Interviewed on May 21, 1980
[This transcript was created at the time of the interview and may contain errors and omissions]
Mrs. Theodore Soller
May 21, 1980
At the home of F. K. Turgeon
Blake Field, Amherst
Horace W. Hewlett
For: Amherst College
This is Horace Hewlett chatting with Mrs. Theodore Soller (Nina Soller) at the home of Mr. and Mrs. F. King Turgeon on Blake Field Road in Amherst, on Wednesday, May 21, 1980.
HWH: I wanted to ask you Nina: you and Ted came to Amherst in 1928 and you lived first at 24 Dana Street?
SOLLER: 24 Dana Street, yes, upstairs. And downstairs was Larry Towle who was in the economics department and then later went to Trinity.
HWH: And you were there for just one year.
HWH: And moved to 8 Tyler Place.
SOLLER: Yes, at that time, the year before, John Tyler who had been in the biology department had died and his widow, whom we called Aunty Bess Tyler, was there alone in this tremendous house and she wanted to have someone live in the house and take care of things for her. So we occupied that house for a year. She was quite an interesting character and did a great deal with the students. She became interested in ceramics and went to Italy to study after she was seventy, and in her home, then, she put ceramic tiles around her fireplace in her large living room. This, at that time, was the talk of the town. And people would come to that house to see those tiles.
HWH: I met her daughter-in-law, Alice Felt Tyler, down in Wellesley. She talked about not only her ceramic but other artistic abilities, too.
SOLLER: Yes, she was a very lovely, really queenly woman. And they had built that house, or I think John’s father had built it for him, after they were married, and they had lived there all their married life. The older Tyler lived in the house further up the hill, where the fraternity house was built.
HWH: Where Delta Tau Delta was built.
SOLLER; Where Delta Tau Delta was built.
HWH: I notice, then, that the next year you moved back to 24 Dana Street.
SOLLER: Yes, we moved downstairs. Aunty Bess Tyler then went to Italy, that following year, and Charlie Morgan, Charlie and Janet, spent their first year then in the Tyler house there, and we lived downstairs in the same house where we had lived upstairs before.
HWH: And Red Richardson was there.
SOLLER: Red Richardson was upstairs, yes.
HWH: And then I noted that in 1932 you moved to 9 Woodside Avenue.
SOLLER: Nine Woodside Avenue, upstairs.
HWH: And that’s where you stayed until you moved to Snell Street, I think.
SOLLER: No. No. We were there until February of ‘36, and then we moved over on Kendrick Place. That summer, Ted was given a sabbatical and we went to Germany for a year. Then, when we came back, we went back to Kendrick Place and then early in ‘41, Ted went to M.I.T. to work there for the development of radar and we were there until ‘46 and came back then and spent a year in the same apartment on Woodside Avenue, and then moved to Snell Street in ‘47. That was it, yes.
HWH: ‘47 was when we moved here. But you were still on Woodside.
SOLLER: We were on Woodside Avenue having just come back. You came in what?
HWH: January ‘47.
SOLLER: ‘47? You’d been here a short while then before we came back. We didn’t come back until June, late June I think it was, or July.
HWH: Yes, I do recall coming here and you and Ted were on Woodside briefly. I’d forgotten it, yes. Then the Manthey-Zorns were just about next door to you.
SOLLER: Yes, the Manthey-Zorns were downstairs. Downstairs, and before we moved to that house, we had a good talk with Mrs. Zorn, Ethel, because she was quite a fastidious and sensitive woman and we wanted to make certain that there wouldn’t be any difficulty because we had children, but she assured us that there wasn’t. She was a person that gave a tea when I first came to Amherst and there were several women who followed it up-- five or six of us-- this was when she was living on Dana Street, and somehow in the conversation, people began to talk about the schools where they had gone, and most of them had gone to Smith and Mount Holyoke and Vassar and then it came to me and I said I had gone to the University of Arizona and the University of Wisconsin and all eyebrows went right up! I really felt that I was sort of out of another world-- you know, the Wild West!
HWH: I remember Mary saying soon after we came, so many people asked did you go to Smith, Mount Holyoke? She decided she’d take a course in both schools so she could say, yes. [Laughter] She never did, but it was a good idea.
I was interested, too, Nina, that on Dana Street when you came there were very few college people over there. I checked and the others on Dana Street at the time you were there were the Garrisons, that was number 1-- Stewart Lee and Miriam Garrison.
SOLLER: The Garrisons, the first year we came owned that house, and they were married, and Libby and Ralph [Beebe] lived in their house the first year we were here.
HWH: And Lloyd Jordan came there in ‘33, I think it was.
SOLLER: Yes, across the street, across the street he lived. That was a new house that was built there. The College had the three so-called “economic houses.” These were the three houses that were given to the College for the use of economics professors, but they never had an economic professor who really needed the house-- however, I think they had priority if the house were vacant, and they wanted the house. They had first chance at it. But Mrs. Zorn lived in one and the Merriams lived in the second and the Ploughs lived in the third. Then Tom Esty was there. Tom was dean of the College at that time. They owned their own home. And then the Doughtys lived down on the corner of Dana and Amity.
HWH: Then the Ploughs came down.
SOLLER: Oh yes, well, the Ploughs lived in one of the economic houses.
HWH: And Colston Warne...
SOLLER: Later he moved, they moved there I think after the Bains moved over to the Sam Williams House, and then the Warnes moved into the center brick house there.
HWH: I was amazed by all of these names-- and at one point, the Bigelows lived there, too.
SOLLER: The president of the bank, Ernest Whitcomb, had built a house in back of his house which was up on Lincoln Avenue, and there was some talk at the time that Mrs. Whitcomb would occupy that after his death-- I think she was quite a bit younger than he-- but somehow or other and for some reason, they decided to rent it to the Bigelows and Jane lived there until Biggy died. Biggy was quite a character. Shall I put in a little raucous?
SOLLER: We were very close friends and Ted used to drive them back and forth when they wanted to go to New York, he would take them to Springfield, and then meet them. He met them one time when I was in the hospital when one of the children was born, and they swung around from the station up to the hospital and Jane and Ted came in, and Billy said, “Well I’ll have to send my love to Nina, but you tell her I’m too full of bilge to make those steps.” [Laughter] So typical of Billy! He’d been having beer all the way up on the train, I guess.
HWH: Well I remember him teaching a music course, and he would sit in a chair especially made for him, to carry all that bulk.
SOLLER: Yes. He always said his chest had dropped. He loved to go to a restaurant and have all of the finest foods and he always tucked his napkin in the top of his trousers and he and Jane were in New York one time and he had forgotten to remove the napkin and was going down the street with Jane, when all of a sudden he realized that men were stopping and giving him some kind of motion with their hands, in a peculiar way, and he couldn’t figure it out. And finally, as they walked by some of the windows, he realized that he had this napkin on and it looked very much like something that a Mason would have, so he thought that this was how he was being greeted by some sort of Masonic signal.
