Oral History Transcript — Billie Press
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Billie Press; March 15, 1996
ABSTRACT: Born October 15, 1925 in St. Louis, MO; discusses her childhood growing up in New York. Describes her father’s impact on her upbringing and his career as a proofreader for the New York Times; discusses her high school education. Recalls her undergraduate studies in literature and her courtship with Frank Press; describes she and Frank’s marriage and its ups and downs throughout she and Frank’s careers. Describes the social and family environment at Lamont and compares it to her subsequent experience at Cal Tech and MIT. Recalls her close relationships with the Worzels, Ludases, the Drakes, and the Ewings; discusses the strain between Doc Ewing and Frank Press upon Frank’s decision to leave Lamont. Describes she and Frank’s family (Bill, Paula) and their travels in Russia and Japan; explains her own research in early education and her numerous projects in education policy, teaching, and research
Session I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is an interview with Billie Press. We’re recording this on the 15th of March, 1996, in Washington, D.C. I know that you were born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 15, 1925, but I don’t know much about your family or your parents. Who were they, and what did they do?
Press:They were both born in Philadelphia, and their parents had been immigrants — Mom’s from Poland, Dad’s from Odessa in Russia. Dad was a newspaperman, and he loved — in those days it was so easy to do so, before the crash in the thirties — so he loved working for different newspapers in different places. And he also got involved in other ventures, especially in his youth. As my mother told me afterwards, “Your dad had the wanderlust and liked to pull up stakes.” One of his adventures was that he lost his shirt (and all their savings) in the Texas oil boom of 1913 soon after they were married. He was a wild and woolly and wonderful guy who, as mother said, led her a merry chase. He was a marvelous, joyful father to me. And he was ahead of his time in that he really respected bright and assertive women. So I never grew up with the feeling that these traits in my own nature were any kind of liability, but I did learn this all too well early on in my professional life in public education.
Doel:Your father was very supportive of the things that you wanted to do as you were growing up?
He inspired me to do them! I used to hold copy for him at the New York Times where he was head proofreader for quite a while some years after we came to New York. We moved to New York when I was almost five, a year after my brother, at only eight and a half, died suddenly of appendicitis. Mother was in such deep depression that Dad felt he had to get her into a new environment. So we moved to New York because her favorite auntie, who was even dearer to her than her mother in Philadelphia, was living there then with her family. Dad got a job with the then flourishing [William R.] Hearst paper, the Journal American. But in a year or two, the hard times of the Depression of the thirties set in and he was reduced to part time there. Eventually, when the Depression was over, he landed a good job as a proofreader at the New York Times where he was for the rest of his work life. He had a fine command of the English language, both written and oral, and he was very proud to be entrusted to proofread the editorials of the New York Times. He loved his work and, especially, working there.
Some of my earliest memories are learning to read, sitting beside him, or in his lap, before bedtime, reading the headlines and learning my alphabet and all the sounds that went with it from the headlines. Actually he started me on the Daily News, because they were easier words and bigger headlines. [Laughter] Dad was very imperfect as a husband, but he was really a wonderful father to me. Mom was beautiful and bright but had had to work at a sewing machine in a factory from age eleven — twelve hours a day, six days a week. She was the oldest child of six, very intelligent and able at anything she tried and always beloved by her friends. She was fine and true and she had adored my father, but she became very bitter after my brother died. She just turned her face to the wall and went into a profound depression. The antidote for it — recommended by the doctor after moving to New York — was that she have another child, but that didn’t pull her out of it. By this time she was in really bad health and forty-three years old. I was five and a half when my sister was born, but my super-beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed little sister had a terrible early life as Mom was in and out of hospitals and convalescent homes following a series of kidney operations. So Evelyn went from pillar to post as a baby and young child. She was beautiful but very timid and fearful as a child and developed a bad stutter. She was never psychologically strong and her life ended in her suicide after three marriages when she was forty-nine, losing her looks, and couldn’t bear to become fifty. So, anyway, I was the bright, straight-arrow, star, especially of my father’s life. They were crazy about Frank [Press] even before we were married. My mother thought he was the best of my suitors. I had lots of suitors. Yes, they were really suitors! [Laughter]
Doel:I want to get to that in just a moment. I’m curious what you remember reading as you were growing up.
Press:Well, my dad started me off — most parents didn’t read to their kids in those days — but my dad started me off, reading the Horatio Alger stories to me, and then I started reading all those Bobbsey Twins books, and the classics the kids read, Heidi, Pollyanna, Bambi, Pinocchio, Grimm’s and Lang’s and Andersen’s fairy tales, the Nancy Drew mystery series. I remember reading series of Twins books: the Dutch Twins, the Chinese Twins, French, Spanish, and Indian Twins, and studying the globe. I remember getting crazy about dog books by [Albert P.] Terhune — especially Lad, a Dog — and the Jack London stories — any and all stories about dogs. Our apartment was too small and Mother didn’t want pets, but I just adored dog stories and made sure my kids had pets when they were growing up and then I finally got my very own beloved poodle pup when the kids went off the college. I was an English major at New York University [NYU]. I was crazy about literature. I read and read for courses in English and American literature, I especially loved Mark Twain — still do. I had a full-tuition scholarship to Washington Square College, NYU [New York University]. I couldn’t afford to go out of town. One of my favorite courses was a whole year of Shakespeare, where my two best school-friends and I read, or rather acted out, a play-a-week together, late in the afternoon in a quiet corner of “the Commons” at school.
Doel:You acted it out?
Press:Yes. I mean, we took the parts — the roles. I love language. I used to hold copy for my dad from the age of thirteen. He used to arrange for his copyholder to go on vacation when I had my school vacations. I’m sure I wasn’t paid for it, not that young. It would be illegal until you were fourteen, but at thirteen I started holding copy for him. You know how it works: you read to him and he corrects the copy and then you switch and he reads and you correct the copy. He taught me how, Boy, he was good! He used to sit at home and read a gigantic unabridged dictionary for the shear pleasure of the words and the meanings and the nuances. But if I made a mistake “at work,” he’d quickly roll up a newspaper and rap me over the head. The sound of that rap sure focused my attention. It was all serious, a purposeful hit with no humor Dad was also a barbershop quartet singer, and he helped organize the quartet at the Times, which eventually became an octet, and even went up to a barber’s shop chorus of sixteen. He and I sang together all my young life. He did beautiful baritone harmony and he had me hold the lead. He used to rap me over the head if I lost the lead. Our son Bill [William H. Press] has that same gift of singing harmony and now, in his forties, Bill too has a rich, beautiful voice. Bill is named after my Dad but except for the singing and love of music and being lively and outgoing and humorous like Dad, he’s so different — much more like his own father, the disciplined scientist. Bill’s a professor of astrophysics at Harvard. I’m sure though that this good ear for music is genetic. Both children — Paula and Bill — have it, and their children too. Frank has a good ear, too. We never had music training, Frank nor I — our parents couldn’t afford it during the Depression. But music, so many different kinds of it, means so much to our souls and I sing a lot. Even the grandchildren know Gilbert and Sullivan, which we used to sing in the car on long trips. Frank introduced me to Gilbert and Sullivan and to the world of classical music when I was sixteen, and I was hooked forever more! How Frank and I loved, in our early days, spending our little money on those long-playing, classical records, and he took me to my first concerts. Dad exposed me to a wealth of singing, opera, and to our whole American popular music heritage from the Civil War on, but Frank gave me the world of symphonic music and Gilbert and Sullivan, which we all adore. Re our political ideas: Frank had a very liberal political philosophy. He was sort of like a social Democrat when we were young and started dating — he seventeen and I sixteen. I was brought up, as I told you, on Horatio Alger and “The American Dream” and my dad’s favorite president was Teddy [Theodore] Roosevelt. Dad believed in America’s Manifest Destiny in getting all those colonies and so on.
Doel:I suspect he had some words for F.D.R. [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] as you were growing up, your father.
Press:Oh, he liked F.D.R. very much. By the time of the Depression and all that went with it, things had changed so much that my parents felt that F.D.R. saved the country, that without him we would have gone either Communist or Fascist. They both greatly admired F.D.R. And, of course, he was the President for all of my formative years. I remember being lined up with all the school kids of Brooklyn on Eastern Parkway — we had settled in Brooklyn to be near Mom’s auntie — and as we watched F.D.R.’s car go by, I remember we all shouted a rhyme that we kids had made up, but the only one line I remember is, “Throw Landon in the garbage can.” [Alfred M.] Landon was running against Roosevelt, so that must have been in 1935 when Roosevelt was running for his second term. I did a full year of graduate work in English, including linguistics. I took courses in religion, which I was interested in, comparative religion particularly, and much later on when I was getting a doctorate in education, I was permitted to take many courses that were not in the education department: my courses in history, in eco-geography, political history, sociology, and much psychology. As an undergraduate English major, I loved my several courses in philosophy with Professor Sidney Hook. I was much interested in things and still am.
Doel:What sort of house did you live in when you were growing up?
Press:We lived in a nice brownstone home in St. Louis until we moved to New York, when I was five. And then we lived, at the beginning, in a very nice apartment, where I had my own room. Then Evelyn was born, my dad lost his full-time job at the Journal-American, and we had to move to a small apartment in a poorer section of town.
Doel:Was this New York, now, that you’re talking about?
Press:It was Brooklyn. It was a terrible time. I used to see people out on the street, my friends sitting on their mattresses and bed-springs. They’d been evicted. And I remember one time when the super — they called him that — the superintendent came to the door to collect the rent. I was standing behind my mother. Our rent, I remember, was $36 a month and she said, kind of tearfully, so unusual in my strong Mom, but she said, “All I have for you is $5 this month.” And he said, “Oh, I’m so glad you have $5, now I don’t have to put you out.” And so they accepted five of the $36! And my mom, I heard her saying that if she ever had to go on relief, if we had to go on relief, she would kill herself. I used to worry a lot about that. That was one of the reasons why I was absolutely planning to go to college, and my parents were planning so for me, particularly my dad, because I was a very smart kid. He was very proud of me, and he’d lost his boy, the brother who was five years older than I, so I was the oldest child, and he poured everything into me. He even taught me how to box. He was using Lewis’ little boxing gloves that he laced on my hands with much ceremony. He told me, “Don’t throw a kidney punch nor a rabbit punch, but see if the guy has a glass jaw.” And he’d feel on my face where that nerve is in the jaw. “Aim for that,” he’d say. And my mom, I remember her coming into the room and saying, derision dripping from her voice: “William, you damn fool, she’s a girl, just a g-u-rr-l” and then she’d walk out. And he’d whisper in my ear, “Sweetheart, I know you’re a girl, but it’s good for a girl to know how to defend herself.”
Doel:How did you feel about that?
Press:Oh, I agreed. I thought that was great. But I wasn’t too good at it. I mean, I loved my dad’s attention in doing all of this, and I didn’t play with dolls then, and I was a hair’em-scare’em, skinned knees, run-around kind of little kid, very brave, and loved adventure, but boxing wasn’t really my forte. My best friend and I liked to follow suspicious-looking characters. We decided we were going to see if they were spies and we followed them to find out. So we had all kinds of ideas, mostly from the girls’ mystery stories we all loved to read. I was always a ring leader of stuff with the girls. We didn’t play with boys then at all. One didn’t.
Doel:What other sorts of things did you do then?
Press:Well, we used to talk about, I remember, how babies were made. I remember when I was about eleven. You know, nowadays kids know everything, but we were walking home from school one day, Elaine and I — Elaine Holder was my best friend in elementary school — and she said that a sperm could go through a brick wall, and that’s how you can get pregnant and not even know it! [Laughter] A few years later I was questioning my mother further about all this and she said, “There’s only one thing you have to remember.” When I asked her, “How do you keep from having a baby after you get married? Because after all, you know, Mom, people don’t have a baby all the time, every nine months.” So she said, “You just have to remember one thing: take a drink of water and turn your back.” And that was the sex education I got from her! But my dad bought me the book, Growing Up, by Karl De Schweinitz, when I was twelve, which was perhaps the first book of its kind at the time, and I read that. And of course, then the girls and I had some basis of fact, and I didn’t have to just talk about brick walls anymore.
Doel:What were your favorite subjects in high school? You mentioned English already.
