Chapel as a short, painless course

I was touched by the recollection of Professor Joseph Epstein by his son Joshua M. Epstein ’76 (Insights, Summer 2012).

In September 1953, I, an atheistic, socialistic Jewish kid from New York City, suddenly found myself in the midst of Amherst’s bewildering high WASP culture, where people, the likes of whom I had met only twice in my entire life, didn’t seem to be too passionate about anything. (I later learned this wasn’t true, but exuberant they weren’t. I also learned that the bewilderment went both ways, like meeting a bear in the woods, according to Mark Twain. When that happens, there are two surprises. You have one and the bear has the other.)

That first semester I took introductory philosophy with Professor Joseph Epstein. Now, there was a name I could relate to! Professor Epstein, an atheist like me, was nimble and witty. I wrote a good final exam and finished my first semester very satisfied with my performance although extremely unhappy. Rejection by the fraternities didn’t help.

My take on chapel was quite different from that of Professor Epstein, who gave one talk and made sure he was never invited back. Chapel lasted 10 minutes. You didn’t have to pray or anything; you could just sit there, as I did. I never objected, figuring it was part of the prevailing culture.

For me, chapel was a painless course in the American Protestant religion. When I arrived at Amherst I didn’t know Protestant from Catholic. In chapel I discovered the Protestant hymns, which I sang vigorously, all the while disbelieving their every word. No matter. The music was glorious, although once, at least, out of place. The rabbi from Smith was followed by “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Oy vey!

I’m still an atheist, and I’m still very interested in religion, although I never took a course in it. Chapel helped to repair this grave deficiency. It played a large but unappreciated role in the education of non-Christians like me.

Bob Carlen ’57
Stony Brook, N.Y.

Reclaiming Davis

This summer I decided to design and build a patio out of reclaimed stone materials. I pondered many designs and ideas, but when a friend told me that he had salvaged some of the bluestone from Davis Dorm (“Sad but satisfying,” back cover, Summer 2012), I just knew I had to incorporate it. After all, I lived in Davis my senior year and have countless memories from inside that building.

The centerpiece of the patio is a fire pit that I built out of old curbstones. The Davis bluestones are inlaid and radiate outward from the center. The veins of bluestone point north, south, east and west, in the fashion of a compass.

A piece of Amherst (literally) now resides in my backyard!

Josh Ahearn ’02
North Brookfield, Mass.

Disturbed by dorm renaming

The item about the renaming of the former Chi Phi fraternity house (“Update your campus map,” College Row, Summer 2012) should truly disturb all Amherst alumni who have an interest in the preservation of the historical significance of individuals and history of the college.

In 1984 the college renamed all the former fraternity houses for former Amherst faculty, administration and alumni. At that time, the former Chi Phi House was renamed Hamilton House in honor of James S. Hamilton, Class of 1906, who, while an undergraduate member of that fraternity, wrote the famous college song “Lord Jeffery Amherst” and several other traditional college songs. The “renaming” of a house named for one of Amherst’s distinguished alumni, Jimmy Hamilton, is, I assume, the new means of rewarding generous donors to the college by placing their name on a building previously so named, totally ignoring the traditional significance of the individual honored in the 1984 renaming process.

What next? Is renaming Plimpton, Hitchcock, Mayo-Smith, Humphries, Porter and Seligman houses, or Charles Pratt, Morrow, Morris Pratt, Williston, North and South, in the Advancement Office plan to honor wealthy Amherst donors? Sadly, those famous alumni, faculty and administration members who have been so honored may, like many former college historical traditions, be removed from prominence, and their historical significance to the college found only in the Higgins College History Room or the stacks of Archives and Special Collections.

M. Barnes Taft ’57
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Varsity wrestling and Title IX

In your Summer issue, you celebrate all the wonderful things made possible through Title IX (“How Title IX Changed Everything”). Ms. [Katie] Fretwell [’81] is quoted on page 23 as stating, “I never heard a peep [about male athletes being resentful]. I don’t think there was anything obviously taken away from the men’s programs as we added women’s programs.” I beg to differ. Wrestling, as a varsity sport at Amherst, was put to death in 1990. The timing of its execution leads me to conclude that this program was, indeed, a victim of Title IX. I’m sure we could find similar examples of this kind of thing in other areas.

James C. Daugherty ’54
Bradenton, Fla.

Lovely writing for a “writing college”

Amherst magazine is available to me by way of a young friend currently attending Amherst College. What an exciting place and choice of study! It has been said that Amherst is a “writing college,” certainly substantiated by the excellent and lovely writing in Amherst magazine.

Rosemary Beck
Scottsbluff, Neb.

Popularity contest

Every story in Amherst magazine is also available online at These were the five most-viewed stories from our Summer 2012 issue.

We welcome letters from our readers.

Send them to:

Amherst Magazine
Office of Public Affairs
P.O. Box 5000
Amherst, MA 01002

Or email them to