HWH: I concluded that in 1938 they changed the numbering of street systems in Amherst.
SOLLER: I can’t remember; I think there was some. Yes, I think they probably did about that time, because I think we had two different numbers on Woodside Avenue.
HWH: Yes, originally 9, and then it was much higher. We were trying to figure the other night when Hitchcock Road was put through.
SOLLER: That was before we came.
HWH: Well I found that there were two houses built there in 1929. The Porters lived in one and the Hoags across the street.
SOLLER: Well now, the Olds house was built by the alumni-- on the corner of Woodside and Hitchcock and I think that was there. I think that was there or else in the process when we came. Then the Porters were the first ones and shortly after they built, then the Hoags. Mr. Hoag was here in English.
HWH: Did the Porters build, or did the College?
SOLLER: No, I think they made an arrangement with the College. They were the first ones, I believe, to have the arrangement on the loan system. I may be mistaken, but we always felt the Porters built, and then the Hoags built, too.
HWH: That was in ‘29 and they were the only ones there until ‘34, then Bailey Brown built. And the next year there were three houses-- in ‘35 Sam Williams had a house there, then Lloyd Jordan moved over there from Dana.
SOLLER: Well that house, where the Lloyd Jordans moved was built by a Mr. Fuller who was in the German Department, and I don’t know what ever happened to them. Somehow or other they didn’t fit into the community. They were very friendly and very nice but still, they were, you know, the old school in Europe. But a very nice family.
HWH: He was on the faculty when I came here as a student and left while I was a student. Then Dutch Newlin built the house on the corner.
SOLLER: Yes, then Dutch and Marie built that house. That was a wonderful contribution because many of us met every Sunday for years-- every Sunday evening we would have a sing, and sang madrigals and such songs and then Marie would always serve, you know, cold meats and celery and carrots and things like that with beer or apple cider or drinks. And it was a social meeting, a party. And many of our friendships really began at Marie’s sings and have lasted through all these years.
HWH: I think she died in the year that we came back to the College, in ‘47.
SOLLER: Yes, she died of cancer, many, many years before. She died before we came, I think [Newlin’s first wife] However, they first lived up town in one of the apartments on South Pleasant Street, right in the center.
[There followed a confused memory lapse by both participants concerning the residents of certain houses on Lincoln and Sunset Avenues ending with Prof. Willard Thorp.]
SOLLER: When the Thorps lived in the house on Sunset Avenue, they used to have wonderful parties and Willard played the guitar and had a contraption so that he could-- well, what is that thing that you blow through-- the harmonica-- so he blew through the harmonica and played his guitar at the same time. And we’d all sing together. Those were hilarious but very simple days. Of course, those were the days when you didn’t serve any alcoholic liquor.
HWH; Is that so?
SOLLER: Yes, it was very simple, very nice.
HWH: What did you serve instead-- tea and coffee? or punch?
SOLLER: Well, I think probably coffee and punch, fruit punches and lots of apple cider flowed in those days. Lots of apple cider in the fall. We had heaps of fun. Life was a lot simpler and less sophisticated but very pleasant and friendly.
HWH: Well the town has changed so much. You lived here for nearly forty years.
SOLLER: Thirty-nine years. Yes. Made deep friends, deep friendships. It’s really remarkable when you come back how warmly you feel toward these friends.
HWH: Nina, would you happen to have some anecdote that we could record here?
SOLLER: Well, I think that when I came here, one of the most interesting characters was Margie Hopkins. Margie was the wife of Professor Arthur Hopkins in the chemistry department and was an antique dealer and she had her way of maneuvering things. For instance: she wanted the radiator removed from one of her rooms under a window and she knew that Henry Thacher, who was at that time in charge of Buildings and Grounds, would not do that for her unless she did some special maneuvering. So she covered that window with a drape and had some things in front of it, and called Henry and asked him to come over. He did and she went through the house and said, “Now what do you think of this room? Do you think this room is too cold, Henry?” And he said, “Oh no, no no, this room isn’t too cold-- this room’s perfect, just absolutely perfect.” Whereupon she picked the covering from the radiator-- she’d covered the radiator-- picked the cover from the radiator and said, “Take that damned thing out thenl” [Laughter]
HWH: And did he?
SOLLER: He did! He didn’t have any other recourse. He had to.
She wanted to learn to drive, so she had Tug Kennedy, who was the swimming coach at that time, come over and teach her. And one day Tug got a frantic call from Margie. She had backed out her car and she could not get it to move. It just wouldn’t go any further. Would he come over and come over immediately? So he did. But all Margie had done was to back up against a tree so she couldn’t back any further. [Laughter] She was really a great joy but many people thought that Margie imposed on them because she would get them to drive her many, many places. But if you were young, as I was, from the west, and didn’t know much about antiques, it was a real education to go around with her, so I always felt that was rather a privilege that I had known her and had been so-called stupid enough to let her use me, but I gained a great deal from it.
HWH: Did she keep a shop in the house?
SOLLER: Oh yes she (did) and she would sell only what she wanted to, to certain people, and she was a little bit peculiar that way. Ella Williams wanted to give us a gift of glasses and Margie had eight of them-- this was the Union pattern-- and Margie said, No, she would sell only six. Well Ella argued with her and argued with her, but Margie never gave in, so I have the six glasses. The next week after the sale was made, Margie knocked one off the shelf and it broke and then at her death, one was sold down in Connecticut and I haven’t any idea who ever got that one, but we were away so didn’t know a thing about it.
There was another interesting character and that is old Mr. Bangs. Has anyone told you about Mr. Bangs and the B&G?
HWH: No. It was Henry Bangs Thacher?
SOLLER: No, this was Mr. Bangs-- entirely different. This was a workman. Mr. Bangs was in the plumbing department and when the old Pratt Gym was in use they had a big furnace in the basement up there. Each spring they would clean that out when they were no longer using it. So Mr. Bangs was sent up to clean it one spring and he didn’t turn up at the end of the day and they went to look for him. And they found him sleeping-- inside the furnace! Another time he’d been sent off to a faculty house to take care of some plumbing in the bathroom. The faculty wife greeted him and sent him up to the bathroom and then heard him work around for a while. She was busy, and everything was quiet, so she just assumed that Mr. Bangs had gone. After a while she got a telephone call asking if Mr. Bangs was there and she said, “Oh no, Mr. Bangs had been gone for quite a while.” Well after a while some of the workmen came to the door and said they couldn’t find Mr. Bangs. She was astounded, of course, and said, “Well I’m sure he isn’t here. He hasn’t been here for a long time. I haven’t heard him up there.” So they went up to look and this time he was asleep in the bathtub! [Laughter]
HWH: Was he an elderly man?
SOLLER: Well, he wasn’t when he started here but I think he got more elderly as time went on.
HWH: You mentioned that you might have something to say about the Ladies of Amherst College.
