Interviewed in September 1963
[no audio is available for this interview]
Rights and citation information
[This transcript was created at the time of the original interview and may contain errors and omissions.]
This conversation with Mrs. King took place in the parlor of her home at 41 Lincoln Avenue in Amherst, Massachusetts in September 1965. The recording of the conversation is not available; it was in her possession when she died on February 17, 1967. -Horace W. Hewlett
A Conversation with Margaret Pinckney King
MPK: What kinds of things do you want me to talk about? For example, one afternoon, Dean Gates was to speak and while Stanley was getting the order of exercises in his robe upstairs, Dean Gates said to me, “I’m terribly nervous about this meeting.” And I said, “But why-- a man of your experience?” And he said, “The last time I was here some of the students set off an alarm clock two or three times during my service, and I was a little rattled.” And I said firmly, “Well, you needn’t worry about that. When Stanley’s here, there’ll be good behavior.”
HWH: Things like that, Peg. I’d be interested to hear your recollections and this is the kind of thing that we would like to store. Whatever you say would not be opened until such date as you wished. I’d be interested to hear of Stanley’s negotiations with Alexander Meiklejohn.
MPK: Well, I think I had better keep off that. I had thought of beginning by saying Amherst had never meant anything in my life. I knew nothing about it until long ago in Providence my neighbors were Attorney General William B. Greenough who was an Amherst man...
HWH: Class of ‘88, I think.
MPK: Yes, good for you. ...and Judge Stearns [Charles F. ‘89] a very handsome, silent man, and Judge Lyman. Then Amherst was brought to my attention because the Dean of Brown, Alexander Meiklejohn, was called to Amherst to the great joy of Brown.
HWH: I saw a man at Harvard the other day and I said to him that I hope we feel more pleased stealing Stanley Teele from you than you did taking Lloyd Jordan from us.
MPK: Yes, it adds a little color. But I thought I might make up a little list of things I might want to talk about and see what you thought and whether you thought them significant enough.
HWH: Peg, really-- anything, and if there’s something that you decide you’re not interested in, we’ll just cut it out and destroy it.
MPK: Which seems a waste. If I thought a little personal touch like that would give me pleasure.
HWH: But this tape you could use over and over again, so if we want to erase it, nothing is wasted but time. And I think the main thing is really to try to forget that that little thing is sitting there-- that little microphone. Would you get over that?
MPK: Well, you can see it doesn’t bother me, can’t you? Except that I might think afterwards, “Oh! I could have put that a little better or a little more vividly or something.”
HWH: Well, that can always be done. Again, what I would propose is the way Columbia does it. They make a typescript from the tape with two copies: an original and one carbon. Then the person talking goes over this and changes it as she or he wishes right on the paper. And the the typescript is put in a vault and the carbon is just an extra precaution, a duplicate book, so to speak.
MPK: Well, one of the episodes, for instance: when Francis [Plimpton ‘22] and I were talking about it, I said, “You know, the most interesting thing your father ever told me was how he started his collecting.” Then I told Francis about it-- a portrait of Commodore Perry. And I told it in some detail and Francis took out his notebook and he said, “I’ll have to ask my little brother [Calvin Plimpton ‘39] where that is now. It’s very valuable.” Well, I wouldn’t put that in.
HWH: Let me ask you, Peg: When did you and Stanley come to know George Arthur Plimpton?
MPK: Stanley had known him ever since he was on the Board, certainly. I didn’t until-- I was trying to recall what was actually our first meeting and I couldn’t, but it must have been one of the early times when Stanley was coming to a Trustee meeting. There was attention paid to a Trustee wife in those days. So I and any other Trustee wife would walk around town and behave ourselves until the men were through.
HWH: Did you use to gather at the President’s House?
MPK: Oh no, no! You never gathered at all. We just stayed at the Inn. Stanley went to meetings and then very soon after that I must have met G.A. and his wife. And then, of course, they came. I saw them constantly after that. They came to visit us on the Vineyard once when he was coming back from a meeting of mathematicians at Bologne in connection with his book Rara Arithmetica-- and I ought to go into that sometime because it was very amusing. We’d generally stay overnight when we started down for the island, stay overnight at Walpole, see them that way, and in New York, too.