Press:I loved all the subjects, and if it was a good teacher, I adored the subject. The one thing I wasn’t good in was math. Not that I was bad in it, just not really good. But I was very good in geometry. I had a great teacher and I loved the logic of it. I think we didn’t have good teachers, mostly, for math. I planned on majoring in English and becoming a teacher. Actually, I loved just about everything I studied: history, economics, biology, French, literature, writing. I even took typing one semester. My dad had bought me a used typewriter when I was thirteen. I had learned touch-typing in a one semester, twice a week class in seventh grade, plus all the practice I did on my own little Royal portable. Both Frank and I were in a “Rapid Advance Program,” at our separate junior high schools — we didn’t know each other then. This was a wonderful New York City program for the upper twenty to twenty-five percent in academic achievement kids in the New York City schools. The program enabled the kids to do seventh, eighth, and ninth grade in two years. I don’t know if all the kids in the city were given this typing class in the seventh grade — perhaps yes — but all the RAP kids were, and it served me well. I later was made head of the Program for the Academically Talented and Gifted in the Pasadena, California, school system. I had been doing a lot of good curriculum development work, heading up social studies and language arts teacher committees. So many supervisors knew me. They made me the head of the program, and that’s how I got promoted out of the classroom, although I never considered being out of the classroom a promotion. And it’s so hackneyed and old to say ‘in my day,’ but I have to say ‘in my day,’ since women didn’t have all the other opportunities. Some of the very best women went into education, including elementary education. And when I consider the principals, school directors I had in the public school systems of the few school districts when we lived in different parts of the country, the only ones who are brilliant were the women principals, who came up from being smart, and the men were my nemeses, my nemeses. I used to come home and cry to Frank, stiff upper lip at work, particularly when I became the head of the gifted program. I couldn’t get a decision out of my superintendent in charge of instruction.
Doel:This is in the later 1950s, after you and Frank are out at CalTech [California Institute of Technology]?
Press:Yes. I went back to full-time teaching. I had started at the high-school level before I had the kids, but I got pregnant so soon afterwards, I finished up a year of graduate work and Bill came early, unexpectedly, so I didn’t finish my thesis. Excuses, excuses. But everything but that, and even the thesis part done, half done certainly — Tennessee Mountain dialect and its relationship to Elizabethan English, that was my thesis. I like that stuff, linguistics, the history of the language.
Doel:Would this have been a master’s thesis or a Ph.D.?
Press:No, that was to have been a master’s thesis, but then I did get a master’s thesis a few years later in child development, child psychology, which I got at Bank Street, and then I got a doctorate in education from Boston University, master’s in ‘55 and doctorate in ‘68.
Doel:I wanted to ask, you mentioned algebra and math. What other sciences were you exposed to when you were in high school and what was the high school?
Press:It was called Tilden High School, Samuel J. Tilden High School in East Flatbush of New York, and I loved biology. When I graduated form high school, I heard a little hint from a teacher that I might win a medal, and I was so excited about that, but at my high school graduation, I won the medals in biology, English — I’ve got to get this right — number one in scholarship, character, and service, so I got on the plaque, my name forever inscribed, a boy and a girl each year. And then I won all of these other academic medals, and even the typing medal just from getting into the contest, and the commercial majors were furious at me, because I wasn’t even a commercial student. But I learned to type like a whiz, really earned good money in my high school years as a secretary at the Journal American, relieving the secretaries.
Doel:And that was when your father was still working at the Journal American?
Press:Yes, yes. There was a little nepotism there, although I probably didn’t need nepotism by this time. I was really bright and a cheerful, pretty little blonde as well. Oh, listen to me, I can’t stand the way I’m talking. Maybe I’m saying all this because high school days, and especially my graduation, represent such a high in my life. I surely can’t say that since the — it has not been “downhill all the way,” but I’m feeling rather downhill at this point in my life. These memories and the way I seem to have lost that ability to organize, to get things accomplished, to be on time, not remembering where I’ve put things, and this manic discursiveness. It’s awful! I’m seventy and some say it goes with the territory at my age. But many septuagenarians I know are still “with it” more than I am! And the contrast with how I used to be often gets me down.
Doel:You retired about a year ago, isn’t that true?
Press:A year and a half ago. It was June ‘94. I was doing research on socio-economically disadvantaged young children at an outstanding agency in Washington and was also producing child development and how-to-teach films for early childhood teachers. I had a long career in that area of education as well. And after I’d done that for some years I got into writing on comparative education. During the years that Frank was head of the Academy [National Academy of Science], I had a professorship for a year, and I could have kept it at American University, it was an associate professorship, in ‘81. I was so disappointed in the quality of the elementary education students that I was supposed to be teaching, that it just broke my heart. The grades in school that year at that period were so terribly inflated, and these ridiculous girls — because they were overwhelmingly girls — used to call me when I was giving a dinner party, which was often, to complain why did they get a B instead of a B-plus or an A, when I really would have liked to have given them a D. And this is the quality of people who went into teaching, to pull something together, as I said before.
Doel:The comparison between the 1930s.
Press:Oh, never mind the thirties. I was teaching — I was in full swing in the fifties and the sixties in my career, and I began to see really things going down terribly in the seventies. I had the opportunity of spending quite a bit of time in Japan in the late eighties and I visited schools in four cities, studied their educational system, and also spent much social time with small groups of women, friends of our Japanese friends there, at teas, teas, teas! We really talked — about the schools, family life, life with professional husbands, their own aspirations. We really got down! My Japanese lady friends spoke superb English. The women and I would get together when Frank was at meetings but I stayed in Japan more than two weeks after he left, spending full time visiting schools, health centers, professors of education and psychology I knew professionally myself, plying my own trade as I had also done in Russia and in China through the eighties. All of these trips led to published professional papers on comparative education and child-rearing — and presentations at professional meetings which I actually started doing in the sixties when I took many trips with Frank to the USSR between 1958 and 1989.
Doel:What other courses did you have in high school? You mentioned biology and algebra.
Press:If I had lived in this era, I probably would have majored in biology. If there had only been any influences, in school or out, to encourage this interest. But there weren’t any. Girls were told they could aspire work-wise only to being a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. Everything having to do with health and biology has always fascinated me, as does the revolution today in that field. Frank said I could have done very well in that field. And I was good enough in math. Certainly I was good enough in math. I got very high grades. I won a New York State Regents Scholarship for all my grades. But I wasn’t a really good thinker in math. I mean, I know talent in math, and I didn’t have it. I did, however, really love teaching, and I feel I’ve made a significant contribution in my area of work, so I might have gone the same route even today, although today I wouldn’t have wanted to go into a profession that had so little respect and remuneration attached to it, as it does now. And the colleagues! In my time, my colleagues were great, but then beginning in the late sixties and seventies when I began college teaching of education students and supervising student-teachers, well, too many weren’t educated and literate enough themselves to become good teachers. Now, at Massachusetts State College at Salem, where I taught for a few years in the early seventies, it was different. These kids were socio-economically upward bound. They were often the first generation of kids going to college. A lot of them had gone to parochial schools and so they had really learned to read and write. I never thought that our public schools would get so bad! The Salem State kids were eager to become teachers — good teachers! Among my elementary education students at American University in the early eighties, I wouldn’t have hired as teachers more than 25 percent. In Japan, teachers come from the top 25th percent in academic achievement. Our elementary teachers score in the bottom quartile or lower. And our American civilization is and will be paying the price.
Doel:Something you said a moment ago just raised another question for me. Were either of you parents particularly religious? Was religion a big part of your growing up?
No, not at all. My dad called himself a “free thinker.” He was reading Tom [Thomas] Paine’s Age of Reason to me when I was young, and told me, “You see, you can find in the Bible chapter and verse to support any position!” As a result of Dad’s teaching on this subject I did a terrible thing once. When I was about ten, I said to the girls in my “club” — I don’t remember what we were talking about, but they were expressing deep beliefs in God, of a physical God — and I said, “Well, I’m going to prove to you that there’s no God up there.” I was a real smart-ass, so I said, “God, if you’re up there, I dare you to strike me dead.” The kids clutched one another and quaked, and as you can see, I didn’t get struck dead. But maybe my aches and pains and arthritis is latter-day punishment for being such a smart-ass. Anyway, after I’d said this to my friends, my mother got telephone calls from the mothers of my friends saying that they didn’t want their girls to play with me anymore. So my mother said derisively to my father, “You fill her up with a lot of idle prate, and now you see the result!” That word, “prate,” I never heard anybody else say it. Is that a real word? My mother didn’t disagree with my Dad’s ideas but she thought it was impolite for him to teach me thus and I came to agree with her when I grew up. Therefore I taught my children that although Frank and I were agnostics, religion was a great comfort to countless people and that we should respect their beliefs and expect them to respect ours.
Frank came from a conventionally religious Jewish family. They were not Orthodox, but they were born in the Jewish part of Minsk, Russia. Frank grew up in an entirely Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. They weren’t “big-time believers” but they followed their traditions and he certainly never heard any heretical talk at home. We pretty much agree on religious matters but both of us always taught our children to be extremely respectful about such things and we don’t flaunt our opinions on these matters. Frank, in fact, is very respectful of people, all people, in every regard. He is a gentleman, very deep down and I love that about him. On many matters I tend to be somewhat judgmental but Frank, never! However he has always had definite and high standards for himself, for me, and for our children and we do agree on all those things. At times in my life I’ve wished I’d had the kind of comforting religious faith that I’ve seen in various friends. What a comfort it would be to believe that you’ll meet your beloveds after you die. But I’m so unmystical and pragmatic. So, faith of this sort is not for me and I do believe that religion is a wonderful thing to have as long as it doesn’t make you narrow-minded or disrespectful of others. That I do despise! I really believe in “live and let live.” I wished I could have practiced it more with those closest to me, especially with my daughter, but with members of the immediate family, with my children, I can’t do it. A couple of very, very good friends say that they feel their mistakes in child-rearing were that they were so much “on the other hand, on the other hand” with their kids — that is, conveyed the idea that everything is relative — and as a result, their kids don’t have a clear sense of right and wrong to guide them. Ethics, I mean. What’s right is right! Not everything is a question of taste! There are enduring human values concerning decency, honesty, commitment, good work, and dedication to good work and good works. All this has been clear to me since I was sixteen. Frank and I have always shared these ideals. They contributed to our falling and I now realize, staying in love, despite our very different temperaments.
Doel:You had a moral compass, then.
Press:Oh, we both have such a strong feeling of honor and obligation. We got it from different places, and I think have it in somewhat different ways. I got it mostly, I guess, from my mother, who was A-#1-fine in character. And Frank got it probably from both his parents, but most of all from his father, who was a marvelous, dedicated, fine human being. And all three sons, of the Presses — there were no daughters — all were fine husbands and fathers and wonderful contributors in their professional careers.
Doel:What did they do?
Press:One became an attorney, and one went into publishing, wound up his career as personnel director of Conde Nast. Frank had a fine family although his mom was quite ignorant and parochial.
Doel:Can you say exactly of what you’re thinking of when you say that?
Well, I’ll tell you a funny thing. She was very materialistic, and she was very disappointed that her husband — well, it was the Depression — that her husband wasn’t doing better financially during the depression. She used to say — when I hadn’t known her very long, when Frank had first brought me to his home when he and I were thinking about getting officially engaged — that she could have married an engineer and that she deeply regretted her choice in marriage. I know it bothered the boys enormously to hear their hard-working, taciturn, and dour father put down. But their personalities just didn’t “fit.” She said these things. It was awful. My parents fought all the time and my Dad was a not a moral man where other women were concerned. Nevertheless, my parents were crazy about each other and I felt it. I remember after we were married we lived at Lamont [Geological Observatory] at the former farmhouse which became the cook and butler’s house, when the Lamont’s converted the farm to a luxurious multi-millionaire’s estate. I must tell you this to properly illustrate my mother-in-law. She and Dad Press came to our house at Lamont, which was this very old farmhouse. There was this much space — about three inches — between the wall and the baseboard in the tiny, so-called living room where the wind came whistling in, and so, all winter long the kids and I had to wear fleece-lined stadium boots indoors because it was so cold. And the heat we had downstairs came from the original iron pot-bellied coal stove in the kitchen. Unfortunately the heat never reached as far as the living room and very little from the old furnace reached the upstairs. Well, Mother Press said she’d never seen anything like this place since she’d come to this country from Russia, which was back in 1913, and here it was 1950. And so she thought we lived pretty poorly.
We’d moved there when Frank joined Doc [W. Maurice Ewing] at Lamont when our first child, Bill, was about six months old. I was pregnant with Paula two years later and my in-laws were visiting, as I said, and she said to me in her marvelous accent — but oh, before I tell you what she said on that memorable occasion, I must give some background. We had this cat that we’d inherited. It had been left there by some previous people and we named it Stanislaus. It had great big wonderful tufts on each side of its face. What a beautiful, big, gray tomcat he was, all pure cat muscularity, stealthy and strong, poetry in motion. And so we took him in and he became our cat, though he was always fierce. But he was a beauty. So he was there, indoors more than out during the deep winter. That cold evening we all finished eating. I had prepared a tolerable dinner, which my mother-in-law praised. Dad Press always liked everything, he was a darling, and I adored him. He was always completely accessible to the grandchildren and relaxed in a way Frank loved but had never experienced when growing up. So I cleared the dishes off the table, and, as was my wont, set one down in the cat’s corner. You see, I was not “to-the-manor-born,” unfortunately, although fortunately as well, for Frank never would have found me if I had been — in the circles he traveled in those days. [Laughter] So I took the plate off the table and put it in the cat’s corner for him to eat the yummy scraps. And I saw my mother-in-law looking, with eyes widened. They didn’t know about animals in Frank’s family and how you can love a pet, because they never had pets. It was Frank’s first pet and mine too, and it was wonderful and opened up a whole new world of appreciation. Well that evening, after she’d observed my feeding the cat as described, she said, “Daling, you’re beautiful, you’re pregnant like a flower.