SOLLER: Yes. The Ladies of Amherst College was organized, I think, way back in the early ‘teens, if I’m not mistaken. And it was for all the women connected with the College and that included the secretaries. At that time there were not so many secretaries, but still quite a few. On the meeting day of the Ladies of Amherst all offices were closed. The secretaries came to the meeting and it was a very sociable affair.
HWH: Was it held in any place in particular?
SOLLER: I think most of the time it was held in the President’s home. But for some reason or other then, the habit of closing the offices at meeting times was discontinued and they were no longer very active in that. But it was organized I think basically to be of assistance to people, you know, not exactly as a charitable organization but a service organization. And in times past they used to make the bathrobes and shoes for the students to wear in the Infirmary, because in those days, when the boys came to school, they didn’t always have a bathrobe. And then later, we did a lot of mending of the choir robes and that was one of our official duties.
HWH: Now the Infirmary at that time, as I recall, was Pratt Health Cottage.
SOLLER: Yes, up on the hill.
HWH: Near where you lived on Tyler Place.
SOLLER: Well, yes, where the schools are now. And way back, Ted and I were interested in moving out of our apartment into a house and Stanley King suggested that we buy the old Pratt Hospital up there. Can you imagine how we would have rattled around in something like that! [Laughter]
Probably the most active entertaining family in the community in all the forty years that we were here, was Sam and Ella Williams. They had private means which they had inherited from an uncle of Sam’s, so they could afford to do this. And they would have, say, two to four, very large dinner parties almost every week.
HWH: Every week?
SOLLER: Every week. And it was nothing to have, oh, 14-24 guests. Usually it was around twenty to twenty-four at Thanksgiving and at Christmas time.
HWH: They must have had live-in help.
SOLLER: No, they didn’t have, but she did have a full-time maid who came early in the morning and stayed until everything was finished in the evening. But a good many of the dinners, of course on Sunday, were at noontime and always after church meetings and people loved to go to Ella’s and Sam’s, but they were very strict and never had any cigarettes-- never!-- until the Stanley Kings came and then, of course, Stanley and Peg always passed cigarettes around, and after maybe about a year or eighteen months, then Sam and Ella began to pass cigarettes around. And that was a great change in this community, when they did.
HWH: Was that when they lived down on Hitchcock Road?
SOLLER: Yes. They previously lived in the house which is now on Hitchcock Road but had been over where the men’s gym is now. And that was moved across South Pleasant Street.
HWH: The one where the Bains later...
SOLLER: Where the Bains lived and then the DeMotts. It’s a big house, but it’s beautiful for entertaining, but it’s a woman-killer. It really is.
HWH: It’s enormous.
Nina let me ask you if you have any recollection of Mrs. Stanley Pease as the President’s wife. He was here, just for the record, from 1927 to ‘32.
SOLLER: Yes I have. I knew Mrs. Pease fairly well because I had done, and was doing, some economic research with Charlie Cobb, Professor of mathematics. Just about once a month, Hetty Pease, as we called her, would have an evening meal, evening supper on Sundays, for the secretaries and the women who worked at the College. In oyster months, she always had scalloped oysters-- you could depend on that-- and I can’t remember what she had the rest of the time. But speaking of meals, the Smiths, the Harry deForest Smiths, very often entertained on Saturday night. Now I don’t think Hillie Smith had ever had anything in her life on Saturday night except the good old New England dinner of baked beans, brown bread, cole slaw and applesauce. And this was what you always had, and each one was delicious.
HWH: And identical.
SOLLER: Absolutely, from one week to the next. It was exactly the same always. And that’s a simple way, you know, to entertain in New England. I find in the West, where we now live, very few people have ever had that and they really get quite interested and like it very much.
HWH: Was Mrs. Pease sociable?
SOLLER: I found her so. She did not entertain like Peg King, but she was very gracious. She was one of those women who had a queenly carriage. She bent a little bit, but she reminded me very much of Queen Mary. She was very much that type of person. Now Ella Williams was very different. She was much more brisk and Ella always liked to tell the people in the physics department exactly how to live and what to do. I had Nancy, our older baby, up the street one day, and it was warm and she had pulled her mittens off, and Ella spoke to Hetty Pease as she came along. She said, “Look at that child! Without mittens on a cold day!” And she said, “Just feel of her hands.” And Hetty did, and she turned to Ella and she said, “Warm as toast, warm as toast.” Ella just walked off and didn’t say a word.
HWH: Did the Peases have faculty members and administrators in their house?
SOLLER: As well as I know, yes, yes. But I think probably not as much, again not as much as the Kings did, but she was a New Englander, too, in her way of entertaining. It wasn’t lavish entertaining but everything was very carefully prepared, of course, and strict protocol was carried out, but so graciously that one wasn’t conscious of any planning in any way. She really was a lovely, lovely hostess.
HWH: She seemed to enjoy being a hostess?
SOLLER: Oh I think she did and I think she enjoyed being the President’s wife more than he did being the president, because he was waiting for his chair at Harvard to come up, you know. So it was a temporary...
HWH: So he had accepted the job as an interim...
SOLLER: Yes, more or less.
HWH: It was pretty much to get Georgie Olds...
HWH: Off the hook.
SOLLER: Well that happened just before we arrived. Georgie Olds hired Ted, but by the time we arrived they were out, no longer there. There was a lovely little lady-- Mrs. Olds-- who was so lively, interested in all the faculty wives and all the faculty children. How she could remember their names was always amazing to me, but she did, she knew many of them and Granny Olds was a great favorite, great favorite. She usually had cookies for them, you know, and I’m sure she had, oh a dozen of May baskets left at her door on May day. That was the thing to do for all the little children-- to get a May basket to Granny Olds and to get there and be the first one.
HWH: At the other end of Hitchcock Road I believe there was a Miss Kingman.
SOLLER: In the Hitchcock house. But that was before my time. Now I don’t know whether, no... but Mildred Porter Havighurst might know.
HWH: Because they lived in the house?
SOLLER: Yes, but they came, I think, in ‘25, and we didn’t come until ‘28-- three years later.
HWH: The College didn’t acquire the house until...
SOLLER: I think they had bought it and I think he had the privilege of living there as long as he lived-- that he could occupy the house. They did that with several houses-- there were three or four other houses, too.
HWH: And they tended to live on.
SOLLER: They lived on indefinitely-- really indefinitely. It was really amazing and people have always wondered to know how much longer they were going to hang on. Because houses were in short supply then and people were always hoping...
HWH: Well the style of the College must have changed dramatically when the Kings succeeded the Peases.
SOLLER: Oh it did. It did socially. It did. They were much gayer, much more sophisticated both in their entertaining, with their food, their manner of entertaining. And Peg-- she was a wonderful person-- didn’t have that warmth. She was gracious but not in that lovely, soft, feminine way that Mrs. Pease had been, or Mrs. Olds in her own home. I knew Mrs. Olds only in her own home, but she was really a beautiful woman. Beautiful.
