Herman A. Greenberg

Interviewed on May 6, 1982
Subject: reminiscences on Professor Herbert Friedman (Instructor in Biology, 1927-1929)

[no audio is available for this interview]

Subject coverage

  • Friedman's travels and earlier career
  • Professor Otto C. Glaser (Chairman of the Biology Department)
  • Dean Frederick Woodbridge
  • Jewish representation at Amherst College
  • The exclusion of Jews from fraternities
  • Mr. Tilford and his time after Amherst
  • The S.S. Soufley
  • Black students at Amherst
  • The residential situation for non-fraternity students
  • Harvard Law School
  • Bull Warren
  • Interactions with Harvard undergraduates


[This transript was created at the time of the original recording and may contain errors and omissions.]

Herman A. Greenberg ‘30 
Reminiscences on Prof. Herbert Friedman (at Amherst 1927-29) 
Grosvenor House, Room 25 
May 6 1982 
Horace W. Hewlett 
For: Amherst College 

This is Horace Hewlett talking with Herman A. Greenberg of the Class of 1930, of San Francisco, who is returning to Amherst for the first time since his son’s graduation from the College in 1965. 

HWH: Mr. Greenberg, would you continue please? 

Greenberg: The year I talk of was 1926. George Daniel Olds was still President of the College and he enters, in a small way, what I am about to relate. The Chairman of the Biology Department at that time was Professor Otto C. Glaser, and in that year Professor Glaser needed in his department an instructor, and he found a young man by the name of Herbert Friedman. Friedman had already taken his Doctorate and was an ornithologist and already, although he was quite young, an ornithologist of distinction. He had made the safaris to both the African and Amazonian jungles and had published his huge tome Friedman on the Cow Bird. Friedman was a Jew, and as such, the academic situation at that time and up to that time, made it extraordinarily difficult for Jews to be appointed to collegiate faculties. Friedman could not get a position, and at that time was employed at the Fogg Museum at Harvard as a taxidermist-- stuffing birds! I have the story from Professor Glaser, with whom I was very close. 

He went to President Olds and said that he was going to appoint Herbert Friedman as instructor in the department. President Olds, who was a sweet, decent gentleman (he was an interim president trying to heal the wounds of the Meiklejohn affair). This was his last year as President, he was succeeded by Arthur Stanley Pease. He told this, as I stated, to Mr. Olds who said, “Oh dear, this raises problems.” He said, “Would you be good enough to go to New York and talk this out with Dean Woodbridge?” That was Frederick Woodbridge who was then Dean of the graduate faculties at Columbia University, an alumnus of Amherst and a member of the Board of Trustees. And, probably because of his position in the academic world, they turned the consultation on faculty appointments over to him. 

Professor Glaser went to New York and saw Dean Woodbridge and told him that he was going to appoint Herbert Friedman. Now I might say parenthetically at this point, that up to that time no Jew had ever been appointed to the faculty of Amherst College. Having told Woodbridge of his plan, Glaser quoted Woodbridge, Dean of the Graduate Faculties, a philosopher by trade. Woodbridge came on like a truck driver and said, quote: Over my dead body!! end quote. Professor Glaser said to him, “If that’s the way it has to be, that’s the way it’s going to be.” And he appointed Friedman, as Instructor in the Biology Department. 

The remainder of the story I have from Friedman, with whom I became friendly. When Friedman arrived the following fall, he presented himself to President Olds. And Mr. Olds received him very warmly, very kindly, and said, “We are very happy to have you here, and you can stay at Amherst as long as you care to stay, but I must tell you that you will never be anything more than an instructor at Amherst College.” Friedman stayed on here for perhaps two or three years, left and had a most distinguished career thereafter, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. 

This is the end of my narration. But I would add a postscript. I would not want this story to indicate that there was a generalized anti-Semitism at Amherst College. I am a Jew. I was a student at this College. It was one of the great experiences of my life-- my four years here. To my knowledge Amherst College never had a numerus clausus that had to do with either Jews or what we then called Negroes, but there were not too many Jews-- the total college population then was about 800. Jews, for one reason or another, tended not to come to Amherst, perhaps for the following reason. The social life of the College was dominated entirely by the fraternities and I would estimate that at the time I was a student here that 96 to 98 percent of the college population belonged to the fraternities, and the fraternities, universally (there were 12 or 13 houses here), denied admission to Jews or Negroes. For myself, this made little difference. I’m not at all certain in my own mind, whether even if I qualified, I would have joined a fraternity. But the College was mine-- the faculty, the library, and I grew up here, and if that be anti-Semitism, and it was, it was a genteel sort of thing, a gentleman’s agreement. We were not members of the Club, and at best, we were kindly tolerated. It’s for that reason that I have never come back to a reunion, nor will I ever. The College is close and dear to me, but I see no point at this time, fifty-odd years later, of slapping backs of people who tolerated me. I learned at that time to dislike and distrust the word “tolerance”-- who are you to tolerate me? I add this rather lengthy postscript because I don’t want the record to show that Amherst College as such had a bias other than what I’ve related. 