But when I think of my baby, mein professor, Frankala,” — he wasn’t a professor, he was only an instructor at the time — she said, “Well when I think of mein beautiful professor” [this is not fair of me to make fun of his mother, and if you use this in any bad way, I’ll kill you. Frank will kill you! Mother Press will roll over in her grave, because she came to love me and I her, in a way] but she said, “When I think of mein beautiful professor living here with you,” and she glanced disgustedly around the kitchen, “and eating out of cat dishes — I could die!” I went screaming out of the house to Dottie [Dorothy] Worzel next door. Dottie and Lenore Ludas were among the dearest friends I’ve had in my long life. They were in a class beyond compare. Dear Lenore is long gone but the Worzels and the Presses have remained good friends despite all the distance and time that separates us. And Dottie and I always stay in touch — as I do with the Worzel’s oldest daughter, Sandy, who is like a beloved goddaughter or niece to me. Sandy spent much of her life in my kitchen between the ages of five and thirteen when we all lived as neighbors at Lamont.
Doel:The Ludases lived very close to you?
Press:Yes, the Ludases lived just up the road. He was the head of the machine shop, and Angelo and Lenore, and Dottie and I, we were such a life support system to one another, and particularly they. Dottie was nine years older than I was and is, and we stayed good friends forever. Sandy Worzel was just here last week, she’s really my goddaughter without benefit of a formal ceremony. But she’s always been my soul child, like a beloved niece, and we’ve never lost touch since I first “fell in love with her” when she was three years old. I love all the kids in the family, but particularly Sandy and Howard who used to be in my kitchen up until I moved away, and whom I knew when I was a brand-new bride when they were one and a half and three, when I first went up there in Franklin out to sea with Joe [J. Lamar Worzel], at Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institute]. And I was twenty years old and Frank was twenty-one, and I was teaching at the Woods Hole Child Care Center, Child Development Center that summer.
Doel:This is probably an appropriate point to talk about how you and Frank first met. You say you had been going out with a few other people at the time?
Press:In those days, you had dates. That was the courtship mode. Nowadays when they say, “I’m dating a man,” my God, it means intimacy. [Laughter] And it means or should mean not seeing — “dating” — anybody else. Serial monogamy may be the best we can hope for, for most of our kids these days. I suppose Frank wouldn’t like this talk, he’d say, “Billie, you’re just dating yourself.” Okay, so I’m dated. But, yes, that’s the ways we did it: girls had boyfriends and boys had girlfriends, without sexual intimacy — except for some kissing, of course. The idea of socialization at that particular time of life, as you undoubtedly know, was that you sampled the merchandise, that you got to know a lot of boys and girls, that they took you to the movies and for a soda. Usually you went out with one boy but often there were “double dates.” I lived in the city and we didn’t have cars, and I don’t know how much went on in cars in the suburbs in those days, but I started dating when I was fifteen. I was born at the end of 1925, so you figure it out. It’s around 1940. I got married in ‘46, so I was fifteen, and I got married when I was twenty, so it was in the early forties. Yes, it was during the war. There weren’t so many guys around to date then.
Doel:Of course, the war started at the end of 1941.
Press:Yes, that’s true but there was much pre-war mobilization in 1940 and you remember the Lend-Lease program to help the Miles. But when I was in high school, 1939-42, and even in college, in 1942-46, there were always boys around. Science majors like Frank usually had deferments to finish their college training. That’s why Frank hurried through City College of New York [CCNY] in two and a half years with heavy course loads, summer included. So I always found nice guys, all kinds of boys, or rather, they found me! My best friend during these years was Paula Nelson, her name then was Paula Kellner, and we became the closest pals in the world when I was twelve or thirteen — and we’ve remained close friends ever since. We did a lot of double dating together during these years. Boys we each dated always had friends for the other and how we all enjoyed foursomes! She became a professor of Western art and she retired to California some years ago but we continue phone contact and to see each other for several days at least once a year. I named my daughter Paula after her. I am, or at least was, close to her children as well — two boys. She’s very dear to my own daughter Paula like a godmother. Bill isn’t close to any of my friends particularly, despite his and Frank’s shared science interests. Bill always insisted upon “plying his own trade,” making his own separate friends. Of course as Bill has risen in science - astrophysics, computer science, government think tanks — Bill and Frank have worked with many of the same people — on different projects.
Doel:You’re talking about your son, Bill.
Press:Yes, of course. He’s into his science and his books, and he has wonderful close colleague friends of his own. And I’ve been a caring friend to both his first wife, Margaret, and now his second, but it takes a long time to build a relationship. He’s been married to “Jeffie” now for five years, and she’s a remarkable, go-getting, talented women and very classy. I showed you her picture. She’s a fine mother too and brought a beautiful three-year old to the marriage. Bill’s daughter Sara — our beloved Sara — was fifteen when Bill finally remarried. Sara had grown to love Jeffie and especially her little step-brother, James, over the years. There’s mutual adoration there. So things worked out despite that terrible earlier time when Margaret, Bill’s first wife, fell in love with someone else and left Bill. Sara was five and a half. It was awful for Bill and Sara and all of us.
Doel:Yes, and this was off tape when we were talking before we began. How did you first come to know Frank?
Press:We were in a history honor class in high school together when I was a junior and he was a senior. He sat on one side of the room and I sat on another so he and I never talked. It was a wonderful class with a terrific teacher, so we had a lot of good, sparkly class discussions.
Doel:How big was the class?
Press:Our classes were probably about thirty, something like that. I don’t think they were much smaller than that, and they could have been thirty-five. We had very good teachers in high school — except for math and there wasn’t much in science then either. It was a time when there were a lot of good teachers — men as well as women — in high school in all of the other subjects. Teaching then for a man who came up during the Depression was a great job and these fellows were well-educated and bright, so we got quite good educations and we got a very nice education in the public school system in New York City at the time. I had two and a half years of math through intermediate algebra and Frank additionally took trigonometry and the required, very good, year-courses in biology. That was all that was offered in math and science. Our time in English, history, geography, and foreign languages was very good however. Frank went to college at CCNY. City College did so much for so many boys of his generation — the children of foreign-speaking immigrants — with so much brilliance. Frank is furious at City College for recently knocking physics out of the curriculum. But you know, it’s the way things are going. Look, I devoted such a lot of my life to Head Start, to socio-economically disadvantaged kids, and I care so much about socio-economic mobility in this country, and so I don’t just look at not teaching physics. I just feel so bad that there are so many kids in an underclass that’s getting bigger and bigger — a group of people who can’t make it and don’t make it. I feel it’s mostly rooted in economics, and I get so mad at this whole presidential stuff, because except for that jerk [Patrick] Buchanan, nobody’s even talking about it. I get too upset about this. I can talk about religion and not get upset a bit, but the political scene is really getting me nuts lately. Living in Washington, many of us become news junkies and can’t turn it off.
Doel:You certainly are surrounded.
Press:And with Frank’s positions, and now this study that they just completed.
Doel:The Academy study that Frank cleared?
Press:Yes. And the aggravation that went with that.
Doel:Let me turn the tape. Let me say right here. We have steered a moment away from the honors history program, but I should say on the tape, we’re resuming after a brief interruption caused by a problem with the tape recorder, which is now resolved. I had been asking you about your first and early recollections of meeting Frank.
Press:Right. So as I said, he was the smartest boy in the history honor class.
Doel:Had you known him before? Had you met him? Did you know of him?
Press:No, never laid eyes on him. My best friend then was Paula Kellner, but Elaine Holder was an old friend, and we had been close in earlier years, and she sat on the other side of the room just behind Frank. She had a big crush on him and used to bring him a piece of fruit in her lunch every day. He was so skinny. So she used to bring him a piece of fruit. And she was a beauty and witty and bright, all the virtues. [Laughter] I sat way on the other side of the room. I’m sure I contributed in class. I was a good thinker and spoke up readily. I remember that Frank didn’t talk much, but when he did, it was beautiful, insightful, a whole different way of looking at things than I was used to.
Doel:What was his thinking?
Press:It was his kind of Social Democratic stuff from his parents and his brothers. And here I was raised on capitalism and so on, as I told you, blind uncritical capitalism. The first words I ever spoke to him were, as we were filing out of the room — the term had gone on quite a while — we filed out, he from one side of the room, I from another, and we just happened to converge. And since my friend had a crush on him, and he was so smart, and I admired him too and I thought he was awfully cute, too, I wanted to get a rise out of him or something, the way girls do. So it just popped right into my head to say, “Frank Press, are you a Communist?” He was such a young kid, we were so young, I fifteen, he sixteen, and he looked at me with a look that’s not changed over all our lives, and it’s a wonderful look, and I always love it when I get it. It was a look of amusement, incredulousness, those were the main ingredients. Like “What have we here?” but with a sweetness to it, not just dismissing me as a total featherbrain or now they’d say “bimbo,” but I guess he’d noticed my contributions in class and knew that I wasn’t a bimbo. But it certainly was a featherbrain remark! I couldn’t think of anything to capture his attention at that moment so that’s what came out. I didn’t know a Communist from a Socialist from a Social Democrat in those days. And those words were the only thing we said in high school. Actually, he never said anything.
Doel:He never replied?
Press:He never replied. He just had a look, you know. And then when he was at City College, he sent me a letter inviting me and Elaine with a friend of his from the Physics Club to a physics dance. And he wrote a letter, and it wasn’t until years and years later that I read it again — I had saved in a special box all these very special letters — and he wrote, and the point was that, he just happened to find my address and not Elaine’s. And the fact was, he and his friend, whom he was sure we would like, wanted to invite us both to come with them to this physics dance. The Physics Club was founded, he wrote, and now listen carefully: “It was founded on high principles and moral turpitude!” Now I thought this meant something like what later became part of my vocabulary — rectitude — and I was touched that he was trying to say right off the bat that he was an honorable boy. [Laughter] It seems like it’s something out of Jane Austen or something. But it was 1941 or 1942. I graduated from high school in June 1942, so it was sometime before June 1942.
Doel:Yes. And this would have been just on the eve of World War II.
Press:Yes, that’s when it was. I gave my mother Frank’s letter to read and it’s lucky that she didn’t know “turpitude” any better than I did, for she read it and said, “What a fine letter. What a very nice boy.” And I said, “Oh, yes, and he’s so smart and he’s nice-looking too.” Then I showed the letter to Elaine, and we were trying to figure out who was the date of whom. So I said, “I don’t know well, we’ll just have to find out.” So on the subway coming home — the boys had taken turns throughout the evening dancing with each girl, so we never knew who was for whom even after the dance ended — but on the subway, my stop was before Elaine’s on the BMT, and when we pulled into the station for my stop, Frank just grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me out the door, and that’s how I knew I was his date. So, a few dates later, or maybe it was the very next date — probably, knowing me, it the next date — I asked him about that whole setup. [Laughter]
Doel:How it had come to be.
Press:Right. So he said, well, he liked both Elaine and me, and knew he couldn’t date us both because Elaine and I were good friends. So he decided he would be able to decide who by observing us both together all evening.
Doel:It was literally that one encounter that you had had in history class that started it all?
Press:Oh, he’d seen me across the room and in action. I was a very spritely, lively, quite pretty and popular girl. But we’d never conversed.
Doel:Were you in any other clubs together or after-school activities?
Press:No. We must have been in ARISTA together, you know. That was the high school honorary society, but he was going through high school like a dose of salts, very fast, and attending school in summers to finish in three years and start college because he was afraid of being drafted, and he wanted to get as much in as possible. So he really didn’t have much time for “hanging out” as we now say. I was the humor editor of the yearbook and he’d been involved on the newspaper and yearbook the year before. I, too, had to work after school. I really didn’t have to but I liked earning pocket money and getting job experience.
Doel:Was this when you were with the newspaper, when you would substitute, or was this another job that you had?
Press:No, no. I used to help in a nursery school after my own classes ended, beginning at the age of fifteen. I worked from three to six o’clock, Monday through Friday, as a helper in a nursery school. Helping my dad, holding copy at the newspaper was during my school vacations when the nursery school was also closed. And then when I was in college, starting at sixteen, I worked summers on the newspaper. Later, to get back to Frank’s and my first date, when I asked him how he’d gotten his friend in the physics club to go along with his scheme, he said, “Well, I just told him that there were two very attractive, delightful girls, and he was more than willing to be a party to it all — to the set-up.” I also remember asking him many years later and in wonderment, because Elaine was really beautiful and became Miss City College — downtown branch. Her mother had orthodontia done on her teeth in high school, and the space between her two front teeth was pushed together — they corrected her one physical imperfection. She was stunning — eyelashes that, as we used to say, that could sweep the cobwebs from any man’s heart, and deep-set blue-gray eyes, dark hair and rosy cheeks. She was a beauty. So I said to Frank — and I was never a beauty, but my blonde coloring was beautiful, and I had a very good figure — so I said, “How come you chose me? Why did you choose me?” And he said, “You were both smart, you were both witty, you were both good-looking.” And I said, “I wasn’t good-looking.” And he said, “Well, I thought you were.” And I said, “What was the deciding factor?” And he said, simply, “You had depth, and she didn’t.” That was all.