HWH: Did the Peases have any particular friends on the faculty?
SOLLER: That I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. I suppose maybe in his department, but I really wouldn’t know.
HWH: He was a classicist but I believe he was also a botanist.
SOLLER: Whether he was a trained botanist or not...
HWH: I think it was an avocation.
HWH: There’s another matter I’d like to go into, and that is that Geoff Atkinson was Dean of the College from 1929-31 when Scott Porter succeeded him.
SOLLER: Now I think Mildred could tell you a very interesting story about that-- how Scott was approached for the Deanship and how quickly he accepted it-- so I think my suggestion would be that she can tell you a lot of stories, too. There are some very amusing ones. And also Libby Beebe would know, too.
HWH: I have taped both Alf Havighurst and Ralph Beebe, but I figure it would be nice to get Mildred’s view.
SOLLER: Oh yes, Mildred could tell you a good many intimate details about many things.
Now we haven’t talked about Marietta Thompson.
HWH: But do you have any recollection of Geoff Atkinson as Dean?
SOLLER: All I remember was he was so strict that he did not have an understanding of youth and the frivolities of youth at that time-- although when you look back they really were not frivolous in those days in comparison to what we think of as being frivolous today. But he didn’t last long because he was so very strict.
HWH: Well I have the image of him walking across campus with that black cape and black hat, and cane, very often.
SOLLER: Yes he was rather a forbidding looking man. They had two children and when one of them was very young and zippers had come in, Geoff had a jacket with a zipper on it and one of the children was in his lap and zipped it up and caught it in his beard. They had to cut it out! So he had this streak down his beard for a while. He was very sensitive about it.
HWH: You were going to say a word or two about Marietta Thompson.
SOLLER: Oh yes, Marietta Thompson.
HWH: She was Frederic Lincoln Thompson’s wife.
SOLLER: Croc, as we called him. And be belonged to what we called the “Old Guard” at that time. The Old Guard went to the Faculty Club every afternoon and sealed themselves in. No one could reach anyone at the Faculty Club, you know, when they once got in there. Well, Marietta was a great newsgatherer and each morning she would start out from her house, which was the next one to the President’s House, just south of it, and come down South Pleasant Street and Snell Street, and then up Woodside Avenue and then back up Orchard and then down Dana Street and up Amity Street. She made the rounds every morning and would gather all the news and pass the news along.
HWH: From house to house?
SOLLER: From house to house. And then if she got home and had a real juicy bit, she would place her window shade, which I could see from where I lived on Woodside Avenue, and I would know then that she had something to tell me, so I would call her. She was very amusing over the telephone. If you called her or she called you, she would tell you what she wanted to tell-- she wouldn’t wait for any comment or say goodbye or anything, she just hung up and went on. We used to get so provoked at her because sometimes we wanted to tell her something but we had no chance. We’d have to call again and start right in before she got started talking. She was a very lovely woman, very gracious. Croc was of the Old Guard and those men were so different from what we usually think of as the modern professor-- they were a thing apart and there was a certain formality. Now Croc did all the shopping and he was a character. He had this old-fashioned market basket and he used to take that on his arm and trail up and shop every morning at Harvey’s Market. He planned the meals and did everything and the Thompsons always entertained at noon because they had help in the house who came early in the morning, prepared their breakfast, prepared their dinner, prepared their supper and put it in the refrigerator on trays. Then Marietta would take to her room, sometimes in bed, sometimes in her chair by the window, and Croc would bring up the trays and they would have their supper meal, their evening meal then together on trays, or sometimes he in his room and she in hers.
HWH: Was her health good?
SOLLER: Oh yes. Her health was good but she wasn’t, you know, a hale and hearty individual. Well, she was along in years. She must have been fifty, probably, when I came here, but I always thought of Marietta as one of the older women.
HWH: Among the Old Guard that you spoke of there was Tom Esty. Do you have any recollections of him or his family?
SOLLER: Yes. Well Tom and Annette lived just two doors from us, and I don’t think Annette went to college. She always said, you know, she was not a college-bred woman, but she was a very brilliant woman and she wrote an interesting book, I forget the title of it, on the Polish people in this valley. And it gives a very clear picture of their lives; it’s really quite interesting. She, too, was of the old gracious type and always very friendly, always did a great deal for the younger faculty-- entertained you almost as soon as you got here and sort of looked after you. She did with us for years-- you know-- more or less took care of us. Nancy, our daughter, Nancy, always called them Lord and Lady Esty. I had read her a story in which there was a lord and lady and she felt that these were the lord and lady. A lovely, lovely couple.
HWH: I’ve jotted down the names of your contemporaries, peers, when you arrived. If you have any comment on any of these, I think it would be welcome.
Fellow instructors of Ted included George Bain.
SOLLER: Oh yes, George. George and Anne. They first lived on South Pleasant Street upstairs when we came here, and Betty was a baby. Then they moved over on Dana Street. They always did a great deal of entertaining and George was very close to the students-- very close to his students. They had them to meals, and, you know, did anything, if they could help them out in any way. They were very, very good to their boys and the boys were appreciative and I think George was made a member of one of the fraternities, just in appreciation of...
HWH: Chi Phi.
SOLLER: Was it Chi Phi? Because at that time he just happened to have a lot of these boys in his class and, as I say, always entertained them. But then in those days, not too many of us could entertain students because this was too expensive financially for so many of us unless you had a private income, but at that time there were not too many of us that did.
And you came, really, just before the Stock Market crash and your early years were all during the Depression.
SOLLER: Yes, but we were fortunate because we didn’t have cuts in salary here, and we had friends in DePauw who were cut, I think it was 54%, and their salary had been just a little over $2,000. They lived on less than $1,000 that year, or for several years during the Depression. But we were fortunate, I think; Amherst has been fortunate in having presidents of the type they needed when they needed them and Stanley King (we needed someone who was a financially knowledgeable man) and Stanley King was that president and we were fortunate to have him at that time.
HWH: Among others there was Gail Kennedy.
SOLLER: When we first came, Gail and Joy lived up on Tyler Place and they had Miriam. They had been to Columbia and picked up the idea that they should be really sophisticated and they tried hard to be sophisticated. Now usually when we had babies around Amherst, you know, if we had a caller, we showed them off-- but no, we didn’t see Miriam and you didn’t ask to see Miriam. It was just the thing not to do. But then as time went on, I think they mellowed, and in not too many years they were probably as warm-hearted and felt as close to people as they could possibly have done-- and they had given up the idea of this super-sophistication.
HWH: I can’t imagine...
SOLLER: No, when I look back, it was really a great change, a great change. But they had just come under that influence, you know, of being in Columbia.
HWH: Then there were Dwight and Irene Salmon.
SOLLER: Well they were a little older. They were more settled when I came. Mildred could tell you about that because she knew them very well. I think they came at the same time in ‘25.