HWH: I’ve heard he was a very gracious man of the old school-- of continental manner.
MPK: Well, I don’t remember him as that. He had a great deal of dignity and reserve and his only unbending, because he had a great dignity, was in connection with the College. You see, Stanley and he always had jokes together, they were two Yankees, you know. And they loved all the work they did together.
HWH: They saw quite a bit of each other, too, didn’t they?
MPK: Oh, always. Well, it was like his relationship with Dwight Morrow: more that of an older brother. It was very delightful to see them together. And their rapport on the Board was evidently perfect. I have a number of things to remember about that.
HWH: Mr. Plimpton was Chairman of the Board until ‘36, wasn’t he?
MPK: For 32 years he’d been Chairman of the Board. And one of the things that one remembers of him-- and Francis speaks of it-- is the unblushing way that he interested people in his projects for education because so many people tried to conceal it a little. But G.A. always gave you the feeling that he was giving you an opportunity to share in something very important, very vital. And, of course, he did more than anybody can record to help the cause of education. But Amherst, I think, was one of his first interests. He had that Amherst man’s early depth, you know, of feeling that there was no place like it.
HWH: Were you the first President’s wife who invited the Board and the ladies into the President’s House?
MPK: I don’t know. I think Mrs. Harris did quite a good deal when they were there. I remember once I was walking with Stanley one evening as far as the Psi U. corner. He was on his way to a Trustee meeting-- and this was when he was President-- in the chem lab, which was a terrible place to meet, especially when they smoked a lot, and Crock Thompson caught up with us. I was going to the movies during this meeting and Crock said, “Well, Peg, are you going to do a Mrs. Harris on us?” And I said, “What do you mean? I’m not going to if it’s anything you wouldn’t care for.” And he said, “The Trustees used to meet in the President’s House and Mrs. Harris would stay upstairs in the room over the meeting, but when she thought that George had had enough, she would pound on the ceiling and the Trustees would melt and go home.” So I said, “No, I shan’t do that.” Of course, the King Administration had so much of its time consumed by the war, you see. First, there was the flood, then the hurricane, then the war elsewhere, then the war home.
HWH: I had wondered whether Mr. Plimpton had anything to do with the Trustee meetings in arranging or suggesting the social appendages or whether this was...
MPK: Well, of course, I wouldn’t know what he had done with others. He was, for instance, when the Moores came up to the dedication of the chem laboratory, he was very keen (Stanley was President-elect then), G.A. was very keen about how to take care properly of the Moores. President Pease took care of Mrs. Moore and Stanley and I took care of the oldest son. And G.A. and Anne were somewhere in there. It was very carefully organized.
I don’t know whether Stanley has ever told this or not. I knew-- because I had been an active Trustee at Vassar-- that every building was a liability as well as an asset because of utilities and so on. G.A. and Stanley brought that out at lunch in a very diplomatic way. Shortly after, Mrs. Moore asked if she might have a private room in the President’s House to talk with her sons. She did, of course. There was nothing to do but go ahead on the building, but evidently she came out and announced that she and her sons had never realized how much there was to do to fit in a new building and support it. The upkeep was a good deal. She said that she and her sons had decided to add-- I think it was a quarter of a million for upkeep, and the tag line of the story is that that was the day after the break in the market. It was so touching. I knew as an ex-Trustee how they must be feeling to have that burden removed. It was taken care of and not a strain on the Treasury.
HWH: I guess Mead has an endowment, but Moore must have been the first Amherst building to be so endowed.
MPK: Yes, and of course, she was very much in touch with the whole thing, too. It was rare, too, to have the donor say, “If this isn’t enough, just let me know.”