HWH: I’d like to ask you a question. 

Greenberg: Please do, please. 

HWH: Given the situation you were in, not invited to join a fraternity, really not interested in joining one, were most of your friends Jewish? 

Greenberg: No. This was part of my education. For three years I lived here with Ernest Holbrook Tilford. Tilford came from a farm family in upper New York, Washington County, New York, where they had been for over 200 years. Ernest was a Son of the American Revolution, a Scotch Presbyterian. The only Jews in Ernest’s life before myself were two-- one was a calf peddler who went around to the farms buying calves and over the years had become close to the Tilford family, who liked him, considered him a decent honest man; and the other was a High School teacher of Ernest’s at Hudson Falls, a Miss Paul, who was a Jewess, and she had a great influence on the young Tilford. Beyond that, he had no Jews. 

I came from New York City. Where I lived, I was brought up in an almost entirely Jewish community. That was true at my High School, which was one of the great secondary schools of the country at that time, Boys’ High School of Brooklyn, and I came to Amherst because of Boys’ High School where three members of the faculty at that time were Amherst alumni and they would choose two or three of the students, as they saw it, and suggest that they go to Amherst, and that’s how I came here. 

HWH: May I ask if those members of the faculty at Boys’ High School were Jewish? 

Greenberg: They were not. Not one of them. One of them was Dr. Ernest D. Daniels who taught us Latin, Greek, and was in the Class of eighteen-eighty-something at Amherst. There was Frederick Julius Pohl of the Class of 1913. 

HWH: An eminent author, you know. 

Greenberg: Eminent. 

HWH: ..historian, Vikings-- 

Greenberg: ..historian, Vikings-- 

HWH: He’s living in Westfield right now, as a visiting lecturer at Westfield State College. 

Greenberg: Is he! For goodness sake! And the other was Dr. Stone who taught mathematics. None of those was Jewish and that never came-- never was mentioned in my discussions with them-- the idea of Jewish or not Jewish-- it was never mentioned. And so, as I say, that’s what brought me to this College. Well, to get back to Tilford and myself. We lived together for three years. That’s an intimate relationship particularly in years at that time, growing-up years. It was an amazing education, that alone, for both of us. Here was this Scotch Presbyterian, Son of the American Revolution, this Jew from New York, we rubbed off on each other and to this day we are close friends. He lives in Tucson, I in San Francisco, but no month goes by without some communication-- letter, telephone call, an occasional visit to Tucson by myself. Does this answer your question. 

HWH: Yes, but that raises another question. 

Greenberg: Please. 

HWH: What did Mr. Tilford do with his life after Amherst? 

Greenberg: That was interesting. Ernest was the eldest son of four his father and mother had. It was a farm family; they had 200 acres in Washington County and a herd of cows. Ernest was the only student. The three brothers became farmers. The Tilford family was land rich and money poor and what money they got from their milk they put back into the milk barn, into the cow barn. The cow barn had electricity and running water; the beautiful old house did not have running water or electricity, but it was necessary to have running water and electricity in the cow barn because that cut down on the bacterial count-- you got a little bit more for your milk. Ernest from his earliest years, and certainly when I knew him, was an historian, and one of his hobbies, if you will, was genealogy-- he had traced the Tilford family back to Tallioferro who carried the banner for William the Bastard in the conquest of England and Ernest was graduated from this College in 1929 and stayed on to take a Master’s Degree in history, hut midway through he became ill, a thyroid condition of some kind, and he went back home and they operated on him and his doctors advised him that he should not take on laborious work and he should take on some kind of work that kept him in the open and fresh air. So Ernest stayed on and took a position as a Social worker for the State of New York and he rose in that bureaucracy. We come to World War II in 1941, Ernest was unmarried and he was in his ‘thirties by that time, and Ernest among other things I should have mentioned, was a confirmed pacifist. He had resigned from the Sons of the American Revolution on the grounds that he called them war mongers and he was subject to the draft of World War II. He was examined physically on three occasions and tuned down for physical reasons. He was called again for the fourth time-- apparently the Army was scratching the bottom of the barrel, they needed manpower-- and they appointed a panel of four doctors to examine him. The doctors could not come up with a unanimous decision and they put it to Tilford whether he thought he could serve. Now this pacifist was a Calvinist, a Scotch Presbyterian, and honesty was cardinal to him and he said, “Yes, I think I can.” They put him in the Navy and he went to Boot Camp on Lake Michigan. He was thirty-five years old, thirty-six years old at the time and they made him a Pharmacist’s Mate. Now during a war a Pharmacist’s Mate, his almost exclusive duty was to diagnose and treat venereal disease, which was quite a thing for Ernest Tilford. But then, they put him on a Destroyer in the Pacific, the S.S. Saufley... 