Doel:That must have made you feel very special.
Press:Oh, well, yes. I mean, I’ve always felt wonderful about this. Frank really respects me a lot, my brains and my soul — he does. I do know that. I started complaining when you first came in the door, and I was showing you the pictures. I said that he doesn’t take time “to smell the flowers” and do things anymore.
Doel:These are the pictures on your refrigerator door?
Press:Right, and you saw some vacations we have had. You know you might be more comfortable if you took that pillow away and could nestle back right into there.
Doel:I’m actually fine, this is comfortable, but thank you.
Press:I’ve become kind of a “comfort maven.” I think it’s because I have a pinched nerve in my back and arthritis, and getting truly comfortable is such a joy to me. So I do everything to be comfortable so I can think about other things besides aches and pains. So anyway, that’s how I met Frank, and we started dating, and he used to date me every third week. He had three girlfriends, and he rotated us.
Doel:So even then he had three.
Press:Oh, yes. And I had lots of boyfriends. I mean, I dated all weekend long, lots, and he was just one of the boyfriends, but I thought he was really special. And then at one point, when we weren’t in love or anything, but we liked each other a lot and were growing in appreciation of one another, a boyfriend of mine who was going to an out-of-town college phoned and said he was coming home unexpectedly that weekend and hoped I could see him. I was going to tell you how I nearly lost Frank, but maybe that’s not pertinent.
Doel:It might be, if you feel it is.
Press:A boyfriend was coming in from out of town, and it was sort of unexpected that he could come, but his parents sent him the money so he could make the trip. So I called Frank as soon as I found this out, which was at least two weeks ahead of our planned date. And I told him the truth, that a friend, an old friend, was coming in from out of town, and it was unexpected, so I hoped he would forgive me. We didn’t talk about his other girlfriends nor my boyfriends — we never mentioned anything like that. And I didn’t know he was rotating us every three weeks. I found that out later when we fell in love, how he was working it all out, and about how there was another gal that he really liked. If she had fallen for him, she might have got him. In fact, she probably would have. And she was so opposite from me. The only thing we had in common, he said, was, oh, well, we were both attractive and smart and had depth. But personality-wise, it was night and day. She, quiet, dignified, all of that — and a brunette who played the piano beautifully. So I told him the truth about my out-of-town college friend coming in unexpectedly and then I never heard from him for eight months!
Press:Eight months. And my mother used to say, “Where’s that boyfriend, Frank Press? Why don’t we ever see him around here anymore?” I said, “Mother, I think I hurt his feelings so badly.” She said, “What did you do?” And I told her what I did, and she said, with a twinkle, one of her most affectionate expressions to a beloved family member, “You damn fool!” And she continued, “You don’t say that to a boy. You tell him at the last minute that you’re sick.” [Laughter] I said, “But Mom, that would be a lie. I wanted to give him time.” She said, “You don’t do that.” But I had offended him. And then I found out much, much later, after we started dating again, that he had tickets to the opera, that he had practically hocked his teeth to get tickets to that, probably in the peanut gallery, but I never had the chance to go to the Met [Metropolitan Opera], and it would have been such a thrill to me. And he picked me to go to the opera with him. So I nearly lost him! But then when he called again and he said he happened to have tickets to such and such — and didn’t call three weeks in advance by a long shot — boy, was I glad to hear him. I said, “Oh, Frank, I’m so happy to hear from you, I really missed you.” I mean, it was just total genuine. I was really sorry, because I liked him. I really honored him. So then we just went from there and got deeper and deeper in falling in love. He used to kiss me goodnight at the door, and he would say, and this went on for a long time, “I like you, I like you, I really like you, oh, how I like you.” And he would go through this routine of liking me and liking me, and to me it was sort of amusing and I felt coquettish about the whole thing, and I knew he liked me, and I liked him a lot, too. So I just said at one point during this ultra-liking and squeezing and kissing at the door, after he said, “I like you, like you” for the umpteenth time, I said, “Maybe love?” [Laughter] And he said, “Yes! Yes! I love you, I love you, and we’re going to get married!”
Doel:How did you feel?
Press:Oh, I was thrilled, thrilled out of my mind. Out of my mind! I was delighted! I loved him. I mean, I wouldn’t let myself love anybody who I didn’t think really loved me. I had that kind of self-protective device. But when I said, “Maybe love,” I didn’t say I love you, I said “Maybe love” and I opened the flood gate. We were such innocents. We were just natural children.
Doel:How old were you when that happened?
Press:That happened — let’s see. We got married two years later, so I was eighteen. And then I told my best boyfriend, the one that I really had a very big crush on, who was mad for me, and he was four years older than Frank, and he was —
Doel:You are holding you arms like a football player, built well?
Press:Yes. He had a real bod and was very smart, too. I always mention “smart” but that was very important to me. I dated so many boys who were dumb, and Elaine Holder used to denigrate me by saying, “You date all kinds of fools.” And I said, “I like the social experience, and I’m interested in all kinds of people.” She said, “How can you go out with Joe the furrier?” I said, “He’s a nice, interesting boy.” Paula got him as a double date for me, because she was dating a friend, and I loved dating with Paula. I didn’t feel like that. And my mother used to say, “Listen, you just go out with anybody you feel like. It’s interesting, it’s social experience,” and she’d say, “As long as he keeps his hands off you.” That was another piece of sex education. No, but, of course, boys had to be respectful. You see, it was a nice courting way in those days, don’t you think? Young people got to see a lot of other young people during their teenage “dating days.” They also got a sense of what’s possible in the dating, mating game.
Doel:I think that’s right.
Press:And they don’t get their hearts broken by getting too involved too soon. And they don’t get too rich an appetite, like drug addiction, because of getting involved in sex too soon. It’s a better way of courtship, I’m convinced. When I see what’s happened with my children and grandchildren — the pain of it all for them. So that was my early love life. But when I told this other suitor, the one I really was infatuated with, that I wasn’t going to see him anymore — well, you see, I was infatuated with him, but I never wanted to marry him. I never wanted him to be the father of my children. I didn’t like his friends and I didn’t like his politics. His family were Communists, and he was trying to push me into that, and the hell with that! I didn’t like his alienated point of view, and I didn’t see life that way. I didn’t see our country and our future as a nation like that. And Mother said he would be no good for me, because she said, “You and he fight all the time, and if you fight before you’re married, it’s real bad, because you’re going to do a lot of fighting after you’re married, whoever you marry!” And she was right!
Doel:So when Frank said what he did to you, you didn’t have to think long about —
Press:No. I just felt like this is the boy I want to spend my life with. I did have another boyfriend at that time who was very much in the running, who was in the running, but I didn’t like the way he treated his sisters. He had twin sisters a few years younger, and when I visited him — he became a judge in New Jersey years later — he wasn’t nice to his young sisters. I didn’t like that. And that is when he moved from the category of “possible” to “not possible” as a mate. And one other boy that I liked who liked me a lot. His father was a physician and he was planning to become a physician. He told me on one of our dates the specialty he was going to go into, namely eyes. I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. What do you want to do? Why did you choose ophthalmology?” I didn’t grill them, I was always kidding and charming but when I asked this guy why he wanted to be an eye doctor, he answered, “Because then he could have regular hours!” So, that immediately was a total turn-off. And now, you see what an idiot I was! And doctors’ wives suffer so terribly from their husbands not being able to spend regular hours with their families, but I was so young and idealistic, I never thought of that. I wanted a man, a mate, who wanted to make a serious contribution.
Doel:At the time, that sounds very conventional or very traditional.
Press:Which? That I felt this way?
Doel:No, feeling uneasy about someone wanting a regular schedule.
Press:Just regular hours. That isn’t the reason you become something in a profession.
Doel:You mentioned a while ago that you and he would talk about his dreams, what he wanted to contribute. What did he tell you at that time?
Press:I don’t remember well. It was the whole quality. His interests were so broadly cultural, and I loved that. I never saw a French movie before I went with him, with the subtitles, and my French was superb. I had four years of it in high school, and I won the French Medal. And Marvin, my future judge suitor, and I used to talk French on all our dates and write our letters in French. That was a different suitor. So that’s how my French got so good. He [Frank] always said he wanted to be a scientist, from an early age. I mean, look, I started dating him at that time just as he was going into college, and he already knew he was going to be a physics major. He knew he was to be a physics major. He didn’t know he was going to be a geophysicist then. It was then when he took his first course in geology, and his idea that he could be outdoors and indoors and do great work, and that important things were happening, although he didn’t know then about continental drift, which was the big thing that he missed. Of course, Ewing didn’t believe in it, and that whole crazy stuff at Lamont, with a whole gang of them, all that fighting that Ewing got into with various people. Well, Doc had a lot of — you know, he was very sure of himself — modesty about his ideas was not part of him. And they all went along with him. But I forget how I veered into continental drift. [Laughter] That was a big drift!
Doel:I had asked you what Frank had in mind as the kind of contribution he could make, and you mentioned science and then geology, as well as physics.
Press:Yes, science and discovering things, the search, the doing it for the pure joy of doing it. We had no idea about anything having to do with money. We just assumed if we got an education, we could — and, of course, I too never thought about working for the money of it. I just thought that I had a destiny to contribute in education, which I wanted to go into, and I was good at it. I learned that when I was just a little teenager at fifteen, helping in the nursery school. By the time I was sixteen, they gave me my own class for the summer.
Doel:Is that right?
Press:Right. I used to copy the best of the teachers. I studied them. I was very musical, so I learned all their songs and everything, and I just had such fun with those three-year-olds. Oh, how I got to love them. So I would have become an early childhood specialist, early childhood teacher, except it was so badly paid and had such low prestige. And it’s still got low prestige — awful! But I loved English and so I became a high school teacher at the beginning of my professional career, but I also always loved working with young children and returned to that, as a full professional later on. But there was no serious thought of money. They had the idea, of course, that the daddy would have the primary responsibility for supporting the family, and I would also do my thing professionally. It wasn’t a hobby: I would have my career. We also wanted to have four children, but then we discovered that I was an awful housekeeper, really lousy, and we couldn’t afford household help, and all the neighbors’ kids were always in my house, and I was playing with my children and all the neighbors’ children all over the place. And Frank, I remember, used to want to bring home guests and have the living room neat.
Doel:Is this in Lamont or earlier?
Press:This was at Lamont. We moved there with infant Sonny [Bill] and then Paula was born there. Well Frank wanted to always have the downstairs neat — like this place here is.
Doel:The Watergate apartments.
Press:Yes, our “public rooms.” The rooms into which you bring guests at anytime. I never did housekeeping when I was young — even when I should have been doing it and was the only housekeeper on the premises I didn’t do it. But when I went back to teaching I got a housekeeper and the house was always nice. Funny but now I really get a kick out of doing household chores. I think my I.Q. now matches my occupation. But even though I retired in June 1993, I am still doing things in the world as well. In any case, I’m enjoying it all hugely and I like taking care of Frank, too.
Doel:Yes, that’s come clear already through the interview. One of the things that I was very curious about was how you made the decision to go to Washington Square College.
Press:I got a full-tuition scholarship. The choices were only Brooklyn College and I could have gotten into Hunter College — far superior to Brooklyn College — but I didn’t want to go to an all-girls’ school. I really enjoyed boys. Elaine went to City College, downtown, where girls were admitted but City College uptown, where only boys were admitted was a far better school — at that time, of course. Well, I got this scholarship, and they had a very good English department with a really outstanding Shakespearean scholar. I loved that! Dad used to read Shakespeare to me when I was young, abridged versions with famous quotations from the most familiar plays. That’s how I went there. There was no possibility of going out-of-town — no money for the living expenses so I didn’t even apply for a tuition scholarship. But I really tried for a scholarship to Columbia [University], and God knows I was in a competitive position, but they told me in the interview that they really wanted girls from out-of-town. I realized also that they really wanted WASPs — especially for scholarships.
Doel:That was apparent to you?
Press:I think so, sort of in retrospect. I remember Dean [first name?] Arnold, a woman “to the manor born” in bearing and appearance, she intimated that since I was local, if I’d gone to a good private school, I’d be seriously considered. Midge Ewing went to Brearly, you know. But anyway, that’s the way it was for me and it turned out fine. I got a nice education there. I’m just sorry that in my day no girl was ever encouraged to take more science, to consider biology. It was either be a teacher or be a nurse — period. And I didn’t like pathology or blood, so that was not for me, so I became a teacher, which I did like. I enjoyed it, and I did good things.