And we had that experience with the Little Red Schoolhouse. Stanley had been very much concerned with the fact that the young faculty wives had to pool their resources and take their children over to Northampton to school. He thought it would make a very attractive point if he could have a school of that grade in connection with the College. So he asked Jim Turner if he was interested. Jim was that perfectly delightful bachelor, you know, such a good friend to the College. As his chauffeur told me once, “You know, the nearer Mr. Turner gets to Amherst, the more years fall off him.” He said yes indeed he would be interested and he gave a generous amount. But as he said to Stanley, “That’s surely not going to be enough. That’s always the way with a gift for a building. Let me know what you need to make it just the place you need it to be.” Well, things like that make Presidents fall over in a faint. But they are most agreeable, because it is such a matter of maintenance, you know.
HWH: Seems to me, Peg, that Stanley and Mr. Plimpton used to have a kind of competition to see who could approach whom for contributions to the College.
MPK: Well, I don’t think that Stanley ever hoped to equal, certainly not to excel, Plimpton in it, because he really was wonderful. And he would say to some of the younger men, “Now, do you know so and so? You must take pains to show him what Amherst is.” He had a mystique for Amherst, as so many of those earlier men did. I remember that when it became clear that we had to have a new gym, it was the bottom of the depression. And perhaps you’ll remember that Stanley asked the students if they would give ten dollars apiece. He said, “That will give me a talking point. If you men can afford it, why out in the world they will.”
HWH: Yes, indeed! Ours was the first class to be asked and the only class not to use it.
MPK: Really? I hadn’t realized that. But when Stanley asked the Board’s permission to go out and get the money for it, they said, “Well Stanley, you’ll probably break your neck. Don’t do it. You know it’s the bottom of the Depression.” And Stanley said, “I only know that we need a new gym and I’m going to get it.” So he went first to Plimpton and said, “Now, G.A., I’ve put in my ante, the first one, and I’ve come for yours.” And G.A. who loved to banter with Stanley, said, “Well, Stanley, you know I haven’t got any money.” And Stanley said, “G.A. where is that $160,000 that you asked me about last November?-- about the investment of it?” And G.A. said to him, “Why Stanley, did I have $160,000 last November?” And Stanley said, “You certainly did. I gave you excellent advice on it which, of course, I have watched with the greatest interest. It’s been a good investment for you and now I’m here to collect my commission.” And G.A. said, “Well, I guess I have to give you that.” And he did.
HWH: That’s wonderful!
MPK: But they enjoyed that sort of thing. I was in the rumble seat of our then green Packard when G.A. came up very soon after we’d first been here. I sat in the rumble seat while Stanley took G.A. in the front and took him around to show what was doing or what was planned. For instance, the roof of the Octagon and the roof of Morgan were in such poor condition that we had to take out additional workingman’s insurance for the workmen who were on the roof for fear they’d fall off with the roofs. So we tooted around and saw everything that needed to be seen. And as we drove up around by what I was fixing for the front door of the President’s house, G.A. looked up at that beautiful, great, big elm that’s there and said, “Stanley, that’s a magnificent tree; you know those branches ought to be guyed though.” And Stanley said, “Look again G.A. Peg’s got them already guyed up. Better change your glasses.”
Well there’s all that sort of thing. I suppose you’ve been recording this.
MPK: I see. I have always been interested in what starts people off on their individual careers and I once asked G.A. how he began to collect. As he told me, when he graduated from college, the Philadelphia Exposition was going on and he wanted to go but couldn’t afford it. So he asked Ginn and Company to credit him as a salesman in that area. They said, “But it’s frightfully tough down in that Pennsylvania Dutch country and you’re young and inexperienced.” And he said, “But I want to work at it and go to that Exposition.” And go he did and chalked up a record of sales that beat any previous one. Ginn and Company took him into their concern.
HWH: Did he sell all kinds of books, Peg?
MPK: Anything and everything. He was a wonderful salesman of anything he wanted to sell. One evening he was walking home from work in Ginn and Company which was then, I think, at 75th Street-- walking to save money and get some exercise-- and in a little way he saw one of those old flags that hang out from little slits of places when there is an auction going on. All unknowing, he stepped in. They were just closing the bidding on what we’d now call a primitive of an officer in the American Naval uniform. And G.A. said, “I found myself saying $20 and hastily it was knocked down to me and wrapped in a newspaper and out I was again on 5th Avenue walking home minus $20 which I shouldn’t have spent that way.”