HWH: They came in ‘26. Dwight came in ‘26 because he came a year after Laurence Packard, and that was ‘25.
Well in the very house we are sitting in, there was King Turgeon, not married then.
SOLLER: No, he wasn’t married until up in the ‘thirties, but in those days I didn’t know the bachelors. Ted would know them through the Faculty Meetings-- and since we didn’t have Valentine, they didn’t have that camaraderie that they have since Valentine came in. That made a great deal of difference, I think, in the socializing among the faculty. Many problems have been cleared out during the coffee hour I hear. [Chuckle]
HWH: There are always opinions.
SOLLER: Always opinions. It serves its purpose.
HWH: Curt and Kitty Canfield came in ‘26, I believe.
SOLLER: Yes, they lived in the Rectory with Tooey Kinsolving and then they moved to the little house on Walnut Street. And they were always very friendly. Curt tried to get me to be in different plays and was so provoked because I kept saying, no, I’m going to have my family, or I was nursing a baby and I couldn’t be in a play, but finally, when Kirby was built, I was interested in the costume department and that was built up with faculty wives there and that was a very pleasant experience.
HWH: I’d like to come back to that in a moment, but going on-- there were Ted and Birdie Baird.
SOLLER: Ted and Birdie Baird were always more or less unto themselves, so that while Ted Baird and Ted Soller are very good friends, we were never entertained there and we never entertained them. I saw very little of Ted and Birdie Baird. They were a couple unto themselves, and I think, friendlier to Scott after he was Dean.
HWH: Do you recall when they built their house on Shays Street?
SOLLER: Yes. You should talk to him about this, because he wrote, he had, I think $10,000, so the story goes-- that’s just about it-- and he wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright and said he had this lot and this amount of money and was interested in his type of architecture-- would he be interested? And Frank Lloyd Wright was very interested and he drew him up a plan and presented it and it was accepted and then he sent his son-in-law here to supervise the building of it.
HWH: Was this the talk of the town?
SOLLER: Oh very much the talk of the town. Heavens yes! Of the practicality of it, you know, and the impracticality of it. But you find that wherever you go with Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, always. It’s a different type of architecture than we had become accustomed to here, but it doesn’t really stand out because it’s hidden away, so you don’t mind it so much.
HWH: Also as an instructor, then, was Al Lumley.
SOLLER: Yes, we didn’t know-- I didn’t know Al Lumley. Ted did, because Al had been at Oberlin and Ted was an Oberlinite, too. And then we knew Al better when he was married and moved down on Dana Street. He married one of the instructors at Smith, a very gay...
HWH: Yes I remember him and his...
SOLLER: First wife?
HWH: First wife, when I was a student. They were not long married...
SOLLER: No, no. She just wasn’t Al’s type, I guess-- or she wasn’t Amherst’s type either. Al had quite a time getting Buddy to marry him because he was in love with her for a long, long time before she would say yes.
HWH: After he was divorced.
SOLLER: Oh yes, after he was divorced, long after.
HWH: Nina, I still have a few more things. This side of the tape is almost done. Let me just run it out and turn it over.
HWH: Let me identify this. This is the second side of a conversation with Nina Soller on Wednesday, May 21, 1980.
Nina, we’ve been over some of your peers and contemporaries as instructors when you arrived. Let me just check off the names of some of the senior members of the faculty. You’ve already talked some about Croc Thompson and Tom Esty and Hoppy (though more about Mrs. Hoppy). Was Harry DeForest Smith a figure on the campus when you came?
SOLLER: Oh very muchly a figure. He was, oh how could I describe him? He was a very formal individual but had strong ideas and I don’t think he was the kind who gave in very easily. You’d better check with some of the faculty.
HWH: The poor man had the misfortune to live across the street from Chi Phi.
SOLLER: Well I think he lacked a bit of understanding of the whims of the students.
HWH: When I raise the question of the faculty member, I’d also welcome any comments about the wife.
SOLLER: Well, Hilly Smith (was it Hilly Smith?). Yes, well, Hilly Smith was very friendly, very warm, after you once knew her. She was a bit formidable when you first met her and after the first tea that I went to, at Ethel Manthey-Zorn’s, I was a little not exactly frightened, but I was a little more cautious of how I would be accepted and I did watch what I said very carefully. But Hilly became a very good friend and her daughter, Barbara, was also a very good friend of ours.
HWH: Their daughter, Barbara, has left a bequest to the Jones Library.
SOLLER: Well that’s nice. She hasn’t died has she?
HWH: Yes, very recently.
SOLLER: Oh I didn’t realize that.
HWH: In Rhode Island.
SOLLER: You would hardly know that she was a child of theirs. There was this formality between the parents and Barbara. You never felt that there was a real warmth back and forth there. To me that was very strange.
HWH: How about Frederic Loomis and Mrs. Loomis?
SOLLER: Freddy Loomis and Flossie. Well, Flossie was just like a little doll. She was small with lovely light, almost-white hair when I first knew her, and these sparkling, beautiful, blue eyes. And they were always extremely friendly. Freddy was a little bit absent-minded and the story goes (I think I can recall), the story goes that they used to go to Boston on the Boston & Maine. They left in the morning and then they’d come back in the evening. (I haven’t thought of this story for ages.) He was down with a student one time and he said, “Oh, I left my watch at home, please run up and get it for me.” He lived over on Orchard Street and the station, you know, was just right down on South Pleasant and Snell. And the student said, “Oh I don’t think I can, I don’t think I have time.” Whereupon Mr. Loomis reached in his pocket, pulled out his watch and said, “Oh yes, you JUST have time.” [Laughter]
HWH: His son was in college in the class a year after mine.
SOLLER: Yes. He had two sons. One came to college to Amherst, and I don’t know where the other one went to school.
HWH: How about Clarence Eastman?
SOLLER: Oh! Kaiser Eastman. Now Kaiser was a real German gentleman, and she was quite a hausfrau and they used to entertain at Sunday dinners. And there was a real formal meal. He stood to carve as if you were in a mansion, you know, and had everyone of great importance around. The conversation was guarded and very formal, very formal. But he was a delightful person and so was she. She was much warmer but she never, she never, you know, just came down completely, but people were very fond of her and admired and respected them very, very much. Very much. They had problems with their children. They were the kind-- there again-- they expected so much and couldn’t understand the frivolity of youth.
HWH: Well, they had three sons. Two of them went to Amherst.
SOLLER: And the third, I think, is the piano tuner, but a very, very fine young man.
HWH: Dutch Newlin was someone who seemed delightful to me.
SOLLER: Well Dutch was probably, I think, one of the warmest of the Old Guard and people were really fond of and loved Dutch and Marie. Marie was his second wife and they were the ones who had the sings at their house. Before Marie’s death-- she knew she was dying-- I used to call on her every day at least once-- and she said, “Nina, Dutch and I have talked things over and we would like to have you and Ted live with Dutch when I’m gone.” And I said, “Well, I’ll have to talk it over with Ted.” Well, we had two children at that time and it was the first time we’d ever had a College house offered to us, and we felt that if we didn’t take the house then, and we lived with Dutch, and things didn’t work out-- and it’s very difficult because he’d never had children around, so it was on this basis, that we just felt that we couldn’t, you know, take the chance of not having a house. So we didn’t, but they were very kind and understood.