Doel:How did you find the experience at Washington Square College?
Press:It was like a factory. You went on the subway every day, and you got into a giant elevator to go upstairs to your classes. But I did like walking around Washington Square Park with friends, and the boy that I told you that was in love in with me, whom I said goodbye when I was eighteen and had decided on Frank and so stopped dating other boys, well, I saw a lot of him when I was sixteen to eighteen or eighteen and a half. He was a few years older than I was and was also a student at Washington Square College and was working full-time as well. Well, when I told him one evening that this was our last date, he was just furious, he couldn’t understand it, so I said, “I’m not deeply in love with Frank yet, but I want to be, and I know that if I just give him half a chance, that I will be.” I never would have married Frank unless I was crazy about him. But Frank had been very reserved, you know, and there has to be some “romance.” He had to learn how to kiss and stuff, you know, to turn a person on. He was very inexperienced. I was pretty inexperienced myself, but he was even worse. But it all turned out fine: we had a lovely courtship, we fell in love. We hated to be apart and we couldn’t wait to get married.
Doel:How often would you see one another in the years before your marriage?
Press:Oh, every weekend. He used to sleep over, Saturday night, on the sofa in the living room. My dad used to be on the lobster shift at the newspaper — or the other one before the lobster shift. Anyway, he’d come home at about one in the morning, and Frank and I would be hugging on the sofa together, but we were always so nervous because we were waiting to hear dad’s footsteps or his key in the lock, and then I would scoot to my bedroom, which I shared with my sister. When I think of the hours and hours we spent on that sofa together and married as two virgins. My God, what were we, crazy or what! But I remember when I was willing, and I never was willing before, he said, “No, you will be angry at me, because I know how much it means to you to be a virgin when we marry.” I said, “Well, I used to think it was terribly important, but I don’t think it’s so important anymore.” He said, “No, no, I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to do that.” Can you imagine? We read [Theodore H.] Van de Veld on our honeymoon. He wanted me to read the book, too, that was one of the early books on sex. But I didn’t want to read it. I said, “You learn it, and teach me.”
Press:Sure, we did fine. We did fine. It took time but eventually we did fine.
Doel:I’m curious, when you were getting really up to the marriage point, how much did you know about what Frank was doing at City College? Did he tell you a lot of details about what he was doing?
Press:We used to get on the subway, the whole way on the subway going to a date in Manhattan. I remember when he was taking a course in fossils. He had these little cards with the fossil drawn by himself and the name of it, and he would have to go through all the fossils, because he was having a test on Monday. So I knew when he was studying fossils and I knew when he was studying thermodynamics and he’d explain some principles to me. I knew that when he took his first geology course, it absolutely turned him on, and he decided that he wanted to become a geophysicist, a physics major but then do graduate work in geophysics. And I remember when he first heard about Doc Ewing, and that he was going to come from Allegheny [College] to Columbia — he wanted to be Doc Ewing’s student. He said he was the greatest geophysicist in the country, maybe the world, and that’s what he wanted to do. Doc Ewing had signed up, I think, three students, for Columbia and Lamont before he came to Lamont. They were Frank and Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel, and I think Nelson [C.] Steenland was the third.
Doel:I think that’s right.
Press:You probably know. And it was just those three. Frank went through college in two and a half years, you know.
Doel:I knew it was fast. I didn’t realize it was that fast.
Press:It was so fast, and with summer school throughout. But when we got married in 1946, he already had his master’s degree, and that itself had taken quite a while. He used to talk about his graduate courses. I remember when he had a course in meteorology, and he was talking to me about the cloud formations. That was wonderful, and all the stuff about the rocks and what they all meant. I used to know a lot better than I remember now. But I always loved that our daughter, who had no particular scientific interests, unfortunately, although she’s a very capable gal in her own line of work, that she took her required college science in geology, rather than biology, and she said to me, “Mom, it’s terrible that you never had a course in geology. It makes the whole world so much more interesting.” And she just loved it, and Frank used to talk to her about that a lot! This makes me think of when Bill was a senior in high school and was taking, as he used to say then, “the calculus,” and he said, “Mom, how would you feel if you were tone deaf?” “Oh, Bill, I couldn’t bear it.” “Well Mom, you are equally deprived not knowing the calculus.” I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yes, but I’m going to teach you.”
Doel:Did that happen?
Press:Well, I was teaching school full time then, and I was running a home. I mean, I had household help, but was running quite a show, and I couldn’t concentrate well enough for Bill’s liking and I was too dense, so he gave up and I had to give up. But I could get a feel of it and how he felt about it. But that’s a whole world that I’m not really privy to, and it must be like being tone deaf, which would be really such a terrible thing — to miss out on such a world of beauty and understanding. But that’s the way it is and thank God, I’m anything but tone deaf for music or words!
Doel:When Frank — these are certainly questions that I’ll ask him as well — his interest in geophysics, of course, grew before he had even met Doc Ewing. Do you remember, did he talk about what he knew of geophysics as a profession, as a career when he started talking about merging the two interests in geology and physics?
Press:The only thing that stuck in my mind, and it’s so long ago, you know, and we were courting at the time, was what I said before — that geophysics would combine the scholarly research indoor work, which he always thought was going to be his whole way of life, with oceanography and go out to sea and study all of that, as well as things on the land having to do with geology, but always bringing insights to his observations and field experience. He comes through physics — but it seemed to him like it all came together in a line of work that he would want to devote his whole life to, and that’s the way it went. And, of course, when Doc came — oh, he talked to Doc by phone, and I think Doc came up to Columbia before he was in residence, and helped plan the courses he would take for that first year of graduate school before Doc came on board, and so that’s the way it went. And then he and Doe absolutely clicked. You know, he revered Doc.
Doel:Let me pause just to turn the tape.
Press:A very important influence of Doc, that I’ve heard him say, and this was later when he thought of his debt to Ewing, was that his parents came from a European tradition, and he always thought of a scientist working in a laboratory or working at his desk, you know, theoretical stuff, but when he saw Doc doing everything, getting his hands dirty, and that total involvement — [Brief interruption. Tape recorder turned off.] Well, it caused him to take a great leap in his thinking, attitudes, and plans for his life’s work.
Doel:You were mentioning — and I think pretty much wrapping up on the importance — that Frank could see both the laboratory side that he had known very well, plus an outside involvement that he hadn’t seen as part of science.
Press:Right. And by ‘know very well,’ I mean, there was nobody in the family who was a scientist, but certainly everything he did know, and the exposure he’d had in his earlier years, in his first years at City College, being a physics major and so on, so those were his models. But learning about the world of geophysics, all the aspects of geophysics, he just felt like he could have a very broad and interesting career in an area that he was deeply interested in. It was sort of lucky that continental drift came along later, because then it was, as I’ve heard Frank say in a speech of his, the golden age of earth science, with that discovery and all that came of it. But, of course, Frank was deeply into this before that, but then it just took off like crazy. I don’t know what else I could tell you about that. Whenever he was studying a course, we did talk about it. And he used to fascinate me like Scheherazade, a male Scheherazade, about the wonders of what he was studying and doing. And he was always deeply interested in everything I was learning, too, and that was very important. He really loved it all, and we just educated each other — grew up, grew each other up.
Doel:That is important. One thing I was curious about—
Press:And we used to fight a lot too. We had the kids right away, and it was very hard, and he was very worried about his future. I fell down on the job and got pregnant. I wasn’t supposed to, it was an accident. And it was hard, really hard on us. A lot of couples split at such times, but we didn’t split. We always really liked and respected each other a lot, even when we couldn’t stand each other, but when one wanted to split, the other one didn’t want to or wouldn’t, and wouldn’t allow it. Mostly he used to pound sense into my head, but I’d always have to shake him up to be more human, more accessible. That’s what we would get into fights about, mostly. [Laughs] And of course he didn’t like my housekeeping — especially at Lamont when the kids were babies and I was really young.
Doel:I can appreciate — those are important issues, they’re fundamental in relationships. I meant to ask you little bit earlier what you recalled about the discussion, once Frank was getting ready to graduate from City College, what school he would go to for graduating training. Was there much of a discussion?
Press:I don’t remember. I think he just learned about Ewing coming to Columbia —
Doel:Which would have been in early or mid-1944, that Ewing was courted and accepted the offer to come.
Press:Well, since Frank graduated from City College in ‘44, it had to be that he knew before then. You’ll just have to make some asterisks here and ask him when you talk to him, to fill it in.
Doel:It’s what I can do, myself.
Press:Forgive me for talking like so. I was in the fifth grade a long time, you know, and used to teach the kids how to do research, at fifth-grade level. But Frank will have to fill in that stuff.
Doel:But it was mostly the excitement of knowing that Ewing would be there.
Press:Yes. My recollection is that that’s what did it, yes.
Doel:Of course, your families were in New York, and you had not yet finished, had you?
Press:That’s right. I had a year to go. Yes, I was a year behind him. He was doing very exciting summer work. I can’t remember whether it was while he was still in the last year of college. It certainly was before we got married, the two summers before we got married. He went out to work for oil companies as a part of a crew prospecting for oil, and oh, the letters that came back! It was such a different environment for him. The men were so rough, and their language, and the way they talked about their wives, he couldn’t believe it. It was so disrespectful! By this time we were engaged, and we really poured out our souls in our letters to each other. We didn’t have long-distance telephone calls — I guess we couldn’t afford it, but anyway we didn’t phone. It had to be something, you know, an emergency and a very short inexpensive call. [Laughs] But we used to write these tremendous letters. I remember him putting one thing down, or maybe he just told me when we got together. He said, “A man said about his wife, he came to work in a very bad mood, and he was lousy, and somebody said to him, “What’s the matter, did your wife haul out the red flag?” And I said, “What did that mean, like waving a red flag in front of a bull, making him angry?” He said, “No honey. It means she had her period.” Imagine this guy telling everybody that. And that’s how they spoke to each other, “What’s the matter, did your wife pull out the red flag? Is that why you’re such a damn son of a bitch?” [Laughs] Oh, God! And then going out to sea for the first time, that was rough, too.
Doel:I’m sure that was a different experience as well. Where did Frank go when he was on the seismic crew?
Press:It was in Oklahoma. He liked it. Although he and I are so different, he, too, loved adventures, and he was interested in all — you know, and he could handle himself very well. And even though he wasn’t a big muscular guy like some of the tough big guys who were big athletes and had the upper-body development to prove it, hauling this and that, they came to respect him. He was such a hard worker, a good worker, a modest person, and he pulled his oar. There were some heartaches for him, I always remember. Somebody on an early boat really tormenting him, going after him to torment him. He really felt it had a deep anti-Semitic basis, and God knows he never thought in those terms, it had to be so clear to him. It was clear — there was a real bastard who was determined to demean him on those grounds. When he told me about it, I could have killed the guy. Oh, I could really have killed him, that my darling should have to go through anything like that with such a low-brow bastard.
Doel:And this wasn’t a fellow scientist, but rather a crew member on board? Was this the Atlantis that Frank was on?
Yes, it was a crew member. But everything with Doc was, as it should be, and as Frank believes in, egalitarian. Everybody does everything, they all do their four-hour stints, you know, the way you do on a ship, and the crew was all part of it and very important to them all. Later on, this guy had a job, I think at Woods Hole, and when Frank was a big important muckety-muck, and this guy was, you know, not that big and important. Well, was he ever bowing and scraping to Frank. Frank came home and told me, and I said, “Did you give him a kick in the pants?” He said, “Of course not. He’s had his troubles.” I think he said, “He’s had troubles with alcohol. I’m glad to see him functioning.” He probably had troubles with alcohol then, too, but Frank didn’t realize it and, in any case, that’s no excuse. Well, anyway, Frank is a really fine man, fine man. He was the person I most admired up until the time I knew him very, very well, and he’s still one of the world’s best people in my eyes. But maybe now he’s the second person I most admire in the world. The person I most admire in the world is Cecil [H.] Green, who’s a very dear friend of both of ours, and the thing I so admire about Cecil is that Cecil was able to be so successful and yet be able to maintain a way of having time for people, of cherishing sheer humanity, while at the same time being a real elitist about cherishing and supporting the best.
But his feeling about people, all kinds of people and his wonderful social philosophy, even though he’s a conservative Republican in so many matters. But Cecil really lives out for many so-called liberals is a philosophy that’s not lived out — that people are all worthwhile and interesting, even with widely different kinds of personalities, capacities, and backgrounds. Frank has had to, or felt he had to, as he says, “husband his resources,” put everything into his work. I have felt that it has been his work, not his career, and I respect that. He never, never cared about advancing in the way that the world would consider advancement. But to be able to do his work and to see his students do well, his mentoring abilities, that mattered to him. He was a wonderful professor — he’s a wonderful teacher. It would be nice if he would talk to you about these things. He doesn’t really talk about such things, but maybe you could draw him out some, I don’t know. But I do know that he and I are together for the rest of our lives. But unfortunately Frank just couldn’t both minister psychologically to the family and to me and also do his work as he wanted to — which meant TOTAL commitment. When a crisis came for me, as it did a few times in our lives, then it was entirely different and he was there.
