Margery Hendrick Piersen '63

  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: I’m Margery Hendrick Piersen. I live in Deerfield, Illinois, with my husband, Joe Piersen- class of ‘62. I graduated in 1963. We were the first couple pinned from West Norris Hall when it was opened, and that was very exciting, of course. That was when I was a sophomore and he was a junior. And we were married in November after I graduated in June, 1963. I was an American Studies major, and I also took Education classes, and was a third grade teacher for the first three years after I graduated. Our daughter, Gail, graduated class of ‘90 from Grinnell.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Why did I come to Grinnell? Well, we had a family friend who was a senior here when I was a junior in college- I mean high school. And she invited me out for the weekend, and I just fell in love with the school. I loved the Loggia and the dorm life, and the classes, and I had a date to a Younker house party, and that surely didn’t hurt! And I came on the Rock Island train as we all did from Chicago in those days.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: Well... yeah?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Okay, so I lived in Mears Hall as a freshmen, and that was the first year that Mears was open. It had been closed- condemned, I believe, by the fire department and was completely remodeled. The rooms were very nice and spacious, and I had a very interesting and unusual roommate, Alice, and I wish I knew where she was right now, because I have been out of touch with her for many years. We were very close for the first three years, but she was not here during my senior year. During my freshman year I was in something called Uncle Sam’s Club. Uncle Sam’s Club was an effort to-
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: it was kind of like a community house, down in the poor part of town. We went down there once a week and we played ping pong and other games with the children and just got to know them, and make them feel comfortable with us, tried to keep them doing constructive activities rather than less so. As I recall, most of the children I befriended were in fourth and fifth grade at the time. I also sang in the- in the Chorus, and for one semester. I had a radio program, radio station program, which we just played music and talked about this and that. I had that with Marilyn Drake. My campus job was cataloging,
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: basically making cards for the hard copy card catalogue. And I worked for Helen Shipley, who was the Librarian, and a very big influence on me actually. I worked for her for four years. So we not only put the call numbers on the cards that were ordered from the Library of Congress but we filed them. She had four students working for her and we went once a year, we were invited over for dinner at her home; that was very nice. Taking Education courses was really kind of like having a double major, because there was the American Studies major and there was the Education.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: In those days there were many, many required courses. We were the first year that had Historical Studies in the Humanities sequence. And actually, because it was required, is really the reason I was not a Math major, because I simply would have been a sophomore before I could even take my first Calculus course. So, that changed my life right there, those required courses. But I was happy with what I did and eventually I became a programmer systems analyst, which required analytical skill if not extreme math.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: So, did you have a memorable professor?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Well, Mr. Wall was one of the favorites of so many people. I really liked the- the classes- the American Studies seminars. Mr. Wall taught one of them. Mr. Katz taught one, and I have not been able to remember who taught the third one I'm sorry to say, but they were some of the best classes I had, I think.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: So, then you saw the shift from the old library- the Carnegie Library, to Burling Library?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Not really. My husband did. I just arrived in Burling and Burling was ready to go. So I did see it as a prospective student, but not as a student. And then they remodeled it into seminar rooms and so forth, where they had a lot of Education classes up there. I did think- I really liked the dorm life. You know in those days, they had sings, and all kinds of intramural activities. I actually think there may be some benefit from having separate male and female dorms, although that may not be a popular opinion today.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: How so?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Well, I noticed when my daughter went to Carleton College, for example, that they didn’t really have the variety of... shall we say 'mild', entertaining activities. Instead they had these ‘keggers’ and rougher sports and rougher kinds of activities. I think it- It didn’t promote the rich friendships among the women as much.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: So, what were some of the things you did as women on South Campus?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Well, I personally didn’t do as much as some people, but it was there, you know, we basically just- we used to have lounge parties after hours. Oh, that’s another thing. Of course, we had to be in bed at 11'o'clock as freshman. I think it was 4 nights a week. And the loggia was locked at midnight. But there would be a party every week or so. I personally tended to study in the Library, what with working and all. I palled around more with Marilyn and Alice as a freshman, and with Joe as a sophomore and a junior, and with Jane and Lynne as a senior when my husband was off in law school- husband to be, that was.