HWH: The S.S. what? 

Greenberg: The S.S. Saufley. S-A-U-F-L-E-Y. And on the Saufley he saw the most concentrated battle action in the Pacific-- the whole of it-- Leyte Gulf, Kamikaze pilots. The Saufley survived as did Ernest and when I saw him after the war, he was still in uniform, and this Pacifist, this gentle, Scotch Presbyterian (he was an elder in the church), his chest was covered with battle ribbons from here to there. He took advantage of the G.I. Bill and took a Master’s Degree at the University of Chicago in Social Science and went back to the State of New York, to Rochester I think, where he became head of some organization. When Ernest was in his ‘forties he married Margaret, who was a Social Psychiatrist in Rochester. She was a Scotswoman and the Scots were everything to Ernest. She was a graduate of the University of Glasgow and they had one child, Frank, and apparently as a baby Frank developed a serious asthmatic condition. As a result, they moved to Tucson, Arizona where Ernest became part of the social service bureaucracy of Arizona, for some years, when he retired. Ernest, now, for some years past, has been a thorn in the side of the Arizona establishment. He is what they would call a radical. He gets into causes-- the Indians, things of that sort. And Ernest is the only man I’ve ever met in my life, who in its literal and pristine sense could be called a Christian. And he’s been called a Communist-- absolutely absurd! If Christ were a Communist, maybe Ernest is a Communist, I don’t know. [chuckle] 

HWH: That’s very interesting. He must be a good friend of a classmate of mine, who is a very close friend, in Tucson, who went to Tucson for the same reason that Ernest did, for respiratory problems and he set up and operated the Center for the Handicapped. 

Greenberg: Oh I’m sure Ernest knows him. 

HWH: His name is Bill Creamer, if you see Ernest. 

Greenberg: I’ll ask him. 

HWH: I’m sure he’ll know him. 

Greenberg: Yes, yes. 

HWH: He was also from Brooklyn, [chuckle] I meant to ask you, too-- 

Greenberg: Please. 

HWH: --if Ernest was a member of a fraternity? 

Greenberg: No, no. You see, the situation at that time, when Ernest and I were students, was as follows: every Freshman had to live in a dormitory, but by the time they became sophomores they moved into fraternity houses and the new freshman class came in. Now the only people who remained in the dormitories were these Nu Phis, the non-fraternity people-- Jews, negroes, and-- 

HWH: Not many of the latter. 

Goldberg: Well we had as many negroes as we had Jews-- twenty, thirty, and all very, very distinguished. I mean, my God, the men, the black men that I knew at college that I grew up with, some of them went on to great careers. There again, it’s a little hard for me to understand-- I read the current Amherst Student interviews, the black students up in arms, discrimination, but there was no feeling of that then. Amherst had been a hot bed of abolitionism in the last century and they turned out Negro graduates who became teachers, high school principals-- many of them. And they would send up each year two or three of their very best; Amherst was happy to have them and scholarship money was aplenty--

HWH: The greatest example of that was Dunbar High School... 

Greenberg: Dunbar High School in Washington. Yes, that’s where Charlie Drew came from, Merce Cook, and a number of others. 

HWH: Monty Cobb. 

Greenberg: Of course. Oh there were any number of them. Well anyway, we stayed on in the dormitory. I might say that this inchoate Nu Phi group which had no organization, just happened because the College in those years, each year published the general averages of each fraternity house and they also published the average of this inchoate Nu Phi group, and we were always at least ten points higher-- 8 to 10 points higher than the highest of the fraternity houses. 

HWH: And I would guess that even then that Deke was usually on the bottom. 