Unlike the famous scientist husband of one of my closest friends here in Washington, well, when she was in the depth of clinical depression, he didn’t even recognize it as such, although it was protracted and deep. But all he could say to her — and he’s a physicist and a darling man as a dinner partner, as a friend, as a scientist — all he could say to her was, “I don’t know what’s the matter with you.” He didn’t say what I used to hear MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] students say when they were low, “You need a tune-up.” [Laughs] “You need a tune-up. Go see a shrink, you know, go to your minister, whoever. You need a tune-up.” But he said, “I don’t know what’s the matter with you, and I can’t do anything about it. So I hope you’re feeling better when I come home tonight.” But with me, when I hit bottom a few times and got very quiet and withdrawn — now, I always did my work — but anytime I was alone, I was deeply sad and had trouble getting out of bed every morning. I always got out, and I always made it just before the children all the years I taught school or ran programs, but my heart was miserable. And I’m sure I was a lousy mother at that time, and maybe a lousy mother other times as well.
Doel:Is this occurring during the Lamont period, and when Frank was away for a long period?
Press:Our first crisis was — I don’t think I want this in this.
Doel:You don’t have to talk about it here if you don’t want to.
Press:Well — there were a couple of worst times for me, and the first, and one of the two worst, certainly, the other one was way, way, way many years later in California. But the worst and first was at Lamont when Frank was working on his doctorate, when he used to be away all summer long, and when I had tried to go back to doing a little teaching, because teaching — he was so unavailable to me to talk about anything or any anguish or anything. He couldn’t do it, and I had no sympathy, because I thought he just didn’t like me anymore. I didn’t understand. I was so young. We were both so young. I mean, we had Bill when we were twenty-two and twenty-three, and he didn’t have his doctorate yet, and I was supposed to support us. Good thing the rent was only fifty dollars a month, and we were living on our wedding-present money, which was a pittance, but Mother told all our relatives, “Don’t give them gifts, give them money. They need to live on it, because they’re students,” so that helped us.
Doel:That does help.
Press:But anyway, that was a terrible crisis — that first time, and it set a pattern for what pulled us through when I ever got seriously depressed in later years. For him it wasn’t a crisis for a long time. He wouldn’t address it. He can let misery go on a long time, but that first time it was really going on a long time. It seems like a long time to me because I don’t have a big tolerance for misery. Frank has a lot of tolerance for anything, it seems to me. I wish he had less tolerance for some things and could confront them better on a personal level.
Doel:One thing I was curious about was how much time did you spend with Frank early on at Columbia. Did you go to Schermerhorn?
Press:Did I go where?
Press:You say Sch(sh)ermerhorn, not Sch(k)ermerhorn?
Doel:I’ve heard it pronounced differently from a few people. Sch(k)ermerhorn, I think is probably —
Press:I don’t know, but we used to say Sch(k)ermerhorn. That was what I was used to, but I didn’t say it that often. I knew it as an old Dutch name. [Laughs] Early Manhattan days. We used to go there once in a while, I mean, I did. Our life was Lamont, was totally Lamont. I mean, Frank went there, but I didn’t. Look, I was gestating, lactating, and I was the leader of the Brownies, and I did work for and wrote for the League of Women Voters of Nyack. But mostly I was the substitute teacher for the Palisades School, the little neighborhood — the Palisades School, and I was so well-trained and so experienced, and I always tried to be available, and Dottie Worzel would take of my kids along with her own, and I would substitute teach and also be a Brownie/girl scout leader. I wrote my master’s thesis on the social climate of the fifth grade at the Palisades school — it was really based on class distinctions in the community of Palisades. The thesis was an analysis of friendship choices for all the grades, and to see how the kids freely picked friends. I analyzed the reasons from kindergarten on up why kids choose the friends they choose. Harry Ludas, the oldest son of —
Doel:The son of Angelo?
Press:The oldest son. They had an older daughter, but he was the oldest son, Harry, was the most popular kid, the most popular boy. We won’t go into his traits, but they were lovely traits of good nature, of being a good athlete on the playground, but kindly to kids who weren’t — not a good scholar, but held his own, and was good-natured and nice looking, which matters with kids, you know. They have their own standards. But Harry was truly the most popular boy. Harry was one of our own at Lamont, but he came from a working-class family. And Palisades was so divided along social lines — not just socioeconomic lines, but by social status. It wasn’t socioeconomic, although these two things usually correlate more heavily than they did in this community. Midge Ewing, having been a Kidder, was immediately sought by the Sneden’s Landing people, Doc Ewing was married to Midge, and that was a very important thing for his social standing, and he was the head of the whole of Lamont. But the rest of us, well — of course, I didn’t know at the time, but the community had a grudge against the whole Lamont operation, because we didn’t pay taxes, all the taxes that they were used to, so this antagonism to us was sort of built into the situation. But nevertheless, for Midge and Doc it was different. Their kids were invited to join play group — I didn’t know about social caste at this time. I mean, I was brought up on, I told you, Horatio Alger — everybody can do and be everything in the United State of America. I lived in New York, I had friends. Of course, we didn’t have rich friends, but everybody was about like us, in our circumstances, so we had no sense of inferiority.
Doel:Yes. You certainly didn’t have the kind of social experience that people growing up in Palisades did.
Press:Right, and I didn’t know any of it, and I was just thrilled to live in the country. Oh, to live in the country with cows right across the fence, and the asparagus patch, and Dottie, such a fantastic farmer! She was raised in upstate New York, and she’s a magnificent farmer, and we used to all have our plot of land that we got — what do you call that? Plowed. [Laughs] Dottie was teaching us, and we did all this. It was a whole new world, it was wonderful, that aspect of it. And Lamont then wasn’t all built up. It was so beautiful. To go there now, it can break your heart. It was like some kind of garden of Eden. Of course, we had the worst, ugliest house, but to me, well, I didn’t think so. The first winter, my poor feet and I were so cold. I was so proud of that pot-bellied old stove though — it was a unique thing. My mom taught me how to make old-fashioned Boston baked beans in it. She said that’s the way they used to do baked beans — in a stove like that. My mom had whole different ideas about this. Of course, Mother Press thought it was awful, but Mother Press didn’t come often, and my mom and I were very close.
Doel:She came to Lamont fairly often?
Press:Oh yes, she would come. She’d make the trek all the way from Brooklyn on the buses and the subways and she’d get out there. She was a wonderful grandmother.
Doel:The bus line still ran at that time, out from the Port Authority where it’d come to Palisades?
Yes, that’s the way she came. Right. It was a tremendous trip, and we used to visit them too and visit the Presses as well for a really good dinner at their place. Mostly I guess we went there, because it was fun for us. But Mom used to come to us often too. Dottie and my mom got on great. I loved Dottie. What a friend! And Lenore [Ludas]. But I was going to tell you, by fifth grade, the “socially in” Palisades School children began to choose friends who were on the right side of 9-W, and for reasons other than the intrinsic pleasure they got from the particular child or the child’s worth as a human being. And particularly the girls! Oh, you could see a lot of that starting in fourth grade. It was a microcosm and fascinating and by fifth grade friendships — highly influenced by parents — divided sharply along class lines. Well, doing all this work and understanding it all — you know, it was my master’s thesis at Bank Street — and I knew every class and all the residents and whatnot and I taught all the children in all six grades. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
And, as the Brownie Scout leader, I also came to know a lot of the kids through that. But I remember, I so naively said to Midge — her kids, Bill used to play with Peter, who was a year and a half older than Bill, and he was her — no, not her youngest, but he was the closest to Bill’s age, so Peter and Bill used to play a lot. You know, we left when Bill was seven, so you can see what that was. Well, when Bill was about two or so, and I had a great deal of experience at nursery school teaching. You know, I told you I was a helper and I did all of that, and I was working on a master’s degree then in child psychology and early childhood ed. I mean, where could you get, for free, a play group teacher who could do what I did? And my house was always filled with all the kids and water and finger painting and everything else. So I said to Midge, with total innocence at that time, I said, “Midge, Peter is in a play group here, right?” She said, “Yes.” And I said — we called him Sonny then — “Oh, could Sonny get in? Could Sonny be a member? I’d love to have the kids. We’d do wonderful things. I could do wonderful things with the kids.” She said, “I’m sure I know you could, Billie.” And then she really hesitated, and she said, “Well, let me talk to the other ladies.” Or the other women, I don’t know if she used “ladies” or “women” then. But she surely didn’t say “girls.” “Let me talk to the other women.” And then I said to Frank, “Oh, honey, Sonny’s going to be in a play group.” I was very excited about that. And, “I’m going to take the kids, and I’ll do it even more often, if they want me to.” And they never let me in the play group. And then I found out a while later, Dottie told me that somebody had told her that Midge had said at one of her garden club whatevers down at Sneden’s Landing — and this is a quote — “It’s such a pleasure to be down here with women that I enjoy being with, who talk about things that I’m interested in talking about.” But mostly the emphasis was “enjoy being with.” She said, “Back up at Lamont, the main topic of conversation, for example, today, was my neighbor’s plumbing.” You know. We were all neighbors. We lived in three houses next to each other.
Press:This was before Doc got the big house.
Doel:Oh, this was when the Widow Lamont was still residing in the big house?
Press:No, no, no. She never lived there. No, before Doc’s residence was built, the director’s residence. For many years, at least half of our years there, four or five years at least four, we lived, I in the cook and butler’s house, the original farmhouse. Midge and Doc in the middle house, and then Dottie and Joe in the far house, or vice versa. Maybe Doc was in that house. Anyway, because then they switched. We were all around the courtyard where the core lab was. It was all pebbles there. Is it still that?
Press:And the root cellar down there where they had the seismographs. The kids used to like to go down there in the summer because it was cool. But Dottie told me that she heard this, because she had friends down there, too. Not everybody was — and I had friends, too, as time went on. Not everybody was proscribed from Sneden’s Landing friends. And she said when this person told me that she said it was such a relief to be among people like you, here in Sneden’s Landing, and what she had to put up with the level of conversation up there, baloney. We had great levels of conversation, and we also had neighborly, you know, and women’s and whatever you have, all having babies together as we were, and our husbands all running off on us to sea. So Dottie said, “Oh, heavens, I was complaining to her. I was talking to her this morning, you know, when we both just came out to do something, that the plumbing was gone awry at the house.” I mean, not wanting her to do anything about it or anything, but just something like that.
Doel:Just talking about what was affecting the community.
Press:Yes. She said, “I was talking about that!” So she didn’t like — oh, it was really something. So that was the bad part. That was bad. But we all had each other, and Midge definitely wasn’t a part of our circle.
Doel:Did that change over time, or did that stay?
Press:No, no. Midge had a lot of trouble with drinking. Have you heard this? Did you know it?
Doel:Heard a little bit about this.
Press:Angelo used to have these marvelous parties. That was when we first started to drink, albeit beer. He used to have pizza and beer.
Doel:And they lived fairly close as well, didn’t they?
Press:Oh, yes. Well, we took the cars because it was up the road. It was just close to the Alpine place where you used to be able to come in and out, and now I think you still can, but there’s kind of a booth or something there, as I saw it, a couple of years ago. My last trip was two years ago. But that all used to be — the kids all used to visit with one another, walk up and down there. And certainly we used to walk up to Lenore’s house, the women, and get together, or when the kids woke up from naps. But they used to have these wonderful parties, and Doc and Midge used to come to them. We’d dance, they were so convivial. They were Gemutlichkeit. He was Greek, she was Italian. Oh, I have to do like this: [blows kiss]. [Laughter]
Doel:Blowing a kiss.
Press:No, I mean, they were the most marvelous outgoing ethnic types of the highest order, and they lent such color and joy to our lives there. And the men so respected Angelo, they couldn’t have managed without him. It was a real team.
Doel:When were those parties? Were they Fridays or Saturday nights?
Press:Yes, yes, yes. It wasn’t during the week. Doc didn’t come as often as the rest of us anytime they were going to have something going. They were wonderful. We used to jitterbug. Angelo and Lenore were Dottie’s and Joe’s age, and we were kids, but we were very much into it all. And of course, as they came along and moved, they lived on the adjoining place, near where the [W. Arnold] Fincks are, or maybe in the Fincks’ house, for all I know. Anyway, right there, I forget. But the [Charles L.] Drakes were living there, they became an important part of all this, and the John Ewings. Betty and John were all part of these early years. And we see the Drakes still, from time to time. We spent a wonderful time at Cornell [University] with them recently. And Jack [E.] Oliver, who never got married while he was there, but he was one of the early guys, but he didn’t get married. He and Angelo were very fond of each other. And Jack used to come. He married later a wonderful gal, Gail Oliver. I love her, wonderful, wonderful gal. Jack is just great. Frank and he became such good friends. We’re still friends, you know, exchange Christmas cards, know what each other is doing. I’ll love Dottie for the rest of my life and their children and Joe. He was difficult.