HWH: That was at the moment that you moved to Snell Street?
SOLLER: That was the moment we moved to Snell Street. But oh, for a month, even after we moved there, they would have liked to have us reconsider.
HWH: Was Otto Glaser someone of significance?
SOLLER: Oh, yes. Well Otto Glaser, you never heard so much about Otto and as long as he was married to Dorothy, Dorothy liked to be the important one in the family and she was quite a sophisticated person, for Amherst I guess. Then they were divorced and he married Glaenzer-- what was her first name-- Anita, Anita Glaenzer. And Anita, really that name to me connotes someone just as she should be, just a queenly, beautiful, woman. A most unselfish woman who just worshipped Otto. Now Otto hadn’t had this attention before from his first wife, Dorothy, and you’d go to a party and the minute Anita stepped into the room there just seemed to be a glow all around her. People looked at her she was so beautiful, such a joy to see. But she turned that limelight always on Otto. She took it, I think, as probably her great, great privilege of being married to this man and she just thought he was the most wonderful thing in the world, certainly the most wonderful thing that ever happened to her. She built him up so that people, I think, paid much more attention to him after Anita came into his life than they had before-- simply because she thought he was so wonderful.
HWH: That’s nice.
SOLLER: It’s quite remarkable. She was a remarkable person.
HWH: Then there was Charles Bennett.
SOLLER: Well Charles I didn’t know very well. I knew Mabel very well. She was a very, very friendly-- more like a midwestern person, you know, not of the stiff and coldness that some New Englanders have had. We were very fond of her.
HWH: After Charlie’s death, of course, she married Sam Williams.
SOLLER: Yes, she married Sam Williams. It was a very beautiful wedding-- a beautiful marriage. They got along extremely well and she wasn’t a demanding wife or the dictator that Ella had been. She was a very gentle, sweet woman who really loved Sam and did for him a great deal.
HWH: They built that lovely little house up on Lincoln Avenue.
SOLLER: That was when Ella was living. Ella was ill, there, for a long, long time. Well, you know she had everything that she wanted no matter what it cost-- and all the help that she had, and the nursing care was terribly expensive, but that didn’t bother Ella-- she wanted what she had and if anything had been left for Sam, it was all right and if it hadn’t been, it was all right for her, too. She’d had what she wanted. But Mabel was not this kind. Mabel was not self-interested as Ella was. Now Ella was a lovely person and did a great deal for many of us-- a great deal-- a great deal for students, too, but she was more calculating and entirely different than Mabel was. Mabel was a sweet, sweet person, just a lovely woman.
HWH: Sam Williams was Chairman of the Physics Department when you came.
SOLLER: He had been Ted’s professor at Oberlin and had kept in touch with Ted, as he kept in touch with so many, many students-- I guess practically every student that he ever had. And in 1925 he offered Ted the position here, but then Ted had not finished his Ph.D., he had done all his research and had things ready for publication, and partly written up, when another thesis was published and it was quite near to the work that Ted had done, so that cancelled out Ted’s three years there, and while others were appointed to the faculty without a Ph.D., Sam Williams wouldn’t take anyone without a Ph.D. So then along came William Warren Stifler and he was at Williams for that year and had an appointment with Georgie Olds, and had a very bad cold and couldn’t keep the appointment and so he sent Susan. And Susan had the interview with Georgie Olds, on which Warren Stifler was appointed to the faculty.
HWH: I’ve never heard that. Georgie interviewed the candidate’s wife!
SOLLER: And I think people who know the two would say, goodness me-- the better one got the...
HWH: ...the stronger
SOLLER: Yes, they were smart to send her. One of the most charming, lovely women who’s ever been on the faculty——a brilliant woman.
HWH: Her grandson, John, is in the area now, you know, and it may well be that he’ll take on book reviews for the Alumni Magazine.
SOLLER: Oh that should be interesting.
HWH: Re’s writing for the Amherst Record now.
SOLLER: He’s a very interesting young man.
HWH: There are many, many, that we could go over-- but did you know George and Harriet Whicher very well?
SOLLER: Yes, quite well. George-- when you were alone with George-- George would open up and really be very friendly, and he would also open up if he were certain-- this is the way I found him-- certain of the friends around him. He was reticent to, you know, to be too open. That’s my interpretation. Now Harriet was a person who really organized her life-- organized her household, organized her relations with her family. She would decide that for dinner that night they would discuss a certain question and she would read up and study each day so that she could plan the conversation at dinner with her two sons. But she was a very warm, generous person, giving of her time to anyone who really needed it, and loved music, and there again, we used to have wonderful parties at Harriet’s. For a long time she had the New Year’s party at her house and we used to go there. That was a lot of fun.
HWH: She was teaching, too, at Mount Holyoke——music or English.
SOLLER: Yes, she taught at Mount Holyoke.
HWH: A busy person.
SOLLER: A very busy person but she always carried her responsibilities of a housewife and a faculty wife very seriously.
HWH: Eli Marsh and Margaret are people that have been around a long time.
SOLLER: Well, Eli was a real joy, and both he and Margaret had delightful senses of humor. He was fun-- a real fun man. Of course he was in Physical Education and had a folk-dancing class for years and years and years-- every Tuesday we went there. We wouldn’t have missed it. And Mrs. Shumway, the local piano teacher, played the piano for us. Those were delightful hours-- seven to nine.
HWH: At the gymnasium?
SOLLER: At the old gymnasium. And when Stanley King was here, Stanley and Peg loved costume parties, so everybody would spend weeks planning their costumes and getting their costumes made and get off to the costume party at the old Pratt Gym. I don’t know whether we had all of them there or not. But they really enjoyed costume parties.
HWH: It was a marvelous place for parties because you could decorate it so easily with that running track upstairs.
SOLLER: Oh yes-- around upstairs, the balcony.
HWH: The Tolls were people that seem to me a little removed...
SOLLER: Well not Mayes, not Mayes so much, but Carl was. Yes, Carl went his own busy way and was not too much of a mixer, but always very friendly. He would talk, but it took about five minutes to get him going, and then he would break down, you know, but he was a little bit slower coming into the conversation. I guess he wanted to be certain how things would be accepted.
HWH: It seemed to me he was a little tense, too, as you started to...
SOLLER: Well he was a very nervous person. He was always a very nervous person. But Mayes didn’t have an inhibition, you know. She was wonderful and very conscientious about things. I used to get so provoked with her because I had a nursery school up on their third floor for a couple of years.
HWH: In the Observatory House?