But inside a year-- I won’t vouch for these figures-- he was offered $2,500 for it and many a time refused $25,000, because it was found to be the only extant, known portrait of Commodore Perry and was, of course, immensely valuable.
When they finally got to 61 Park Avenue, which had a lovely English basement entrance with a fireplace, he put Commodore Perry up over that fireplace and never moved it. He also had the pleasure of saying, no, he didn’t want to sell it to all the people who wanted to give him a great deal of money for it. And that began his yen for collecting.
HWH: And that was the beginning of this great collection that Cal [Plimpton] now has in the President’s house, I presume.
MPK: No, that was much later. He’s collected so many things! I think the next thing he began to collect was books on arithmetic. I don’t know why except that he was so good at financial things, but he had all the books used in time. The education of Dante, his index of his books on arithmetic which was called Rara Arithmetica was, oh, a good inch or two thick.
He talked about them all over. In fact, once he had to go to a mathematicians’ conference, an international one in Bologne, and talk about his books. This is a homely detail, but Anne, his wife, said, “Now, G.A., you have to take your morning coat and striped pants.” And G.A. said, “Why nobody wears those anymore. I’m not going to. I’d have to invest in it.” And Anne wisely said, “But you won’t be accredited in any other way unless you’re properly dressed.” She insisted on it. So off they went to Bologne. When they came back (this is before Stanley was President), we were at Vevey on the lake and they came to stay with us a few days. The conference had been very successful and he was grateful to Anne, because everyone was in morning coat and striped pants. And he had acquired a page-- a very valuable page of something or other. During their stay they wanted to see the wonderful little Swiss town of Gruyère where the cheese comes from. We went off in our little Peugeot with the top down, G.A. and I in the back telling me all about what he’d done. We got to the base of the little town Castlow Gruyère where they make the cheese. At the time G.A. had developed at Walpole all he could think of doing that could be done in the good old-fashioned way-- weaving tweed and so on. His eye lighted up and he said, “Oh, I wonder if we couldn’t make cheese at Walpole.” I could see it-- the look of anguish that spread over Anne’s face! Stanley stopped where the cheesemaker could talk to G.A., and Anne took me aside and said, “Peg, I can’t face making cheese at Walpole. Now G.A. doesn’t know any French and so when the questions that he’s going to ask are translated, if I mistake their meaning so that it becomes impossible to make cheese at Walpole-- don’t give me away, will you?” Of course, we didn’t, but to see G.A. stand there, you know, gradually giving up the magnificent idea of making cheese to imitate Gruyère as the cheesemaker questioned and answered him was very amusing. I’ve never forgotten it, because he was not easily thwarted.
At Walpole, too, we’d done so much we missed this. This is hearsay, but he had driven by an old inn in that neighborhood one day and saw that it was falling to pieces. So at once he did something about it: he bought it, restored it, got an admirable woman to run it, and then had a dedication of it with a little history of the surrounding countryside and the time when this old inn had been an inn. In those days an innkeeper had to give shelter and food to man and beast on demand. We all know the reason why. So on the day of the dedication G.A. wasn’t around at first, but when everybody had gathered-- there was a lunch, things done in good style as always-- an ox-cart appeared with a yoke of oxen and G.A. driving them (which is something of an expert’s task). He had a whip, an old-style good one, drew up before and pounded on the door and demanded shelter and food for him and his beasts.
MPK: I wish I could have seen it, but we were somewhere away.
HWH: Was this in the 1920s, Peg?
MPK: Well, the end of the 1920s. I don’t know how long it went on.
HWH: It seems to me sometime ago that Harry Kendall published a book on the history of-- was it Lewis Hill Farm?
MPK: Yes, that’s the one.
HWH: I believe this is the one that Mr. Plimpton developed into a magnificent place.