Doel:How was Joe difficult?
Press:Oh, he was difficult. Oh, he was so difficult. He used to be very mean to Howard, particularly. Howard was the second oldest child and his oldest son, who was born blind in one eye, except for light and dark, because of an inoperable cataract in the wrong place. This beautiful little curly-haired boy that I adored, Sandy and Howard. I told you I met Howard when he was a year and a half. He would demean him. We were next-door neighbors all these years, and I was living in their house two summers, the first two summers. I’d just see them a little bit before and after. We lived there before they went out to sea like two weeks, and then couldn’t wait to get out of there. I loved being with Dottie and the children, it was wonderful, if I had to not have Frank. It was great being with them. And then I came as a brand-new mother, four-week-old infant, and Frank shipped out and Dottie — oh, I was so sick, too, with a very serious kidney infection grown out of a spinal, you know, bladder infection. A lousy thing to do, shouldn’t have a baby that way. They did the wrong thing. Paula’s was a nice delivery. Anyway, what was the main thing I talking about?
Doel:We’re talking about Joe Worzel and your impressions on him.
Press:The main thing was, he would degrade both Dottie and particularly Howard. You see, you can’t put these things in. I remember when I was nursing Bill, and in those days I really had a lovely full figure, even when I wasn’t nursing, but then I got to look like Jane Russell. I was really embarrassed, it was terrible. You know, I was walking around like this all the time. And Joe was always making remarks about it. Like, “Gee, I liked the way you looked before, but now!” [whistles] It was so embarrassing, it was so terrible. He used to do it around Dottie and the kids. He didn’t care. And they used to make fun of her having hardly any bosom, just publicly. It was so gauche and so disgusting. Really, for a time I hated him for that.
Doel:Was that tolerated by others, or was it just not known?
Press:Oh, no, he’d do it. A lot of people loved Dottie so much, her friendship, her support, her wisdom, her kindness. She was one of the best mothers I ever knew in my life. I don’t know how she could put up with it, what she did put up with, with that. I’d have laid him out in lavender. I mean, we wouldn’t have stayed together, that’s all there was to it. But they stayed together. At one point she went on the bottle, when she was nursing her youngest after we moved away, and I learned from Sandy, my beloved girl. But then she got over it. She got over it, she did. She totally got over it. And he learned something from that. And he’s really very nice now, he’s been nice a long time, a very long time, but he was a hellion when he was young. He would make fun of any kind of mistake. He didn’t mind tormenting Frank. He also would make anti-Semitic remarks. He didn’t give a damn. I think he felt like either “fish or cut bait.” I mean, we all got to be very close friends, and I have a deep feeling of tenderness for Joe. I love Dottie and the kids, but — oh, water over the damn. And I’m so glad they stayed together and became such loving mates. It’s nice to see people able to luck it out, I mean manage it. Because, you know, you marry somebody else, you repeat your same goddamn errors, or maybe you can do better. But it’s so good if you can make it work. I mean, you know, both my kids were divorced. Very painful. But I swear to you, it wasn’t their fault, mostly. They were always true, each one. They truly loved their mates. And their faults were that they were both very controlling and domineering. One is a boy and one is a girl. But they also married weak people. They both married weak people who didn’t have good super egos at all and whose life experiences, up until that time, gave them, for all that they were, smart and attractive and everything, they didn’t have a kind of a sense of, I don’t know —
Doel:One of the things that you alluded to a moment ago, that kind of attitude of the ‘fish or cut bait,’ the rigors, in some sense, of Lamont and the work and the schedule, how much was that shared in the total community?
Press:What community? In all of Palisades?
Press:Oh, God. Look, in the days that I was there, and I told you who were the main people there, so many, many Sundays, Doc used to come and call for Frank. Sunday morning, we would be in the middle of — Frank made breakfast on Sundays all our lives, a wonderful special pancake and bacon, or sausage or something terrific for breakfast. And sometimes I even made fritters like my mom used to make, and it was a family thing. He used to come. I never was a fast mover all my life, particularly on weekends, and he’d come and call for Frank to go and work. Saturdays, of course, I got early accustomed to, but I felt, Saturday afternoon, starting about three o’clock, should be our time, family time, and that we should be able to have a weekend maybe once every two months to go and to see the folks, or to have them, to be civilized with them, not him being the little man who wasn’t there. That was nonsense for Doc and his way of life, and Frank fell into that very readily.
Doel:How did he respond to that?
Press:He fell in with it so readily that it wasn’t even — he never even seemed to feel critical of it. Or if he had just said to me, “Honey, you know, he’s my professor, and he’s our pack leader, and he’s the head of the pack” in the wolf formation of these guys. [Laughs] I mean, those kinds of things I understand a lot. I mean, it would have made it easier somehow. I would have tried, nevertheless, feeling that it wasn’t healthy for our family. I wouldn’t have taken it just lying down, particularly on Sunday, but I would have been more attenuated, and certainly Frank and I wouldn’t have fought so much. But Frank fell into it so readily. But, you know, later on I found out that somebody or other — I wish you could ever find a quote, I don’t think it’s in the Bartlett’s Quotations, it’s, “Don’t complain and don’t explain,” and I came across that motto. I don’t think it was Groucho Marx, although Groucho Marx had a lot of wonderful mottos, and maybe that one was one, although that one sounds a little too not funny. And I said to Frank — this is maybe ten years ago or so — “Honey, this is the sampler that I’m going to sew (I don’t sew) over your bed, “Don’t complain and don’t explain.” He said, “Exactly.” And I complain like crazy, much too much. And I explain too much when I shouldn’t be explaining, when it’s unnecessary to trip over myself and apologize. So I wish I could be more like him. On the other hand, he really carries it too far with his wife.
Doel:Let me pause. It’s on.
Press:I feel that Frank’s acculturation, and his father was this in spades, and Frank is just as much so. No, not just as much, because he has been able, after my first breakdown and query, and I was seeing a shrink, and Frank, in Sneden’s Landing, at a very reduced rate through not local friends, but other friends in New York who got him for me at ten dollars an hour. Can you imagine? That’s all we could do. He saw Frank a number of times, not a lot. But he gave us both such insights about seeing each other’s point of view, and helping me to understand how Frank was trying to make his way, and everything. And now that I’d had the baby, that’s when it all fell apart when Bill was about a year and a half old. He was planning for me to teach, which I did that first year, high school English, and support us so he could get his doctorate, and then that happened. So I’m sure he was beside himself. But he never — and I remember once — I only saw him cry three times in his life, and one time when it was almost crying, and certainly his eyes got all red and sort of moist, was when I had spent $1.98 on a rubber toy for Sonny, a squeeze thing that made noise. And he said, “We can’t afford this. Don’t you know we can’t afford this?”
Doel:And this was about 1950 or so?
Press:When we were at Lamont. Oh, no, no. Were at Lamont. No, Bill was born in ‘48. It must have been in ‘48, ‘48, early ‘49. Let’s see. When did I have Bill? ‘48. Right. I taught up until a few days before he was born, because he came six weeks early, unexpectedly, and you weren’t supposed to be pregnant or they canned you. But what I did was wear the same suits. And you know, we used to have zippers on the side, so I used to string them together with safety pins, and then I’d pin the suit jacket over that, so everybody just thought I was getting fat. And then Bill came and I was probably teaching one day and out the next, having Bill. But Frank was so excited, he said he would die if I had an accident, that it would destroy him. He doesn’t say die; I talk die. He said it would destroy his career, his work. He’d have to take a paying job. [Laughter] But then when we found out I was pregnant and he said he couldn’t be a father yet, he couldn’t, he couldn’t, he couldn’t, and yet the minute he found out I was pregnant, he was on the phone calling every relative he never had anything to do with and all his friends, saying he was going to be a father, and guess what, “Billie’s pregnant!” It’s so different from my daughter’s husband, who, when she started talking about having a baby, and he didn’t have his doctorate yet. But Frank was tough stuff. And this guy had a long history of not being strong in the psychological department. But Paula thought that that’s what could happen. She said, “But look how Dad —” I said, “You’d better stop talking about having a baby until Harvey is finished. You’re making him a nervous wreck.” She said, “But look at Dad. You had the accident, Bill, and look at how he rose to the occasion.” I said, “They’re different stuff.”
Doel:One thing I want to be absolutely sure about is when did you move out to Lamont?
Press:Bill was born in May.
Press:Yes. He was about six months old. May, June, July, August, September, October, November, sometime that fall.
Doel:Yes. So you were one of the really early, early people to come out.
Press:I was the first. Dottie had been in there for about a month, and Doc, and maybe Angelo was up the road. So we were all within a few months of each other, just as soon as Doc got the place. MIT was trying to get him for them.
Doel:Yes, the Hettie Greene Estate had been offered to him.
Press:Right. And I remember Frank saying, “Honey, we are either going to live in Massachusetts,” at whatever you’re saying —
Doel:The Hettie Greene Estates.
Press:“We are either going to be at MIT with Doc, or we’re going to be at Columbia with Doc.” And then Doc was trying to make up his mind, all the wooing and everything that they were doing, and then it was Lamont.
Doel:Did Frank talk to you about that? Because apparently there was a vote that was taken there among the graduate students whether to go to —
Press:There was a lot of talk about it, but I don’t remember. So you could ask him about that. That would be fun. I’d like to know. Or now talking to you about this, I want to ask him about some of the things. I wished I’d written down some things I wanted to ask him. Yes, I’ll think of it.
Doel:And then the first cruise that Frank took on the Atlantis, then came, you say —
Press:Oh, gosh. When we were married, we went up — we were married four days.
Press:Four days. We spent our honeymoon at the Barbazon Plaza in Central Park, and we saw Hamlet with Maurice Evans. And those were the highlights of my life. [Laughter] Plus the lovely black and white pictures that Paula found in there and unearthed.
Doel:You’re pointing to the —
Press:No, behind that place, where it slides. I didn’t even know I had any, it just got put in there when we moved from the other place to one place, to the other place. She unearths all this stuff. You know Paula is our daughter. I told you where she is — public radio. She’s doing producing now. She’s doing very well. It’s a big strain. She was operations manager for a long time, but now she’s producing, but they didn’t give her a raise. I mean, they don’t — they have no money. So I wish she would get a raise that goes with it, just because it’s a recognition. And if you’re doing more brain work and harder work, you know. But, okay.
Doel:But four days, you say?
Press:Four days. And then he had to be in Woods Hole to get ready for the Atlantis cruise, that was his first. We stayed. It took about ten days, I think, to get ready. So Frank and I had this guest room at Dottie and Joe’s. And this is another thing, here am I, twenty years old. We were sitting in the living room with the Worzels, you know, when they came home from work, and, boy, were they dirty and tired, getting ready for the cruise. And of course, Joe had worked a long time with Doc before doing this kind of thing.
Doel:All the way from the Lehigh [University] days.
Press:I want to say Allegheny, but it’s Lehigh, because it’s in the Allegheny Mountains. Because we had a good friend at Allegheny College, and now it’s all fused in my mind. But of course it’s Lehigh that I meant earlier when I said Allegheny. So they’d come home and wash up and everything. A lot of times they used to invite us to have dinner with them, which was very sweet, I mean, certainly as often as we wanted to. We didn’t want to have dinner with them. We wanted to go off by ourselves, anywhere. We were only married a few days, and I told you what virgin sturgeons we were, and we wanted to be by ourselves. And he was going out to sea, and I was about to die. So after dinner — I think they invited us to dinner — Joe wanted to just torment us. Frank would say, “Well, it’s getting late.” You know, we’d go upstairs, they weren’t that far away from us. And Joe would say, “Oh, it’s early, it’s early. Have another beer” or something. And so Frank, you know, we were staying at their home, we were paying rent for the room, but Joe was more senior.
Press:It was terrible. And then he’d say things like, when we finally got up, “We know where you’re going.” It was a joke to him, but it was insensitive. That was why I hated Joe. [Laughs] But, boy, did I used to give him ‘what for’ at Lamont. I mean, not that much, because I didn’t want to have rifts. We all lived together. We were all neighbors. They were colleagues, and I loved Dottie, and I never wanted to cause trouble, but on the other hand, I would get a few digs in.
Doel:You mentioned also earlier Chuck Drake, John Ewing, and Jack Oliver. How much interaction did you come to have with them socially?