SOLLER: Yes. And she used to turn those mattresses every day right straight through the house-- no wonder she had back problems. And you know, she had extra-long beds, because they were all so tall.
SOLLER: Oh yes, all well over six feet-- six feet four, six feet five. And Charlie, the oldest son-- there were three boys and a girl-- was captain of the Princeton football team in his senior year, and that was a famous year, because they didn’t win a game. And we in Amherst had been so excited when we heard about Charlie being the captain of the team, you know. We were always rooting for Princeton that year and oh, we just felt so sorry for him. We really suffered with Princeton that year. Amherst suffered with Princeton.
HWH: Laurence Packard was a name to be...
SOLLER: Laurence was greatly revered, really he was something special-- something set apart. Dwight Salmon was a little bit the same way in later years. I’m speaking of them as a member of the faculty, as a member of the community. We always admired them so very much. And Mrs. Packard, Leonore, was very gracious. They entertained the students a great deal and they also entertained the faculty-- always with a certain formality.
HWH: There seemed to be a kind of mystique or reverence surrounding Laurence most of his life.
SOLLER: Very definitely so. Yes that was true. He was a professor apart.
HWH: Warren Kimball Green was fairly closely associated with Ted. Did you see much of them?
SOLLER: Well, Warren tolerated me. He was a New Englander, I guess, and I was a Westerner and for years and years and years he tolerated me. He was very fond of Ted. Then when we moved down on Snell Street next door to him, we used to ask him over for drinks and he always drank a martini, I think it was, and no matter where they were in the meal, before the meal, during the meal, or anything, he would stop and come. Ethel used to get so provoked with him because the minute he was invited, he would be over there. He got to be extremely fond of me, and then he said, “You know I never knew you, Nina, until you moved here.” So I was won over by martinis! They were very good neighbors. He was a very pompous individual, very pompous individual, and very difficult at times. But Ted was very fond of him and admired him in many ways.
HWH: I think he taught some physics, but he was mainly an astronomer.
SOLLER: He was an astronomer.
HWH: Did you see the Elliotts at all?
SOLLER: Strange to say, the Elliotts we found very warm people, extremely warm. And long after they retired and moved up in Maine, when we went through Maine, we always stopped to see Alma. We were always very close and very fond of her. They didn’t entertain quite as much as a lot of the faculty of their peers, but did some, and we knew Jane, their daughter, very well.
HWH: Is she the one that married Steve Kleene?
SOLLER: No, no, that was the younger one. Jane married a Swiss man and lived in Zurich and we visited them in Zurich. That is, you know, we would be there for the day.
HWH: I understand that he particularly, but maybe she, too, was very interested in Grace Church, was quite religious.
SOLLER: Well probably. I think so. At that time we went to the Congregational Church more than the Episcopal Church, so that I wouldn’t know.
HWH: You mentioned Warren Green and that your martinis won him over. Earlier, you mentioned that at parties, it was always tea, coffee, or punch. When did liquor begin to be served?
SOLLER: Oh I really don’t know.
HWH: After prohibition?
SOLLER: When did prohibition go off? ‘38? When was it? I can’t remember.
HWH: Earlier than that. Three-point-two was in ‘33 and I think prohibition ended in ‘34.
SOLLER: Oh was it? earlier than that? Well it was not too long after the Kings came. But if they hadn’t, I think they probably served the first liquor. But Peg King said that she never knew anyone who could eat quite as much as the Amherst faculty. She always planned plenty of food-- the Amherst faculty had huge appetites.
HWH: There were two young members of the faculty when you arrived-- Scott Porter and George Rogers Taylor. Did you come to know both of them?
SOLLER: Very well indeed. Mildred was in our bridge club that Anne Bain really organized in 1930, and it’s still going. Mildred was always very friendly and she was a great-- she, too, was a great newsgatherer and retains all this information surprisingly well. Now Mary Taylor and George lived downstairs in the two-story house when we lived up on Woodside Avenue. And they are remarkably fine people-- very fine. Mary used to be a great cook and spent a lot of time cooking up fancy meals. She took great delight.
HWH: She is a talented person in many things.
SOLLER: Oh she is a talented person. According to Mary she’s an authority on most any field [Laughs] And she really is. She’s widely read and studied. She’s very clever, and George is the salt of the earth.
HWH: The Lamprechts lived fairly near you for quite a spell.
SOLLER: Well now, Lampy had a bit of the aura that Laurence Packard had about him. He was greatly admired. He was a real scholar in his field and he had a certain bearing that you think a professor should have if you’re not in that profession yourself. You know. And Edith was a very warm, generous person. Though they had no children of their own, they were very fond of children and did a great deal for their nephew.
HWH: The Abbeys.
SOLLER: The Abbeys, yes. Very close. But they were always interested in the children in the neighborhood-- not formally in any way, but just in a nice, warm, friendly way. And so was Alma Elliott-- she was always-- I was surprised that she had remembered Cynthia years after they moved up there and we stopped in to see her one time, and she said, “Oh,” she said, “for a long time I have set this pitcher aside, because I wanted to give it to Cynthia.” So she sent me back with a lovely, little Italian pitcher that she had saved-- and she had it marked for Cynthia Soller.
HWH: Wasn’t that nice.
SOLLER: Yes. I hadn’t realized it, but she said Cynthia used to come by and visit with her and I hadn’t known this.
HWH: Charlie Cobb is someone I never knew well, but he coached the basses in the Glee Club, I remember.
SOLLER: Well Charlie was very interested in music and if you remember Charlie Cobb, you can think of the old man of the mountain when you think of his face, and he was a very, very, one of the warmest persons I think that you could want to know. You always felt that you were terribly important to Charlie. I worked for Charlie in economic research, and he was-- oh he was just as dear as could be-- and in those days you were paid (I was paid by the hour) and in the treasurer’s office there were only two persons-- there was the treasurer and a secretary and they didn’t have a formal-- they didn’t have any real form for me to fill out for my payment. I just wrote down on any piece of paper that I had handy the number of hours that I had worked that week at a certain rate and figured that out, and passed that piece of paper through the window to Elizabeth Kelsey, who was the secretary. She reached in a drawer, pulled out a drawer in which there was this change, and would pay me right off the reel and that’s all there was to it.
SOLLER: Oh very, very simple. Of course I think the endowment of the College at that time may have been seven or eight million. Around that was what I heard, which we thought was a tremendous amount of money in those days, of course. But Charlie was very interested in folk-dancing, too, and he always came to Eli Marsh’s folk dancing classes. And then when Eli was away, why Charlie took the classes and he was something to watch as he danced-- he was so awkward moving.
HWH: You mean he conducted?
SOLLER: He conducted the classes. But he was a delight. He got everything [snaps fingers] just right-- so everything was just perfectly done.
HWH: There’s another area in which you worked devoutly, for which you were not paid. That was for the Masquers. When did you start doing that?
