Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Four women from the Smith College class of 1934 attended their 75th reunion at the end of May 2009. They came to the campus by car, plane, and train. As the youngest of the quartet, I was looking forward to celebrating my 95th birthday in a few weeks--the oldest was 97.

A picture from our senior yearbook was hung on the doors of the dormitory rooms that was assigned to the four survivors. It was hard to believe that we had ever been that young. The four of us agreed we no longer resembled the pictures of our earlier days, but we also agreed that we looked damn good. No wheelchairs, no walkers in our group, no sign of dementia yet!

I remember that one of the four had been a flamboyant redhead. She still had faint traces of red in the bangs on her forehead.

We hadn't been friends at college, but we left Northampton at the end of the reunion feeling a good deal of warmth and admiration towards each other. And there was a lot to admire -- all four had led active and fulfilling lives and they were still "out there" with full days. There was little talk of the early years at college, but it seemed to me we reverted to that time when we used the common, large dormitory bathroom. We walked around, undressed, wrapped in a towel, waiting our turn to shower. We lingered in that ambiance, yes, giggling, as if we didn't want to return to our rooms, as in the past, to study.

We didn't talk much about the past or tell our story. We seemed suspended in time, enjoying the moment, feeling a connection that was fragile and fulfilling.

At least for the moment, nobody could recall who was the President of the United States when we were students. Of course, it was Herbert Hoover followed by Franklin Roosevelt. What the world had in common then, with today, were hard times. The Great Depression that started in the Wall Street Collapse of 1929 was far more severe than our recession is today, as yet.

The depression had a direct effect on our college population. Almost half of the students had to leave because of financial problems. I had my first stirring of being a feminist when I learned that the male colleges were not effected in the same way.

All weekend, beautiful young women, current students at the college, served as "ambassadors" to smooth our way. They were very eager to hear about our college days and the lives we had led. I was curious to know about their college lives and the dreams of the lives they will lead. Some things are impossible so I will never know about their 75th reunion. Perhaps that will be much less astounding to a number of them than it was to the four of us who returned to our college on a beautiful spring weekend.


PeppyPilotGirl said...

Glad you were able to recapture that wonderful and elusive sense of utter belonging - despite the "companion requirement"! Here's hoping I make it that far!

Kelley Kelly '89

Becky said...

Just trying first to see if I can log in!

Marc said...

I was so thrilled that Michael and Alana were your adult "companions" to the reunion. How time is so warping! To think that my once baby boy took my mom to her 75th college reunion boggles the mind. The way I figure it, my 75th college reunion will be in 2043.I wonder how many of the students at Berkeley then will have ever heard of Mario Savio.

mikki said...

Hello Ms. Zussman--please forgive my marching into your comments. I'm a writer for Glamour magazine, where you wrote a sex column in the 90s. We would love to interview you for an upcoming piece but we're having trouble finding you! Perhaps you could email me?

thank you!

horsesandhounds said...

Dr. Zussman,
Did you teach a course on marriage and sexuality at Finch College in the seventies? If so, I was in your class.

pwacks said...

Hi Shirley I saw your article in the latest Alumnae Quarterly and then checked out your blog and photo. You look terrific and I have enjoyed reading your blog. I recently had my 50th h.s. reunions (Far Rockaway HS class of 59). I too entered Smith at 16 and have practiced medicine for many years. I am Ruth Oginz Robbins daughter, Peggy (one of the twins) (Margaret Robbins Wacks) in Lexington, MA. I would love to stay in touch. I have fond memories of you and your family as our Neponsit neighbors.

Sirinya said...

Dr Zussman - I found your blog vis-a-vis the Smith College Alumnae Quarterly. (I'm an '04). For starters, this blog just proves once again that my boyfriend's father (Pomona '60-something) is NOT too old to blog! And secondly, I was moved by your recollection of how nearly half of the women at the college had to leave (however temporarily) during the depression due to financial difficulties. It served as good reminder of how families viewed educating their daughters at that time. Hopefully that has changed. I feel very, very lucky that my parents - who have no sons - felt that it was very important to send their daughters to the best schools they were admitted to (in this case, Smith and Yale.) Thank you for blogging!