Greenberg: Probably so! [chuckle] 

HWH: They were for many years. 

Greenberg: So that was part of our education, you see. These negroes who call themselves Blacks now-- when you live with men for four years there’s an intimacy. Now for the first six months those blacks were more white than you were-- very careful and precise in their language. But then as the time went on these inhibitions and barriers dropped off, you were accepted and then, you, the white man, became agitated. They went back in their private talk, including you, to their own kind of talk, their jive, and so that, too, for this Jew from Brooklyn, I had Ernest, I had the black men. This College was wonderful for us, wonderful. These boys in the fraternities-- parochial, isolated among themselves, never participating or partaking in any of these things that I talk about-- they missed a lot. 

HWH: Yes I can see that. And I’d be curious, also-- you’re an attorney-- where did you go to law school? 

Greenberg: Harvard. 

HWH: Did you run into such things at Harvard as you did at Amherst? 

Greenberg: No. The Dean of the Law School was the fabulous Roscoe Pound, genius and slightly on the mad side. In those years anybody, any man, there were no women, any man any male who came from an institution that called itself a college, who gave out a piece of paper that was called a diploma, was per se admitted to the Harvard Law School. My class, I was in the Class of 1933, my class entered 1,000 men and we were told in the first week: look to the right of you, look to the left of you, one of you will survive. 

HWH: Was that Bull Warren?

Greenberg: Bull Warren, yes. And that’s the way it was. My class graduated 300 odd men. 

HWH: Out of a thousand! 

Greenberg: And that was not because the men who were busted were poor students, this was done on a curve and only the top survived. Now, in answer to your question-- anybody could come. The law, for some reason or other is a kind of Jewish trade-- there were a lot of Jews there. I never saw a black face. I had very little to do with the University outside of the Law School, but rarely did I see a black face on campus. And I had to believe that certainly at the college, Harvard College, there were limitations numerus causus, but I had no real evidence of that. 

HWH: Well that’s understandable because I think most of the students at Harvard, it would have to be so in the law school, lived in other than University housing. 

Greenberg: We had no housing provided for us at that time. We had to live in rooming houses and things of that sort. But as I say, we law students had very little to do with the rest of the University. As a matter of fact, Pound divorced the Law School from the University. He never went to them for money; he raised his own money; he never allowed Mr. Lowell to come to the place (Lowell was President at that time). So we were isolated from the University, but if I may add about Harvard at that time-- I knew very few Harvard undergraduates, but in Harvard Square there was a huge cafeteria, the Georgian Cafeteria, and occasionally of an evening I’d be in there for a cup of coffee, and there’d be some Harvard undergraduates there and we’d get to talking. They found out I was from Amherst; they looked down their noses-- to them, Amherst, Amherst? Is that a preparatory school? Arrogant. For example, I remember one of them said, he was a sophomore, and he said, “I study philosophy under Alfred North Whitehead.” I said, “The hell you do! Whitehead meets with you once every two weeks, addresses 300 men in a lecture and the rest of your time is spent with young tutors.” I said, “Did you ever hear of Gail Kennedy?” “No!” “Charles Hanson Toll?” “No!” I said, “Those were philosophers. I learned philosophy from them. They were teachers, great teachers so don’t tell me about Alfred North Whitehead. I know more about Whitehead than you do, I read him!” [Laughter] 

HWH: We’re getting to the end of this side of tape. Is there more that you’d like to say? 

Greenberg: No, unless you’d like some further questions. 

HWH: I think this has been a very pleasant surprise that you came in the building knowing my name. I answered back, I don’t know if you heard me, when you came in this morning. 

Greenberg: What did you say? 

HWH: I just said, “I’m up here.”

Greenberg: Well it’s been wonderful for me to be able to chat with you. 

HWH: Let me send you a copy of this. 

Greenberg: As you will. 

HWH: In manuscript form. You can make any corrections. 

Greenberg: No, no, no I would not edit it. But if you sent me a copy I would like to send it to Ernest. 

[Final copy 
June 1, 1982]

Rights and Citation Information

The interviewer and interviewee place no restrictions -- other than standard literary credit -- on the use of this transcript.

Suggested citation format:
Oral history interview with Herman Greenberg, 1982 May 6, in Amherst College Oral History Project Records, (Box 1, Folder 10), Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library <https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/holdings/amherst-college-oral-history-project/herman-greenberg>

For information about the Amherst College Oral History Project Records please see the collection's finding aid.

For further information, please contact Archives & Special Collections at archives@amherst.edu. 

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