to women. Worried about my ability to survive in a politically divided department, she invited me to join an informal group of six senior women who dined together monthly. We became eight and have continued meeting monthly for the last 24 years. Margaret laughingly baptized us “The Steel Magnolias.” Our disciplines ranged from the humanities to the sciences but our experiences as women in a male world were remarkably similar.
Judy Willis, from Detroit, loved bugs! Her father took her out to catch tadpoles while her mom preferred shopping. She was headed to the University of Michigan with a teaching degree in mind when she happened to encounter a customer in a bookstore who noticed here reading a book about birds. As they talked and Judy shared her plans, the woman said, “My sons, also interested in birds, have been advised to go to Cornell.”
It was a key moment when she began to chart her own course. She applied to Cornell and was accepted. Another such moment was after her freshman year in 1953 when, back home for the summer, she wandered into the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research to offer her services as a volunteer. Though the Institute never accepted volunteers, they were desperate for help — Judy spent the summer performing autopsies on mice and carefully preserving their organs. It was then that she knew her future would be in science. After Cornell, Judy completed her masters and doctorate at Harvard in 1961.
Anne Williams grew up on her father’s dairy farm in 1950s Texas; her mother taught high school English and Anne was expected to follow in her footsteps. But, after enrolling at Baylor University in 1965, she, like Judy, quickly decided to go her own way. She studied in Paris in 1968, learned French and attended live operas. She made her way to Cornell in 1969 where her talent was recognized by the world-famous professor of British Romanticism, M. H. Abrams. He offered to direct her dissertation, and afterward, a telephone call from him was enough to get her hired at UGA. That’s how things were done at top schools then. Influential male professors could place their best students with a mere phone call.
The sacrifices of academic marriages
Judy, Anne, and I were the married members of the Steel Magnolias. Judy and her husband got their degrees at the same time but he was the one who got a job offer at Illinois while she had only nibbles. She then became a ‘captive’ spouse and a victim of the state’s nepotism regulations, only able to teach as a temporary “emergency” instructor.
After Anne got her doctorate from Cornell in 1973, she spent several years teaching in Iowa and then married in 1978. Her husband was offered a position at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. but Anne could find nothing in the area. An offer at UGA meant the newlyweds would live 990 miles apart!
“I was determined not to give up my career.” For 13 years she endured the separation and travel of what is called a “commuter marriage,” a not uncommon alternative, even today, for dual-career academics. Eventually her husband reached a point in his successful career where he was willing to forego tenure and accept an instructor job at UGA.
Storming the barricades
Before affirmative action and before female Boomers began enrolling in large numbers, women in academia faced barriers, large and small. At Illinois, Judy was invited to join the wives’ club for her husband’s department, and an invitation for a holiday party from her own department was addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. Willis.” She was relegated to a desk tucked away in a corner of a lab.
Arriving at UGA in 1978, Anne found herself in a hierarchical, male-dominated English department, with only one tenured and one tenure-track woman among 45 faculty members. She was relegated to teaching freshman composition or survey courses, and it wasn’t until she received tenure that she could teach in her field or other graduate courses. Before her, no woman had achieved tenure in English without an appeal.
Her achievements were distorted. “You write like a man,” she was told. When a university press accepted her book, she heard, “That Press has really been going downhill lately.” For promotion to full professor, she had to appeal.
I recall being the only woman invited to belong to a select “academy” of 30 scholars” at Kent State. When the subject of including more women arose, one professor piped up, “I hope they’re cute.” As I had known to expect, my first term as department head at UGA was filled with conflict, such that I had to call for a complete financial audit. During my review for a second term, the dean said: “We were concerned initially with how you could handle such a difficult department because you’re so petite.”
Women faculty have increased steadily since Judy, Anne, and I came to the university. The heads of both Romance Languages and English in 2018 will be women. I walked into a roomful of department heads with no other women: now there are 12. Although some challenges persist, the “bad old days” are just a memory now.
Postscript: According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 1980, women and men were enrolled in higher education in equal numbers for the first time. In 1981-82, more bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women than men. In 2005, the majority of degrees at all levels were conferred on women. Currently, women comprise 40 percent of faculty in higher education, and 24 percent of full professors. Only one in three women who take a fast-track university job before having a child ever become mothers. Among tenured professors, only 44 percent of women are married with children.
I retired from the UGA departments of romance languages and women’s studies in 2011 after a lifetime of studying and teaching. And for all of my life, I had associated my academic achievement with my Russianborn father. He was the one who graduated from Columbia Pharmacy School in 1926, three years after arriving in the United States; who spoke French; who had traveled the world and studied in France and Switzerland. I always remembered my mother in the role of a very proper 1950s housewife who wore white gloves and a hat to the grocery store.
All that I had known about my mother changed after I retired and discovered a treasure trove of old love letters to her in my sister’s Albany, New York, attic. Amazingly, my mother, Ethel Richman, had had a lover who would become world famous in literary circles. The letters, and all the subsequent research that flowed from them, cast a whole new light on who I thought she was, and her influence on me.
