Friends of the Amherst College Library: Oral History Project

The Friends of the Amherst College Library conducted a project from 1998 to 2012 to capture on video, interviews with members of the Amherst community whose involvement with the college has been long-standing and whose reminiscences seem likely to be of historical significance.

A project to create transcripts for these oral histories is currently underway - more transcripts will be added as they are completed. A small number of interviews are still awaiting permissions review and will be linked here as soon as possible.

George B. (Spike) Beitzel
Interviewed by Richard Fink on July 29, 2010

George B. (Spike) Beitzel, class of 1950, graduated from Harvard with an MBA and served as a LTJG in the U. S. Navy. He had a 32-year career at IBM, retiring in 1987 as a Senior VP/Director. He served as a trustee of the College from 1966-1987 and as Chairman of the board of trustees from 1980-1986. During his time on the board, Amherst went co-ed, abolished fraternities, and experienced anti-war protests.

Lucy Benson
Interviewed by Joel E. Gordon on January 23, 2008

Lucy Benson is a graduate of Smith College, served as President of the National League of Women Voters (1968-1974), Secretary of Human Services for Massachusetts (1975-1977), and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology (1977-1980). In 1974 she received an honorary Amherst degree. She was married to Bruce B. Benson who was a Professor of Physics at Amherst from 1946-1990.

Ted Cross
Interviewed by Richard Goldsby on June 16, 2008

Theodore L. Cross, class of 1946, has had multiple careers as a lawyer, author, editor and publisher, civil rights activist, and conservationist. For almost a decade he served on the college’s board of trustees.

Janice C. Denton
Interviewed by Richard Fink on July 23, 2007

Janice Denton accompanied her husband to Amherst College in 1964 when he accepted a position as a professor in the Mathematics department. During her tenure she worked as a Science Library Assistant, Circulation Assistant, and Interlibrary Loan Assistant. Janice had a key role in the development of the Black Cultural Center Library and was instrumental in bringing a major endowed fund to the Library for the purchase of books. She was honored with an all-campus reception upon her retirement in 1998.

Donald B. Engley
Interviewed by Willis E. Bridegam on August 14, 2002

Donald B. Engley, class of 1939, earned degrees from Columbia University and the University of Chicago in librarianship. He served as the Librarian at Norwich University in Vermont and at Trinity College in Connecticut. He was the Associate University Librarian at Yale University from 1972 until his retirement in 1982.

Cora Lee Gibbs, part 1, campus tour
Cora Lee Gibbs, part 2, interview
Interviewed by Joel Upton on May 1, 2009

Cora Lee Gibbs came to Amherst in 1979 when her husband Julian H. Gibbs, class of 1956, became president of Amherst College. She was a lecturer and public program developer at the Mead Art Museum and created the "Art for Lunch" program. Before this she served as head of educational programs at the Rhode Island School of Design. After leaving Amherst she was appointed director of the Newport Art Museum.

Thomas W. Gibbs III
Interviewed by Karen H. Williams on January 2, 2010

Thomas Gibbs, class of 1951, made national headlines when the AC chapter of Phi Kappa Psi planned to initiate him in 1948; he would have been the first African-American in the national fraternity. After the Amherst chapter refused to bow to pressure from national fraternity leaders and depledge Gibbs, Phi Kappa Psi revoked Amherst's charter and the local chapter became an independent fraternity, Phi Alpha Psi. Gibbs went on to study theology and served in positions of increasing responsibility in the Episcopal Church, becoming dean of Cathedral Church on All Saints on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, from 1966 until his retirement.

Prosser Gifford
Interviewed by Robert C. Townsend on June 8, 2011

Prosser Gifford served as Dean of the Faculty from 1967 to 1979. He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in history from Yale. In addition to teaching appointments at Yale, he also has extensive experience as an editor of volumes on African history and United States foreign policy. In 1980 Gifford was appointed deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he worked until 1988. He then served at the Library of Congress as the director of the Office of Scholarly Programs and the John W. Kluge Center until his retirement in 2005.

Theodore P. Greene
Interviewed by Hugh D. Hawkins on February 2, 2000

Theodore P. Greene, class of 1943, returned to Amherst in 1952 to teach courses in American colonial, social, intellectual, frontier and diplomatic history. In 1974, Greene chaired one of the committees studying coeducation at Amherst, and wrote a 76-page final report of its findings. He demonstrated for civil rights legislation in the 1960s and against the Vietnam War in the 1970s. He retired in 1989 as the Winthrop H. Smith Professor of History and American Studies, Emeritus.

Elizabeth (Mahat) Guest
Interviewed by Elizabeth (Polly) Longsworth onJuly 24, 2000

Elizabeth (Mahat) Guest, wife of J. Alfred Guest, Class of 1933 (and Alumni Secretary 1946-1971), was a longtime prominent figure in alumni affairs for Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges. For over fifty years, she entertained and was a friend to thousands of Amherst undergraduates and alumni. In 1999, she was awarded the College's Alumni Council Distinguished Service award and she continued to be a presence at Amherst events until her death in 2007.