MPK: Mrs. Kendall, Harry’s mother, had a house near there. We’ve stayed there weekends and overnight going to the country. He had fixed the huge old barn with a floor of teakwood, because teakwood is so hard that it never splinters and the barn was big enough for a full badminton court. Really, a huge one. And in it he had put all the things he had collected, you know: the wooden Indians; the old Currier and Ives; and the old farming implements; anything that needed shelter. It was a wonderful place for the children, for the neighborhood. And it was there, I think, that Anne decided that the winters must be the difficult things and organized an orchestra just by asking the neighbors if they either played some instrument or wanted to play an instrument. And there were some who even wanted an instrument as hard as a violin, you know. But never mind, nothing daunted, they formed the orchestra. They had, you see, so much room there to do everything of that sort.
HWH: I suspect this is where Cal’s interest in piano started then.
MPK: I shouldn’t wonder.
HWH: Does Francis play an instrument, to your knowledge?
MPK: I don’t think so.
HWH: I wonder, too, if Mr. Plimpton went out to find the many items that he added to his collection, or whether he had agents who knew what he was interested in and spoke for him?
MPK: Well, he was a great rival, as time went on and his collections increased, of the fellow who was the great dealer in London of that day. Anyway, it was a race to the death, almost, between him and Mr. Morgan. If an item came in, they called the London dealer to take it. I think the great dispute was over Queen Elizabeth’s (the first, of course) corsets. And I wonder where they are, because I think G.A. won out on that. And he had a page of the Gutenberg Bible too which Mr. Morgan wanted, because he had a page. G.A. said one day to me, “You know, one of the great satisfactions in my life has been every year to refuse Mr. Morgan’s quarter of a million for Queen Elizabeth’s corsets.”
HWH: I think he died before Stanley arranged for the great purchase of the-- was it the Harmsworth Collection-- for the Folger? This would have interested him immensely, I imagine.
MPK: I asked him as we drove around at the Gruyère affair, and he told me he had got a page of this and that from the mathematics conference. I asked him what his methods were and he said, “Oh somehow I hear of those things,” and evidently wasn’t going to tell me. I was not a rival, needless to say, but he liked a little mystery about it. But, of course, he was in the market and a wonderful collector so that he did get in.
But you spoke of the 18th Century collection that’s now in the President’s House. It was toward the end of his life when he thought it would be interesting to make a collection of portraits of the 18th Century literati done contemporaneously, and that’s a wonderful collection. That was just after George Pratt died and he had accumulated half a dozen or so. Of course, that’s been added to.
HWH: I guess the oldest is probably the Chaucer.
MPK: I can’t keep up with them, and that monograph of Francis’s lists not a complete but only a partial list of what he collected. It doesn’t seem possible that one man could have done it-- and as busy a man as G.A.
HWH: No. I’m sure Francis’s monograph goes into some detail on the collections, but do you know whether most of these were kept together, or where they are now?
MPK: I don’t know.
HWH: I know the collection at the Lord Jeffery Inn, of course.
MPK: Yes. And he regretted very much that he couldn’t give all his collections to Amherst, because I think that was his first love. But he felt, and Stanley agreed with him, that they ought to be more immediately accessible to a larger audience for study and, of course, he was tremendously interested in Columbia, too.
MPK: Columbia was the place for them, but up here in the New England country it was a better place for the French and Indian War kinds of things.
HWH: You know, I’ve always been fearful of anyone, not necessarily a student, seeing those very valuable pieces hanging on the walls of the Inn and taking a liking to them.
MPK: I know.
HWH: It’s wonderful that only about two have disappeared over all these years.
Well, Peg, would you like to recall some of the problems you faced at the President’s house when you and Stanley arrived? I know it looks far different from the outside, but how about the inside? You did a piece for us in the Graduate’s Quarterly about fifteen years ago.