Jack, of course, was not married, and it’s a whole different way of life, so he was a bachelor, a most eligible bachelor. Everybody was trying to pair him up. But he only came occasionally, and Doc and Midge came occasionally. I was going to tell you, every time we got together for a party, wherever it was, if the Worzels had a party that the Ewings came to, or quite often the Ludases, it’s a social mecca up there. It was so easy for them and there was always pizza and beer, and we had such good fun and conviviality. The Drakes, once they lived there, came a lot. Ludas and Chuck Drake were great friends. The men were crazy about Ludas, about Angelo, and the women were crazy about Lenore, so it was a lovefest for us. So they used to come to that. And once Betty and John were there, they used to come all the time, too. I remember we used to have to get babysitters. We were always hanging out together at the Ludases’. And then the women always used to hang out together. We used to get together.
It used to be mostly my yard, which was on the side of — you know that house, which was all open field. And I had a red wagon. It was the wagon they used to haul hay in when it was a farm, and they were going to just get rid of it. So I said, “Could I buy it? How much is it?” So I bought it for, I think, five dollars, or maybe fifteen, because I’m sure I couldn’t have given more than fifteen, and I think they just wanted to get rid of it and they were going to chop it up or something, so I bought it. So then we all painted it a real bright red with the kind of shellac paint that can stand all the seasons. The kids could shimmy up the thing that you would attach to the horse, that was on the ground, the kids would shimmy up that into the wagon and do all kinds of tricks. It was like a jungle gym. And they used to play wonderful dramatic plays in there and just all get together there. So we started all getting together. It’s kind of like on my back porch or around that area. We used to get together at Dottie’s a lot, or Lenore’s. I remember the time when the weather got nice, and the kids woke up from their naps, that we all used to get together. It was a model of a support system for young women with young children.
It taught me something when I worked in Head Start and then when I founded a program with the Cambridge School Department to prevent socioeconomic disadvantaged, beginning with children as early as nine months old. I ran that program for seven years, then I was in Washington with HEW [Department of Health, Education and Welfare] for two and a half years, then I went back to keep my tenure with the Cambridge School Department, and I kept on running it. I had one program, it became three programs. I wrote proposals, got funding for all of this kind of stuff and really did the Lord’s work. Had to fight with the superintendents every inch of the way, except when I started a program when that superintendent wanted it, and then when a new superintendent came in, he didn’t want it anymore. So I had to get very political, mobilize the mothers to come to the — you know, get the cards out, make the phone calls, unbounded energy, which God knows I don’t have anymore. So what was the point? Were we still on Joe?
Doel:No. We had switched to Drakes and the interconnections.
Press:So you see—
Doel:Yes, I really do see, it’s important.
Press:You see the nature of it was that the women were extremely supportive to each other. The men heeded Doc’s call. [Laughs] He was the pack leader.
Doel:Were there some who voiced resentment of that kind of “nine o’clock in the morning on Sunday” phone calls or who would resist?
Press:Not phone calls. We didn’t do phone calls. He just showed up at the back porch, which was the only entrance we ever used, a little back porch if you ever knew that house.
Doel:So he’d come knock on the door and say –-
Press:Yes, he just said something like “Slugabeds” or something. He’d just say, “Come on, Frank. Hi, Billie, how you doin’?” I don’t know if he’d say, “How you doin’?” You know, maybe he’d sit for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee like as not. But you know, I loved Doc, I loved him. He did a kindness for me once that I never forgot. Frank was then, in February — he used to go out for three, four weeks for a few years in February, this is in addition to the summer, where he was studying sound waves in layered media ice. I think it was Lake Superior. I guess this was the part of the research for the [Wenceslas] Jardetsky-Press — the whole book thing.
Doel:The major book. [Elastic Waves in Layered Media]
Press:Yes, that book. And there was I, with a furnace that was 100 years old. I mean, I’d only had central heating in all my life, even in St. Louis, where I was born in 1925, and here I have this ancient furnace that I had to shovel coal into and bank every night, downstairs. I had to become a furnace specialist when Frank was away, and he was away for a month. And, you know, I had a baby or I was pregnant, or I had two little babies. And I remember when I got the flu, Doc used to come over every morning, every evening, take care of the furnace.
Press:He did. And Doc was such a homey guy and particularly at our parties, and the Drakes had some good parties. I remember they had the best party, one of the best parties near the end of our staying there. I don’t know if I already knew that we were leaving as we did in ‘55, but it was close to that. And I had grown to really love Doc. Frank was so happy in his career, he was doing well. Doc was very proud of him. He gave all his men great opportunities. And so I remember that I allowed myself, or maybe I wasn’t used to drinking much then, not that I — all right. But I got tipsy, and I think we all got — it was a New Year’s Eve party. I remember what it was, it was Chuck Drake’s fish house punch. Do you know, it tastes like peach juice. And we were all dancing up a storm, and I was drinking this peach juice, and I got soused. It was the first, and Frank said he hoped the last, time in my life that I would get soused, and I sure learned something. You cannot drink fish house punch, because it doesn’t taste like liquor, and you don’t measure it, as I do with a jigger so I know what I’m drinking, and allow the effects to reach my conscious brain. But I really got tipsy, but it just made me more jolly than I was ordinarily, and I was always jolly at parties. I was very fond of the people, and there was real Gemutlichkeit. And if the men had their problems, I swear, I swear, and I’m so critical of everything, I never felt anything from Frank except loyalty and appreciation to Doc for the opportunities he gave him and the things he taught him. Now, I remember when Frank came home and told me that a few of the guys, including Frank, had been asked or delegated themselves — it would be interesting to find the etiology of this — to talk to Doc about them being paid for the summer. Because they worked all summer just the same way, and they never were paid, except for the nine-month year. [Laughs]
Doel:Right. The academic calendar.
Press:Right. And they never took vacations. We never had a vacation. It’s like China or something, they never have a vacation in that country. I found out when I spent a month there. So these guys, and I don’t even know if Frank was one of them who did it, but it’s so vivid to me that it feels like he was, you’ll have to ask him who were the principals there, they went to Doc, and they quite meekly said they found out that in most universities now, or maybe they named some, the scientists — now, he was only an instructor then, Frank, but he was still a faculty member.
Doel:Right, and this was after he had finished the Ph.D.
Doel:When did he formally finish?
Press:When did he finish? I forget. It may have been ‘47. ‘47 sounds right. No. Bill was born, and Bill was born in ‘48. No, it had to be after ‘48. Maybe a year after that.
Doel:‘48, ‘49 or so. We’ll check it.
Press:It seems to me that when Bill, our son, at age eleven said — and Bill had great talent in science and math, and early on he decided he wanted to be a scientist, and he said to me, and he was still lisping at this time, “How old was dad when he got his Ph.D.?” And I tried to think, and I think I said, “Twenty-four,” but I’m not sure, maybe it was when he was twenty-five. So I told Bill, and he said, “Well, I’m going to get mine when I’m twenty-three,” or whatever was one year earlier. Talk about feeling competitive. And he said, “I’m going to major in math. Dad is an applied scientist, but I’m going to be —” No, he said, “I’m going to major in math so nobody knows what I’ve done until 100 years after I’m dead,” he said, “the importance of my work.” Then he had some physics, and he loved that so much, that he determined to major in physics, and then he said, “But I’m going to be a pure scientist, not like Dad.” I said, “What’s the matter with Dad? Dad is absolutely a pure scientist.” He said, “Mom, he’s applied.”
Doel:How old was he when he —
Press:By this time that he said this? Around thirteen. He said, eleven, he was going to major in math, and he would be dead for 100 years before they were interested in what he worked on. [Laughs]
Doel:It’s interesting, though. Older scientists certainly talk in those terms, applied and pure science, but it’s interesting to imagine how he came to know what those terms meant for him.
Oh, he followed after Frank from the age of two, just walking after him, and asking him, “Say Dad, say Dad.” He was indomitable. And I remember one crazy time when Bill was seven, and Frank was going off to work, and Bill was walking after him. He was seven. I was watching from the porch in my window in the days when I had very good hearing. He was talking to Frank, and Frank was hurrying on to go to Lamont, to the lab. We called it the big house, you see. We always called that the big house. So to go to the big house. We used to kid — where the white folks live. And Bill’s walking behind him trying to engage him in conversation. We still called him Sonny until he was about nine. And then I saw Frank stop, turn around, take out his key chain or something, and start illustrating and discussing. I moved out to be able to hear. They were lost, and they didn’t see me or anything, but I could really hear well. And I could hear, and suddenly I saw Frank say, “Bill, I’m late for my work.” and then Frank said — and Frank never talked like this to Bill before, because really, Bill could always turn him on. He was so interesting, you couldn’t resist this kid, because he could always get your interest. And when he was naughty with me, he could always ask me a good question, and then there I went. So he could do it with his father, too, about his father’s subjects.
So Frank said, “I’ve got my own career to worry about. You worry about your career, and I’ll worry about my career. I can’t worry about your career. I’ve got my own career to worry about!” The kid was seven. So when I saw Frank that night, I took him aside and I said, “Okay buster, you could have had a kid, a son to be interested in science and share with you for the rest of your life, but I saw you wreck it today and what a pity.” Well, it not only didn’t wreck it, but I’ve become convinced, since Frank never had an agenda for either of the kids, the fact that Bill just saw the joy that Frank had in science, and, of course, usually he could engage his father. And Frank, when we went to CalTech in ‘55, and they had this gigantic computer that took up a gigantic amount of space, Frank often took Bill there on Saturday. Frank and Bill would take a lunch, and Bill was knowing how to do a computer from such an early age, because they did share that. And now they’re always on the E-mail. So he does have a son to share that, although they never talk about anything personal in their whole lives. They talk about politics, the stock market, and, of course, overwhelmingly, science. And Bill talks a lot about the human-interest part and the personalities, which is always a big kick for Frank, because he never deals in that, never mentions it, never knows anything about anybody, really. Everything I knew, I learned from Dottie when I was at Lamont.
Doel:We have a number of questions we will need to return to later on.
Press:You didn’t go to the bathroom at all, and I have to go again after all that juice.
Doel:Why don’t we just let it go.
Press:You want to ask me fast? I could be brief if pressed, you see, and that’s a good thing with me, because I do better with deadlines.
Doel:I’ll ask you, then, one brief question, although it may deserve a broader answer, which is, were there any women graduate students who wanted to become part of the team at that time?
Press:We had Rene Brilliant started out there, but then switched, and I don’t know why.
Doel:How did it work, given the culture of the time? Were they accommodating to Rene Brilliant and her ambitions?
Press:I don’t know. She always seemed a little bit like a peculiar duck. She was very hang-dog. Look, I’m a feminist, I certainly became one. But she didn’t have sort of the usual feminine affect.
Doel:You’re kind of walking hunched over, kind of withdrawn.
Press:She was very shy. She certainly didn’t relate to any of us women. I don’t know what her relationship was with the other men. I talked to her a couple of times at larger parties, and I thought she was very nice and very interesting when she relaxed, and particularly if the beer was flowing or whatever. I don’t know what happened to her, I just know she switched fields. There was something very important that I didn’t tell you, a punch line, and maybe you’ve heard it, maybe I already told you, even when you called me that time we had a long talk. No, you weren’t taping. When they went to Doc and asked meekly and respectfully to be paid for the summer —
Doel:Oh yes, to be paid for the summer. How did that resolve?
Press:He said to them, he looked at them like this, the several of them that were there —
Doel:A glaring —
Press:And said, “If you paid more attention to science and less to your pocketbook, you might make a contribution and amount to something.” So that was the end of that.
Doel:What did everyone say after hearing that?
Press:They didn’t think it was fair, but I never heard Frank complain. Didn’t I tell you, “Don’t complain and don’t explain.” [Laughter] Frank could tell you. Frank and Doc had a very big falling-out when Frank announced that he was leaving. Doc was so furious at him. He felt like it was such total betrayal that anybody could leave him, instead of being so proud that Frank was getting this tremendous offer, and that the fledgling was ready to fly the coop. That was terrible. Doc wouldn’t have anything to do with him, and Frank wouldn’t try that hard because Frank doesn’t suffer coldness lightly.
Doel:I can imagine. And it was already in ‘54 that Frank mentioned to Ewing that he had the offer from CalTech.
Press:Right. Right. Right. I certainly didn’t feel any kind of coldness from Doc towards me at all, or anything when we all got together, and we had a really lovely party where they gave him a shotgun and crazy stuff to celebrate that Frank was leaving. In ‘55, on a tree, in our same place, with our red wagon in evidence and the sun is setting. It’s the most idyllic scene. We used to have cows over the fence, you know. It was really something. The kids could hold up hay and feed the cows. The best asparagus patch, and the raspberries! Of course, it was all left from this estate with all the people keeping this up. It was really something.
Doel:We’ll continue on a number of these themes when we resume, but in the meantime, let me thank you very much for this long session that we’ve had today, and you will be getting the transcripts of this conversation directly back from Columbia University. Thank you very much.
Press:I apologize for anything I can’t remember that could have been helpful to you, and also for running on so about things that were such a part of our history, my history.
I enjoyed it very much. Thanks so much.
Session I | Session II