Her family were Russian immigrants who had settled in Savannah in 1892, and whose life revolved around the orthodox synagogue. A spirited, intelligent girl in the 1920s, Ethel Richman rebelled, creating a break with her large extended family that was never entirely mended. The societal and religious strictures for women and girls at that time were vast; for example, females were relegated to the balcony during the synagogue service, hidden from view behind a curtain. Growing up, I knew she had moved to New York City from south Georgia at age 23 and lived independently in bohemian Greenwich Village until 1935, when she married my father, Eliahu Young (Youngstein). But, as an adult, I had hardly known her or her past life. She and my father died in 1966 in an automobile accident when I was 26.
During my childhood, we lived in a rural area outside the city while my father commuted to his bookbinding business. It was a quiet life for my parents and my sister and I, centered on reading, conversation, and listening to opera on the radio. But as I reached adolescence, this life became stifling and alienating. I fell passionately in love, but he was not Jewish.
My parents were secular Jews, but still my mother broke up the romance behind my back in what I considered a very devious way. I was hurt and resentful for many years. And then she died so early, we didn’t have time to repair our relationship.
After they died, I followed a traditional path, graduating from college in June 1961 and marrying a month later. I had three children while attending graduate school, ultimately divorced, and got my doctorate in 1971 at age 31. Upon retirement, I now had the time to look into my family history, sorting through dusty boxes of old photos and papers. And what a surprise to find 33 love letters sent to my mother by a Philip Greenberg from 1928 to 1931.
They were so passionate I didn’t even want to read them at first, full of declarations of love and poetry. He told her he wanted to be a writer; he bared his soul; he implored her to join him. I couldn’t imagine the circumstances; the person who inspired the letters was a stranger to me.
I had no letters from my mother to Philip, but his to her showed a man who was deeply intellectual. In fact, he seemed to mirror my father in many ways. They both avidly read the serious literature of the times, and both were deeply admiring of Thomas Mann and his book “The Magic Mountain.’’ I remember feeling so proud when my parents said I was old enough to read it.
But then months went by and I thought no more of Ethel, Philip or Magic Mountain until my nephew David Barnet discovered unexpected facts about who Philip Greenberg really was. I began to do research and looked closely at the census, court, and immigration records David had found. Many surprises were in store for me!
| Such Longing |
Philip Greenberg had arrived in America from Russia in 1922 as Fevel Greenberg. As an aspiring writer in the late ’20s, he wrote to my mother that he was going to publish under Philip Rann so as not to jeopardize his employment. He wrote a few of his letters to her from New York City and ultimately mostly from Portland, Oregon, where he had moved after having apparently been fired from the Hebrew School in Savannah. Piecing together information in the letters with some research and personal interviews in Savannah, I was able to determine that several prominent Jewish intellectuals found themselves in Savannah in the early 1920s. One, Mordecai Grossman, had probably hired Fevel/Philip to teach Hebrew. Internal politics at the Hebrew School appear to have driven Grossman, Philip, and the other Jewish intellectuals away; they were progressives, particularly regarding race, and too much ahead of their times.
In reading his letters to my mother, it was clear he was a passionate man who could eloquently express his deep feelings.
“Ah, Ethel, how lonely I am for you. More and more I realize my misery. Is there no way out? Must we be separated? At night, in those dark heavy hours of sleepless brooding, I recall all the tender blissful moments we had together. I remember the evening when I first asked you to kiss me, and the gleam in your eyes, that charming hesitation, the moment of suspense before the leap. Those everlasting kisses, those hours of blissful intimacy, pregnant with tenderness and supreme understanding.
My blood calls for you. You have permeated my being like some subtle elixir, some rare alchemy of yore!”
But what stood out most to me was Philip’s dominant, authoritative voice. From his very first letters to Ethel I caught a glimpse of this character. His declarations of love were often coupled with reprimands and orders concerning Ethel’s future conduct. In the earliest letter he told her that the pictures she claimed to have sent never arrived. In the future she must get the street number right, buy a larger envelope, and stick to their arranged schedule of her writing every Thursday.
Still, he seemed to be quite enamored of my mother. He spoke of their “absolute, made-for-each-otherness. I have put you on a pedestal, and if I believed in God, I’d pray fervently to him and ask him that you should always remain on that pedestal, so pure, lovely, and ravishing.”
Why didn’t Philip and Ethel marry? Her letters must have indicated a desire to move to New York and for him to return there. His letter of Dec. 19, 1930, provided a five-page summary of why he could not. Money figured prominently. He told Ethel: “for me to come to New York would be utter madness. I cannot live shabbily. I cannot write when my mind is filled with financial worries.” He had saved half his salary for three years to become a writer, not a husband.
| Separate Paths |
While I sadly have no letters of my mother’s, his indicate she had determined to leave her provincial community and orthodox Jewish family and move alone to New York, something her family deeply disapproved of. He takes credit for it:
“Surely your relationship with me helped you to find yourself and to escape the provincial pit and over that fact I am fond of gloating time and again. You have succeeded in escaping the miasma of a kosher, lambish, small town, respectable existence, striking out for yourself instead with the result that you are now somebody, a self-supporting (both materially and mentally) young woman . . . I am proud to think (or maybe I flatter myself) that I had something to do with your decision to quit Savannah. It was I who gave you that initial impetus, that will to change and to dare . . . I am immensely interested to read your rendition of life among the artists.”