MPK: Yes, I loved that house. It was a very bad time in the world, so we wanted to do just as little, when we went in, as possible. So I only added, or made available, a few closets, but what bothered me were the grounds and the approach to that house. You came up to the east door which was at the very end of the house, and a very steep approach, too. If a bell rang in the service quarters while someone was standing at the front, they’d practically die of old age before the servant got there. So I asked Stanley if we could make the north door, which was a divided door, the front door, and he said, certainly. I said, “I’d feel better, though, if you asked George Pratt, who’s Chairman of the Committee on Buildings, and get the consent of the Board.” You’re expected to do whatever comes into your crazy head when you first come into a presidency, you see, and they let you have your hand. I didn’t doubt that, but I wanted authority. George Pratt, who knew something of what I had done on buildings at Vassar, said go ahead. So I thought I’d approach the problem cautiously. I had a duck walk made to go from the east door around the north corner of the house to the north door and I put a little sign saying, “Please Use This Door,” to show them that it really would be better because that entrance hall is lovely now and it accommodates crowds and all. Otherwise, they’d get stacked up at the east door, you know, and have to go all that way around to the coat room. One day, at some sort of a party, a young faculty came up and found one of the older men standing there with his thumb on the button and the young faculty said, “I think, sir, that we’re expected to go to the other door.” The older faculty turned on him with a face of fury, and he said, “I’ve gone in this front door for thirty years and I’m going in it ‘til I die.” I didn’t hear that ‘til afterwards. I don’t think I would have been daunted anyway, because I was sure it would work out all right. So I had one door made instead of the two doors. And then the approach by cars is very bad indeed around the corner of Morgan, you know, very scary. I cut down the approach down back of College Hall, which is very steep indeed, and then widened the drive around the front door.
HWH: There had always been a turn-around there?
MPK: Of sorts. No car could get by another and there was a little sort of graveyard plot out there in the center. So I did a lot of landscaping and then put seats and a table by Morgan so that if conferences needed to be in private, you know, Stanley would take someone over there and sit under the shade of the trees in Morgan and conduct things in quiet. It worked out very well.
HWH: It’s a lovely view of Morgan, too, from that door.
MPK: Yes. And then I had to make two coatrooms out of one. But it worked very well. I don’t think you’d realize how very bad it was, especially in a winter party, to have people coming in that long distance.
HWH: Yes. Did they have to go from that east door all the way through to the present coat room area to hang their things?
MPK: Oh, yes.
HWH: My! So that the room to the right as you came in was always a kind of little library or study.
MPK: Yes. I remember the east door was very convenient, if you wanted to look over whatever was going on over by the Senior Fence. And I saw somewhere, a quotation, I think when that site was chosen for the President’s house. Hitchcock was very much against it. He said, “It ought not to be there among the other buildings because then the President cannot overlook what goes on and that will put him in a very bad position.” And when we overlooked what was going on in the days when there was very spirited rivalry between what’s now the University, you see, and ourselves, Stanley would sometimes have to go down and quiet things. I remember once they bought a little go-cart that takes ice around, you know, to dormitories, that type of thing. They came down with it full of inflammable matter and set it on fire right there. Oh, things were very spirited and barbaric. But as we used to stand out sometimes in the evening in front, there, of the old door and look down into the town, it was so sweet and peaceful, because there were no red signs, believe it or not, just this mellow candlelight, you know-- really more than candlelight.
HWH: You must have had a lovely view of the College Christmas tree, too, at that door. But, Peg, didn’t you also add much of the porch on the south side of the President’s house?
MPK: Didn’t add a thing. I changed all the planting, because it was such a good place to lean over the parapet and sniff the spring shrubs and look over the vistas, and at that time it was not so overgrown and you could look down and see the light on the entrance of Kirby, you know, that kind of thing, and the light on the Chapel. When we came, the flag was not displayed, and the first thing, I think, that Stanley did when he took over the office was to call in the Superintendent of Grounds and say, “What’s the matter with the flag, Thacher?” Thacher said, “Well we felt it would wear out flapping up there, so we didn’t put it up.” And Stanley said, “When Amherst can’t afford to renew a flag, we’d better go out of business. You fly it every single day.” And then we renewed, too, the lighting of the Chapel tower at once and studied it so that (I don’t know whether it’s realized by the public) only three sides are lighted, because that makes a contrast, you see, as you go around the corner. There’s a background and a shadow. Stanley said it leaves such a good landmark for Amherst students coming home from Smith. You see the beacon gleaming.
HWH: I know with our youngsters coming into town from some distance it was always, “There’s Johnson Chapel.”
MPK: Yes, it should be.
