It's 1957 -- I am at a posh restaurant in New York. I delight in having my handsome husband sitting next to me. On his right is the first director of the Human Sexuality Center at LIJ Hillside Center. She is charming all of us. Next to her is the couple who have contributed a million dollars to fund the Center. They are our hosts tonight.
Across the table from me are our guests of honor, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Their work has started the world talking about sex, sex, sex. It is a time at the height of their celebrity. As a newcomer to the field of sex therapy, I can't believe I am having dinner in their company.
My seat at the table faces the wide door that opens into the restaurant. As my glance falls in that direction, I see Margaret Mead coming through the door, followed by a group of about six, all of them in colorful ethnic attire. I think there should be a band beating drums. Dr. Mead moves in a slow, measured way towards her table. She is facing in my direction and notices my smile of recognition. She stops and remarks:
"How nice to see you, Shirley, and in such good company." Masters and Johnson rise to greet her, and they address each other as Maggie, Ginny, and Bill. I whisper to my husband that I can't believe I'm apart of this scene. Is it really happening?
As she moves on, I am asked how I know Margaret Mead. I explain that a few years ago, I was working on my doctoral dissertation. The topic I chose was Husbands in the Delivery Room, a popular practice today but considered radical at that time by both prospective parents and obstetricians.
I wanted to explore delivery customs in other cultures; so, feeling very courageous, I arranged a consultation with Margaret Mead, considered a leading authority in the field of anthropology and revered as a faculty member at Columbia University. (Despite her status, she never became a professor because no women were given that rank then!)
Dr. Mead was interested in my work and became a member of my Doctoral Committee. She opened doors for me in many ways. The one I remember most is the door to her office in the Tower of the Museum of Natural History.
As I told my story that evening, I kept pinching myself (and my husband) that I had become a subject of interest to this amazing group.
Now it's 2010 -- I am one of the few survivors at the dinner party, perhaps the only one left that remembers that bright, shining moment in time for me. I am having lunch with a young student, who tells me that she wants to become a sex therapist.
At some point I bring up the names Masters and Johnson. She dismisses them as irrelevant today. I don't even try to describe to her their enormous impact on our sociey. I reflect on how many young people today probably have never even heard their names.
A few days later, a friend brings up the name of Margaret Mead, a name rarely heard today -- her books frequently unread. My friend describes Mead's findings as inaccurate. I don't challenge her.
As I sit at my desk, I find myself wondering -- What is fame? What survives? What is knowledge? I have no answers -- I decide to go to the gym!