Jack W. C. Hagstrom, part 1
Jack W. C. Hagstrom, part 2

Interviewed by John Lancaster on October 12, 2005

Jack W. C. Hagstrom, class of 1955, is a collector of books, a bibliographer, and a founding member of the Friends of the Library. His first major gift to the library was a collection of poetry by Robert Frost, who taught him as a student at Amherst. Hagstrom earned a medical degree from Columbia University and taught at Case Western Reserve. From there he served as Director of Pathology at Harlem Hospital and later at Columbia Presbyterian, where he retired as Professor Emeritus of Pathology. He served as Chairman of the Friends of the Library from 1973-1990 and remained involved in Archives and Special Collections at Amherst until his death in 2019.

John B. Halsted
Interviewed by Doug C. Wilson on October 18, 2002

John B. Halsted, the college’s Henry Winkley Professor of History, Emeritus, retired from the faculty in 1987 after 45 years of teaching at Amherst. As a scholar and as a teacher, he was doing interdisciplinary work long before it became common, starting with the college’s "new curriculum" of the 1950s.

Hugh D. Hawkins
Interviewed by Douglas C. Wilson on August 18, 2003

Hugh D. Hawkins was the Anson D. Morse Professor of History and American Studies upon his retirement from the faculty in 2000, after 43 years of teaching at Amherst. In 1976 he was the principal architect of the first-year Introduction to Liberal Studies curriculum and helped build both the History and American Studies departments.

Kurt Hertzfeld
Interviewed by Peter Shea on August 30, 2007

 Kurt Hertzfeld was appointed Treasurer of Amherst College in 1968 and served until his retirement in 1981. During his years at Amherst he participated in the implementation of coeducation and oversaw the implementation of the first computers for the college. He was witness to the turbulence of the sit-ins and protests against the Vietnam War and was a leader in bringing a more professional approach to the Office of Treasurer and the management of the endowment.

George Kateb
Interviewed by William C. Taubman on June 16, 2008

George Kateb came to Amherst in 1957 and served as professor of political science until 1986 when he went to Princeton University. He is credited with making significant contributions to liberal political theory, focusing on the ethical dimensions of the individual in a constitutional democracy. He has written scholarly works on Emerson, Mill and Arendt as well as articles on the Bill of Rights and Constitutional law. He retired from teaching at Princeton in 2002.

William E. Kennick
Interviewed by Alexander George on February 21, 2003

William E. Kennick, the G. Henry Whitcomb Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, retired from the faculty in 1993 after 37 years of teaching at Amherst. He taught the standard courses in the history of philosophy, as well as aesthetics, metaphysics, and a seminar on Wittgenstein. In 2005, a reading room in the Philosophy Department was named in his honor.

Allen Kropf
Interviewed by Richard Fink on August 14, 2001

Allen Kropf, the Julian H. Gibbs Professor of Chemistry, was recognized at the May 2000 Commencement by president Gerety for his significant contributions in bio-physics and many outstanding years as a visionary educator.

Daniel Kie-Hong Lee
Interviewed by Erika Shelburne on September 18, 2011

Kie-Hong Daniel Lee, Class of 1950, was the first Korean student to graduate from Amherst College. He majored in economics and went on to Columbia University for his master’s degree before returning to Korea, where he was one of the early architects of the Korean five-year plan for national reconstruction after the Korean War. He held positions with the World Bank and the Korean Economic Development Institute and was publisher and chairman of the journal "Korea Business World" prior to his death in 2012.

Charles R. Longsworth
Interviewed by Tom Gerety in 2003

Charles R. Longsworth, class of 1951, is Chairman Emeritus of the college’s board of trustees. He served as president of Hampshire College (1971-1977) and coauthored (with former Hampshire president Franklin Patterson) ’The making of a college: plans for a new departure in higher education’. From 1977 to 1992 he served as president of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Leo Marx
Interviewed by Robert C. Townsend on June 21, 2013

Leo Marx taught at Amherst between 1958 and 1977. In 1976 he went to MIT where he is now Senior Lecturer, Kenan Professor of American Cultural History, Emeritus. His lifelong work has focused on the relationship between culture and technology in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and how the two shaped each other. His The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America has been in print since 1964.

Rose Olver
Interviewed by Hugh Hawkins on January 22, 2008

In 1962, Rose Olver became the first full-time woman faculty member in a tenure-track position and in 1968 became the first woman on the faculty to receive tenure. Olver was considered a leading expert in the psychology of self.

Donald S. Pitkin
Interviewed by Lawrence A. Babb on April 20, 2001

Donald S. Pitkin, Professor of Anthropology, taught at Amherst College from 1964 until 1992. The American Anthropological Association honored him in 2000 as "one of the pioneering U.S. anthropologists to do fieldwork in Europe." In 1985, he wrote ’The house that Giacomo built,’ which was made into a film of the same title.