HWH: I wondered, Peg, if you ran into any real problems in the actual remodeling in the house, as opposed to planting outside, that you recall?
MPK: No. I regretted very much, to be frank about it, that sun parlor effect. I got somewhere an architect’s drawing of that facade, which was really very impressive, without the parlor that was put up.
HWH: That’s out over the garage now.
MPK: Yes, you see there was only the other garage, just that one on the slope where the terrace sits. It was impossible to build another. The entrance that came in there stopped at the foot of the slope, which is now eliminated because I pushed back, in order to get a little more room, the earth there which had three or four tottery little stones. The Trustees would drive in down on the back there and pile right up to the street level. So I pushed it back and braced it with that brick wall, you see. But the sun parlor was over pipes, heating pipes and water pipes and all. It involved too much, so that, no, I didn’t really do very much.
HWH: Did any students from other Colleges show up at your door thinking that this was Psi Upsilon or Chi Psi?
MPK: No. I was once giving tea to a Boston architect and the butler said two young men wanted to see the President. I said, “Bring them in, tell them Mr. King will be here directly.” So two young men came in and introduced themselves as Harvard men. And I asked them to have tea, cigarettes. As it came out afterwards, they said they felt noble about it because they refused my cigarettes; they took the tea, however. And I had at the time a nephew in Harvard who was the only fullback on the Harvard team-- a big, blond man. I asked them about that and they didn’t know his name. And they said Connent for Conant and I thought there’s something very fishy here. I asked them, since the President was delayed, if perhaps they could tell me what I could do for them. And they said, “Well, we’ve heard so much about Sabrina that we thought we’d like to see it.” I thought, “Oh, oh!” and I said, “I’d be very glad to show it to you; it’s in custody.” By that time my friend had gone. They said, “We hear it’s in the President’s house.” I said, “Yes, it’s up in the third story. Come on, I’ll be very glad to show it to you.” So we trailed up through the house and I stopped on the second floor to get my keys. They said, “Oh, do you keep it locked up?” And I said, “Oh, every good housekeeper keeps the third story storerooms locked up.” So I took them up and opened the door and turned on the light and there sat Sabrina. I waved to her with a gesture and said, “There, you see, would you like to, as they say in New England, ‘heft her?’” They did. She weighed 350-some-odd-pounds and they said, “Oh, she’s heavy!” And I said, “Certainly, it’s a very solid, very solid goddess.” So we locked her up and went down and they said they thought they’d have to go on, because they were going up to Williams. So I think it was the next day or the day after that, in the New York paper it said that there had been a confession by a Williams man of a plot to take Sabrina from the Amherst seclusion. And they said that it was organized by three men and one of them had broken down or had been found out some way. Anyway, in a day or two, I got a most amusing letter (which wasn’t meant to be amusing) which is now in the archives-- a letter of apology saying that they had planned it and then they had been laughingly baffled by Mrs. King. Well, for a long while after it became known, my friends asked me to give a sample of laughing bafflement so they could use it if they needed to. And they said in this letter that they had been told that they must come down and apologize to me for various things involved, including the taking of tea, apparently which was on their conscience, and they would be glad to do it if it was the gentlemanly thing to do. Anyway, they were ordered to and so I wrote them that they needn’t come down. I’d be glad to see them anytime they came in their proper guise as Williams men. And that was the end of the bafflement.
HWH: It seems to me that at some point a couple of Williams men did decapitate Sabrina.
MPK: Oh yes, that was much later. That was after she was set up in the Hitchcock Room. Too bad-- a picturesque girl.
HWH: I remember well when Dick King and Ken DeBevoise turned her over to the College-- and it was a fortunate thing.
MPK: It was. Did you happen to be in Chapel the morning Stanley put it up to the men that they’d really have to give it up? It was getting too dangerous. But they certainly had fun, didn’t they?
HWH: They did. But I remember spending two or three very silly nights digging the ground where Sabrina couldn’t possibly have been. In Pelham, out in Leverett.
MPK: Really! Well, I’m awfully sorry that they got in and really ruined the statue, because it had a little touch, you know, there in that nice memorial room.
HWH: Like that poor nymph over in Copenhagen.