Philip Greenberg/Rann would soon change his name again to Philip Rahv, and cofound Partisan Review in 1934; it quickly became one of the most famous and respected literary magazines of all time. The renowned poet T.S. Eliot described it as the best American literary periodical. It featured works by such literary lions as Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Saul Bellow.
After an affair with the writer Mary McCarthy, Rahv married a friend of hers from Vassar College, the moneyed daughter of a Junior League founder. His second wife was a descendant of John Jay, first chief justice of the United States. One critic reported, “his two wives were extraordinarily similar . . . both quite handsome, extremely WASP, and quite rich . . . and they were both completely un- intellectual and unliterary.”
I considered Ethel lucky to have escaped the fate of the writer’s subordinate wife, a role he was already asking her to play: “I would like you to preserve these letters because I myself do not leave a copy for myself.” But I also could imagine that what attracted her to Philip, and what she passed on to me, was the thrilling prospect of living among intellectual and artistic men and women. My father, a Russian-born intellectual, also drawn to literature and the arts, enabled her to live that life after her romance with Philip ended.
The realization that I will most probably never find her letters has cast a veil of sadness over my project from beginning to end. Based on what he writes, she must have provided him with emotional support and a sounding board at a vulnerable time in his life, in a new country when he had no friends or family to confide in. He described himself at one point as “a very sad, determined young man with a superiority complex, like a hard crust, covering all of my inner self.” He let Ethel see that hidden self.
What he did for her was transformative, as he was the first to say. He gave her the encouragement she needed to leave Savannah and to envision the intellectual world that lay beyond its confining boundaries. The cultured, sophisticated woman she became, and who reared me, was in part his doing. Through her, some of Philip Rahv’s legacy lives on in me.
An extended version of this essay appeared as A Young Communist in Love: Philip Rahv, Partisan Review, and My Mother in the Georgia Review, Winter 2014. I appreciate their permission to reprint parts of it here.
Dr. Kadish donated the Ethel Richman (Young) Philip Rahv (Greenberg) correspondence on May 8, 2013 to the Harry Ranson Center at the University of Texas, the largest repository of American literary archival materials in the country. She restricted access for 10 years while she was writing about the letters. She has since lifted that restriction.
Doris Kadish, Distinguished Research Professor Emerita of French and Women’s Studies, began her academic career in 1971 at Kent State University in Ohio, which she left to assume the position of Head of Romance Languages at UGA in 1993. She also served as interim director of UGA Women’s Studies Institute and Director of the Center for Latin and American Studies.
Philip Rahv was Professor of American literature at Brandeis University from 1957 to his death on December 22, 1973, in Cambridge, Mass. The final year of his life was a bitter one marked by inactivity, sickness, self-destructiveness, and thoughts of death. He grumbled that he would be forgotten, but he was wrong. After his death on December 22, 1973, a lengthy obituary by Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, 1908-1973,appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Rahv named the state of Israel as the chief beneficiary in his will.
For a fascinating look at Rahv and the many famous writers associated with Partisan Review, Dr.Kadish recommends “Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals,” by David Laskin.
Dr. Kadish’s nephew David G. Barnet assisted with genealogical research. He consulted census, immigration, and naturalization records as well as information from an extensive range of contemporary newspapers in New York, Savannah, and Portland, Oregon. He obtained Rahv’s will from the Cambridge, Massachussetts, probate court. Doris went to Savannah to interview relatives and members of the Jewish community, to visit synagogues and places her mother had lived, and to find materials and oral histories from the 1920s. She also studied the Partisan Review archives at the UGA Main Library, and did extensive work in secondary source material, including a Ph.D. dissertation on Rahv. She has made some corrections to the Wikipedia entry for Philip Rahv and still has a lot of work to do there.
What’s in a name?
When Larry came to photograph Doris at the UGA library, she noted his Russian sounding name and asked if his ancestors were from the Ukraine as hers were. Yes, they were but their name wasn’t Petroff; he doesn’t know what it was. Larry related that they came by the family name in an unusual way. His grandfather emigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century, working as a carpenter with a Russian circus. The circus ultimately went broke and left him stranded so he made his way to Pittsburgh to apply for a job at a steel mill. When the foreman began calling out names of who they had hired, they did not call his name. “When they called “Petroff,” there was no answer…so my grandfather raised his hand and got the job and the name.”
Larry retired in 2011 as a civil engineer with a petroleum company. He began taking photographs as a hobby while in the army in the late 1960s, and since retirement has taken numerous photography courses.