Calvin Plimpton
Interviewed by Charles Longsworth on November 20, 2001

 Dr. Calvin Plimpton, Amherst class of 1939, was a physician who specialized in metabolic diseases. He served as the thirteenth president of the college in the tumultuous decade from 1960 to 1971. During his tenure, the college increased enrollment and introduced a new curriculum; he saw three major buildings open on campus--Arms Music Center, Merrill Science Center and Robert Frost Library. Plimpton also helped secure the initial funding to create Hampshire College.

Peter R. Pouncey
Interviewed by William H. Pritchard on June 10, 2009

Peter Pouncey served as the sixteenth president of Amherst College, 1984-1994, and as Edwin F. and Jessie Burnell Fobes Professor in Greek. Born in China, he relocated with his family to England and graduated from Oxford University. He was a faculty member at Columbia University in the Classics Department and later served as Dean of Columbia College before coming to Amherst.

William H. Pritchard
Interviewed by Rand R. Cooper on August 15, 2002

William H. Pritchard is Henry Clay Folger Professor of English, emeritus. He graduated from Amherst with a degree in philosophy in 1953. After earning his Ph.D. in English from Harvard, he returned to Amherst as an instructor in 1958. Pritchard's academic interests lie in American and British 20th-century fiction, poetry, and criticism. Richly intertwined with these is his attention to Amherst's own history; in 2006 he edited English at Amherst: A History by the late Theodore Baird. His own books include biographies of Robert Frost, John Updike, and Randall Jarrell, collections of critical essays, and an autobiography, English Papers.

Betty Romer
Interviewed by John Servos on June 13, 2012

Betty Romer provides a history of computing at Amherst College from 1968 when she was hired as a part-time staff member with a degree in mathematics and work experience at the Bell Labs, until 1996 when she left her position as Director of Academic Computing to enroll in the docent program at the Wadsworth Atheneum. From the IBM 1130 to personal computing, Ms. Romer sheds light on the budgetary challenges and the changing needs of students and faculty over the decades. She was the driving force behind the growth of computer services at Amherst.

Robert H. Romer
Interviewed by Hugh Hawkins and John Servos on March 12, 2010

Robert H. Romer, class of 1952, professor emeritus of physics, arrived at Amherst in 1955. His interest was low-temperature research and nuclear resonance in liquid helium-3. In 1969, Romer, who had been a civil rights activist, spent a year teaching at Voorhees College. He served as editor of the American Journal of Physics for thirteen years before retiring in 2001 from the Amherst faculty. His book Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts was published in 2009.

Arthur Schlesinger
Interviewed by Michael J. Israels on January 20, 2006

Prolific author, important 20th-century American historian and intellectual, Arthur Schlesinger is interviewed by Michael Israels. Schlesinger discusses the historic speech he wrote for President Kennedy given at Amherst College in 1963 shortly before Kennedy's assassination. Schlesinger also discusses his unique perspective on the Kennedys, as well as thoughts on the George W. Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

George L. Shinn
Interviewed by Charles R. Longsworth on July 12, 2009

George L. Shinn, originally class of 1945, came to Amherst in 1941 and graduated in 1948 after serving 3.5 years as a naval aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps. He began his twenty-seven-year career at Merrill Lynch in an entry-level position, eventually becoming President and CEO. From 1975-1983 he was CEO of First Boston. For fifteen years he served as an alumni trustee, life trustee, and then term trustee. During seven of those years, 1973-1980, he served as chairman of the board and it was his 1974 letter to the community that announced the decision to admit women.

Charlotte Turgeon, part 1
Charlotte Turgeon, part 2

Interviewed by Jack W. C. Hagstrom on October 20, 1998

Charlotte Turgeon came to Amherst with her husband, Frederick Turgeon, in 1934 when he joined the French Department. During his 1937 sabbatical in Paris, she graduated from the Cordon Bleu Academy. She has been described as a "pioneer forerunner for women in the culinary arts in the United States." Having published fifty-three cookbooks and held cooking classes at her home, she was as prolific off the screen as her classmate and close friend Julia Child was on the screen.

M. Abbott Van Nostrand
Interviewed by Michael Britwistle in 1994

M. Abbott Van Nostrand, Class of 1934, was the president of Samuel French, the world's oldest and largest play publisher and licensing agency. From 1952 until 1990, as president of French, Walter H. Baker Co., and Samuel French, Van Nostrand published every prominent 20th-century playwright, including 26 Pulitzer Prize winners and 14 Nobel Prize winners. The Samuel French Play Collection in Special Collections numbers over 30,000 plays and his successors continue to add to the collection.

Richard Wilbur
Interviewed by David Sofield on April 7, 2010

Richard Wilbur, Class of 1942, is interviewed by David Sofield, Samuel Williston Professor of English. Wilbur won dozens of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize twice, the National Book Award, and the Wallace Stevens Prize. In addition to his writing and translating, Wilbur taught for 40 years at Harvard, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Smith and Amherst.