MPK: Yes, it’s dreadful!
HWH: Well, Peg, I don’t want to extend this and tire you and your total recall. Is there anything more you’d like to comment on on the President’s house? I know you did most of the planting that’s there now.
MPK: We were very fortunate. Just before the hurricane, there was a leak or two in the roof and we decided-- the roof had been on for 50 years on that house and never leaked-- that there had better be a new roof, which was very lucky because it was done the summer before the hurricane and that roof would have rolled up and gone off. But it was well built; it was an easy house to look out for but lacking some things. But I’ve gone into that in the history of the house. I loved it, though, and especially after I had got the lower half of the grounds fixed. I did that front planting because it was all open to the street. And hopefully, every year, old Peter Robertson would spread grass seed under the maples where it never can grow and then water hopefully until Commencement, but never any grass. So now it’s all rhododendrons grown up a good deal.
HWH; Well, you used to have the reception at Commencement out there on the lawn, didn’t you?
MPK: Yes. And the lower half of the grounds had never had any attention. The traffic from Northampton Road over to the lower part of Woodside came right through the President’s grounds and the drivers left any litter they didn’t want to take farther down there. There was nothing enclosing the grounds, no shelter at all. Well, I wonder if I should go into that at all; it’s quite a story.
Anyway, I couldn’t stand that. I loved fences and boundaries and all. And I said to Stanley, “I want to put up a hedge, an informal one, between us and Phi Doodle (Phi Delta Sigma) there,” because the janitor of Phi Doodle, when he did clean their grounds, cleaned them by the simple method of just dumping it over the line on our land. That’s more than I could stand. I said, “Shall I consult them?” Stanley said, “No. If you’re within your rights, it’ll teach them something. So get your property line aright.” Which I did and began activity down there. They played baseball on it; it was just a barren, uncared for lot. And the Phi Doodles, as we called them, sat like crows on a fence on their back porch watching me, do you see, bowing away while I went on getting a hedge in and planting well inside my line so that even if anybody was clipping on the other side, they’d still be within the line. That was a provision that I had found. Finally a contingent of them asked me if they might come and call on me. So I received them and I said, “I think I know what you’ve come about.” They said, “Yes, we miss that lot to play baseball in.” And I said, “Yes, but you take no care of it and it’s an eyesore to the people who own property on the other side who’re here all the year, whereas you use it for baseball.” “A very small portion,” they said. “And besides, since you brought the matter up, may I point out that in front of your fraternity house you have constructed a walk which is on town property.” Well, that paralyzed them a little, and one of them was from Chicago and said stoutly, “But in Chicago, we don’t shut out things like this,” I said, “But you’ve come East.” Afterwards they were very, very nice fellows. I enjoyed it so much because later on, when the flowering trees and everything got going, they would sit with their girls on festive days and nights and I would hear, because I worked on that entirely myself and all, and I’d hear the girls saying, “Aren’t you lucky to have that lovely place to look out on.” And it’s worked. And then it has that rather attractive white gate, you know, down by the President’s barn. And whatever planting we did for the President’s house and grounds we paid for ourselves, because I didn’t think it was fair to spend all that money on the President’s house when there were other places to put it in the college grounds.
HWH: That’s very thoughtful.
MPK: And so when I got the planting done and had left a place for a vehicle to come in, I said to Stanley, “That really needs a gate.” He said, “All right, I’ll give you one for your birthday.” I said, “I don’t care for gates for my birthday, but I’ll accept it.” And I said, “When you retire, when you do, then it’ll be all right to take that gate with us.” And he said, “That’s understood.” But when the time came and it had grown into the landscape, I didn’t have the heart. I left it there and made a duplicate for here at the Kings’ House.
HWH: I was going to say, I thought this was very similar.
MPK: Yes, absolutely, copied after it.
HWH: I like the term, “giving the College the gate.”
[Transcription made from Original Edited Copy
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Oral history interview with Margaret Pickney King, 1963 September, in Amherst College Oral History Project Records, (Box 1, Folder 7), Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library <https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/holdings/amherst-college-oral-history-project/margaret-king>
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