All in the Family: Big SLC Families
During a sun-filled Reunion weekend four years ago, when the wisteria blooms had just subsided on Westlands arbor, Howard Goodman ’49 and his son Mark ’83 re-explored their college campus together. One of the first father-son pairs in the College’s history, the two had returned to mark the 50th anniversary of Howard’s graduation. As always, the two of them— the father, a retired executive with the Red Cross, and the son, a litigation partner at Debevoise & Plimpton—had much in common when the subject turned to their alma mater: the seminar-style courses, the students’ close relationships with their dons, and the continued high premium placed on thinking outside of the box.
Yet, in other ways, their experiences were distinctly different. In 1946, the 21-year-old Howard, a former Harvard University student, was one of a group of about 30 World War II-weary soldiers who had come to college on the G.I. Bill after serving in the Pacific. But his son, who followed 34 years later and went on to become a Sarah Lawrence trustee, had a relatively uneventful growing-up in the Midwest during the years following the Civil Rights movement.
“My dad had been half-way around the world and back when he got here,” Mark noted recently, “and I was just a regular kid from a suburban high school in St. Louis. Yet there was so much that bound us together when it came to Sarah Lawrence.”
During a similar spring weekend almost two decades earlier, another parent-child pair explored the campus together. That year was 1982, and Mary Moore Easter ’62 and her daughter, Allison ’85, also couldn’t help comparing notes. Allison, already a professional dancer, was just finishing her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence, and her mother, an accomplished dancer and writer, had returned for a 20th Reunion.
“I realized that day that it wasn’t just my school anymore, that I had to give up the singular claim in our family to Sarah Lawrence,” Mary recently explained. “But I was also happy that Allison chose to go to the same school, because the fit was perfect. Sometimes parents push too hard for what they want, and then their kids do the opposite. You know how children are.”
Mary is a dancer/choreographer, a poet/ writer and a professor of dance and performing arts at Carleton College in Minnesota, where she also directed the program in African-American Studies for six years. Allison, in addition to being a personal trainer, is a singer, dancer and actress who has worked with Meredith Monk ’64, touring the United States, Europe and Asia and receiving a New York Dance and Performance Award (a “Bessie,” after the late SLC dance faculty member Bessie Schönberg) for her work.
Their conversation did not, however, include a comparison of something else they shared at SLC: Both were African- American students in a predominantly white school. “For us, the race issue wasn’t something that came up a lot at Sarah Lawrence,” Allison says. “Neither of us socialized with blacks in particular. It was much more about being artists and performers and self-motivated in an educational environment that encouraged that.”
Like Howard Goodman and Mary Easter, Cecily Geyelin Clark ’43 said she pitched the idea of Sarah Lawrence to subsequent generations of family members—and also “didn’t know if it would take.” In her family, two generations followed Cecily and her sister, Eleanor Geyelin Sims Casey ’45, to Sarah Lawrence. Cecily’s daughter, Camilla Van Griethuysen, graduated in 1968. And Cecily’s granddaughter (by another child), Cecily Tyler, graduated in 1997.
“This college is set up to let you explore. Not dabble, but seriously, deeply explore.”
—Sam Edelman '73
Recalling a visit in 1992 to Sarah Lawrence to see her granddaughter, the senior Cecily noted, “One of the things that hadn’t changed a bit on campus was that walk up and down to Bates Hall.” The campus looked more or less the same, she said. The students, however, were another matter. “When I was there in the early forties, we were all girls and we pretty much looked alike. Our hair was turned under in page-boys, we wore bobby socks, and we had round collars poking out from under our sweaters.”
But in 1992, when granddaughter Cecily was there, “there was a freedom of dress, a certain nakedness that I wasn’t used to,” she said. “Before, we all looked the same, even though we were encouraged to think like individuals.”
And what about all those boys on the SLC campus in 1992? Cecily ’43 was unfazed. “I ignored the fact that there were no boys on campus. Education designed for women was totally captivating to me. It was one of the things that first attracted me to Sarah Lawrence.”
That sea change—SLC’s conversion to coeducation in 1968—can be tracked through the generations that followed another first-generation alumna, Helen Mellon Schmidt ’38. As Helen’s daughter Helen S. Claire ’61 told Sarah Lawrence, “I really enjoyed my same-sex education experience. Having men attend changed the school, I think.” She and her mother preferred single-sex education, Helen ’61 says.
But by 1989, when Helen M. Schmidt—a granddaughter of Helen ’38 —graduated, coeducation had long been a fait accompli. Following her graduation, the youngest Helen married classmate Finn T. Campman.
Teddy Joffe and Arthur Edelman, who both graduated in 1950, also met and married at Sarah Lawrence. As Arthur, who was studying on the G.I. Bill, said recently, “Sarah Lawrence was the great beginning for me.”
Studying alongside women, while novel, wasn’t the piece that marked that changeover for Arthur. It was what happened in and around the classroom: the SLC brand of education. “That’s what started all the bells ringing,” he said. And Teddy says she left the College “determined never to play it safe about anything. That was the most important thing about Sarah Lawrence for me. We learned how to have the courage to think anything…and to have opinions…and take sides…and make mistakes. We were involved.”
The couple, the owners of Teddy and Arthur Edelman Ltd., produce leather for architects and interior designers. Their eldest son, Sam Edelman—in all, they have six children —graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1973. The former owner of the shoe company Sam & Libby, Sam is now a horse trainer and equestrian who received an appreciation of SLC’s mission from his parents.
“This college,” Sam says, “is set up to let you explore. Not dabble, but seriously, deeply explore.”
Exploration is a theme that appears to run through all the generations, according to Helen S. Claire ’61, who lives in The Netherlands with her two children. The common denominator throughout the years—for her mother, herself and her niece, she said—has been “an intellectual grace” and an ability to inquire outside of traditional boundaries.
And those qualities, according to Arthur Edelman, haven’t been compromised “despite the many other changes—including wars, terrorism, the Women’s Movement, Civil Rights, and presidential politics—that the different generations of fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have been witness to over the years.”
“Thankfully,” Edelman says, “some things have remained constant.”
And that's not the half of it: Ludemann, Walker, Bidwell, and Noyes
When it was time for Louise Walker Resor ’39 to pick a college, she chose to be near New York City and all the fine music it had to offer. For her daughter, Elsie Mead Walker ’69, the lure of Sarah Lawrence was the independent course of study it allowed her, especially following four years at a strict boarding school. By the time Audrey Noyes Ludemann ’76—the daughter of Louise’s cousin Margaret “Peggy” Talbott Noyes ’49—graduated, Sarah Lawrence had become an established family tradition. At least three more members of this large family attended the College: Two were, like Peggy Noyes, cousins of Louise—Katherine Thomas Bidwell ’59 and Mary Hilliard Jackson ’40—and the third was Katherine’s son, Stephen T. O’Neill ’88. Peggy and Katherine—both former SLC trustees—died last year; Mary died in 1999.
But no one among the kin will swear that the list stops there. Katharine Kirkland Walker ’04, a CCE student of creative writing, is Louise Resor’s daughter-in-law. And Katharine’s son, John Bingham ’93, graduated after a stint in the U.S. Navy. Have you lost count? Don’t worry.
“It gets too complicated to follow,” observes Audrey, who points out there is at least one common theme among family members when the subject of Sarah Lawrence comes up. “We all love music, and Sarah Lawrence nurtured the love,” she says. “We always talk about that at family reunions.”
And Elsie says there’s something else they share when it comes to their college days: “The respect for individuality and independence that was fostered at Sarah Lawrence. As members of a diverse family group looking back now, there are clearly commonalities.”