SOLLER: Well just shortly after Kirby opened. The costuming had been started-- I don’t know who did it long before I ever heard of this-- but Alice Clelland, whose husband was in the Religion Department here, had been trained in this field and she ordered, designed the sewing room in Kirby, and then when she left, Kay Morgan was in charge, and of course, no one was ever dearer to anyone who ever worked with her than Kay Morgan. She was a perfectly wonderful, just almost too good a person to be true-- just so beautiful in every way-- and she just made all that work a real joy. At Kirby at that time, we were a close family-- there was Curt [Canfield] and Tuffy McGoun and Charlie Rogers who were in charge. Charlie designed the costumes and the set and then Kay would talk over everything with Charlie and they would get the material and things organized and then we workers, lay workers, would just come in and follow out Kay’s directions. It was a wonderful heart-warming experience to have been in Kirby and we loved each other deeply.
HWH: It was a very compatible group.
SOLLER: I never knew of any problems that really came up, you know, that ever lasted more than a few minutes anyway. Everything went along smoothly and we would have our bouillon or tea or coffee in the morning and the same in the afternoon and it was just a nice social affair along with it and we accomplished a great deal.
HWH: As a production approached, neared completion, it seems to me that you ladies used to spend all day down there, sometimes.
SOLLER: Oh we always spent all day. I’d break my neck getting up in the morning and whipping around the house to get my housework done so that I could get over there at least by nine or nine-thirty-- usually nine if I could make it. Then we would dash home for lunch, dash back again, dash home for dinner, dash back again. And Curt was one who would run the rehearsals very late-- sometimes 2 or 2:30-- I think, once, until 3-- but we’d go home and get our little bit of sleep and be right back again on the job at 9 or 9:30. And we loved it. It was never any work you know. It was just sheer joy.
HWH: Someone was in charge of hats-- was that Kitty?
SOLLER: Kitty made hats. I don’t know whether you’d say she was in charge of it or not.
HWH: I remember Mary worked with her some years.
SOLLER: Kitty had a flair. Kitty Canfield wasn’t the kind who had to have everything extremely well-finished, but she got such wonderful effects-- she has that flair, that French touch, to whatever she made, so she got the effect, the theatrical effect that you wanted, you know, while I was just the opposite. I had no flair at all, but I could sew a straight seam, you might say, and get two and two and work it all together-- sew the molding straight. Just seaming jobs was one that I could do very easily, but for the flair and the decorative part, Kit Canfield was most outstanding, very outstanding.
HWH: Nina did you happen to know Mme. Bianchi?
SOLLER: Well you can’t say that I really knew Mme. Bianchi. When I lived with Aunty Bess Tyler, Mme. Bianchi came over at least once a day. They were very close friends. And then Mrs. Tyler would always come and discuss her with me. She thought she was a very, very vain woman and Mme. Bianchi-- well Aunty Bess Tyler wanted to mold a head of Mme. Bianchi and she said that she thought that it would be a good idea if Ted would take pictures from different angles all round the head. Mme. Bianchi kept putting off, putting off, putting off the appointment that Ted would try to make with her, or that Aunty Bess would try to make for Ted, until finally Aunty Bess said, “Oh well, she’s just too vain. The only reason that she won’t let Ted take her picture is that she knows her wrinkles will show.” And that probably was true. She was a very vain woman, but she dressed, you know, like a very young woman, and she carried herself beautifully, very stiffly but beautifully. She was devoted to Aunty Bess Tyler.
HWH: Did she have any good friends on the faculty?
SOLLER: That I don’t know. There was a strained relation between the College and Mme. Bianchi at that time. And of course, there was the scandal, you see, of the Mr. Bianchi-- I don’t know exactly what it was-- people just referred to it as “the scandal” and then there was Mr. Hampson who lived there as her secretary, and “in quotes.”
HWH: I suspect Davey Todd had probably left shortly after you came.
SOLLER: I never knew Davey Todd. I never knew him at all. I don’t know whether Ted--Ted might have-- but I don’t know.
HWH: Well the relationships between the Todds and...
SOLLER: But over Emily Dickinson, yes, yes. It’s too bad. I don’t know how this came about.
HWH: I know, and there are very few people who seem to have known the Todds.
SOLLER: Have you talked to Ted Baird?
HWH: [Nods head]
SOLLER: Let’s see, who would have known them, the Todds. I don’t know whether Linnette Atkinson...
HWH: I haven’t talked with her...
SOLLER: Would have known or not. But Geoff’s mother and Geoff might have known them because they were here for some time before we were here. They’re about the oldest ones that I can think of.
HWH: Nina, there is more that I could ask you about, but I think we’ve covered ‘most everything and I don’t want to...
SOLLER: Well we’ve been at it for a long time, but time means nothing to me, you know. This is the one day we’ve kept free.
HWB: Good. I might just ask you a little more about, let’s say, Dave Norton. Were you aware of his presence?
SOLLER: Well, somewhat, but he was not an intimate of mine. Now let’s see-- Dave was the kind who, when he had a special class, he would sometimes invite some of us to come to certain meetings or discussions of certain bits in his courses-- and that was interesting, very interesting. He was a very warm, informal person, after you got over the wall. But I think to some people it was a little difficult to approach him. But I think people are apt to have that idea, the impression, about a man of poetry, anyway.
HWH: If you’re back and have the time, on another visit, I think you’d enjoy reading Ted Baird’s comments on Dave Morton, because they were cut from very different cloths.
SOLLER: Oh, that everyone knew at that time. It’s strange there were certain departments in which the members just somehow or other didn’t get along and then there were other departments where everything just seemed to run smoothly, you know, and the wheels were very carefully oiled. But English was one of the former ones. I don’t know whether it was based on competition or jealousy or what.
HWH: I think their temperaments for the most part were quite different in the English department.
SOLLER: Different and yet they were-- it was a group of prima donnas, each striving, each striving for his own.
HWH: And each aware of the other.
SOLLER: Definitely. Oh yes definitely. And the importance of the other, too.
HWH. Harold and Frances Plough were here when you came back.
SOLLER: Yes, they lived down on Dana Street when we first came here. There again-- very friendly, very friendly, and I think more and more friendly as they grew older. I found them much warmer, you know, as years went by, than when we first came here, but then there was a great difference in ages-- I mean it was a great difference then-- now it doesn’t seem so much. When you get to the upper end of the century, why it’s not so much.
HWH: You probably knew-- I didn’t until recently-- that Frances’s brother is the Chaffee at Williams who recently retired, who was the national senior mens tennis champion, and I gather, over his long coaching experience at Williams, has established an international reputation. I had not known that this was Frances’s brother.
SOLLER: No, I hadn’t heard that either. She’s a lovely person.
HWH: Yes she is. Nina, I’m sure there are more things I could ask you but we have nearly an hour and a half...
SOLLER: Well I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t know whether I’ve added anything to your understanding of Amherst in these days, but it’s been interesting to me.
[END OF INTERVIEW
Final Draft completed 1/30/81]