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: So, you know, I was not on any of the- as many activities, in fact, I’ve been pondering that this weekend, and I realize, as I read other peoples’ memories- and I realize it was kind of ironic because I was much more active in high school. And I've been kind of an organization person as an adult, so it was kind of my non-organizational period when I was here.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: So, if you were going to re-write, or write, a history of Grinnell, what are some things that you would include from your perspective that might not be remembered? Like events, or a building, or something like that.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Well, people always talk about dining in the Quad, but it's- it's very important. I think the- the dining experiences were wonderful. We had formal sit-down dinners with formal graces. Wednesday, every Wednesday we sang after the dinner - songs I still sing to my grand children. And, it just get- it- y'know it kind of contained you in one place for long enough to have nice social intercourse. Formal, of course. Food was wonderful. And they always got second plates of food. And then we'd have- take turns having house mother at our table.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: The dining with the guys was kind of experimental. Some days, you could dine at either place. If you were going to bring your boyfriend, or his friends over to the Quad, you had to reserve a table for that purpose, which you could do. And so sometimes I'd go over to Cowles with Joe, and when I was a junior, they started having an optional cafeteria meal before the formal dining, so then Joe and I pretty much did that for a year. But, actually, I was glad to get back to the formal dining. I enjoyed that as a senior. Oh, clothes!
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Oh, yes, now slacks, forget slacks. I had one pair of slacks when I came here and I believe we might have been able to wear them to Saturday classes, certainly not during the weekday. Certainly not to the dining room. We're not talking jeans; we're talking slacks. So, you know, we wore long skirts. Usually straight, and sweaters or blouses.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: What about formals? Did you have any formals? Dances?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: We did have formals, and I had a few formals. And, yes, my husband asked me to the Military Ball when I was a freshman. That's how I got to know him, and we had one experimental movie date prior to that, yes...
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: So, Did you have a lot of friends who met their spouses in Grinnell? Did a lot of people do that?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: There are quite a few. Of course, this all was not- women always hope to- I think, most women, do hope to marry somebody young and probably even so today, but I don't think it was more than probably 2 or 3 percent of the population. But, yes, many of them, of course, tend to come back to the reunions, and, yes, I do know many.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: Mhmm. And, what do you think your Grinnell education has done for you? For the rest of- after Grinnell?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Well, first place, it enabled me to be a teacher, and it enabled me to have a career. In the longer range, it gave me a really, in interdisciplinary things such as American Studies, and I realize that there's right now a current trend towards interdisciplinary studies. I've always liked putting together things that someone else doesn't necessarily think belong together. I'm very interested in genealogy and history now, and, of course, I married a History major, so that, besides the fact that of- that I couldn't really get a good start at math kind of took me away from
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: the science and math for a long time. My husband made very sure that both of our daughters went into scientific fields. That's a big goal of his for better employment options. I was thinking about a paper- research paper I did as a senior, which was very pivotal. I researched William Ellery Channing, who was a Unitarian minister, and, the- I don't know if I said that right- Unitarian minister in 1830's- 1840's in Boston. And, years later, we joined the Unitarian church, and at the time I could quote almost every line of the sermons I read. There was a wonderful collection of old books, and they had, I think,
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: a whole shelf or more of his books, so it was a wonderful topic to write a religion paper on. It was definitely- directly influenced my life. The Philosophy course that Joe took directly influenced his thinking very strongly. That was from Professor Klausner, and that, in turn, influenced very much the way our relationship would go- the way things would play out. I just think- you know the habit of living an intellectual life, and being in respect of an analytical is something that we like to train all of our children at/in. And we're busy training our grandchildren right now.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: And you learned that here?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: To some extent, of course, not-
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: Not entirely.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: This is not the only school, or the only place that teaches it, but since that's where we were during formative years, yes. I would say.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: Alright. Well, do you have any final statements that you want to say? Anything you might have forgotten?
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Oh, yes! This is maybe- this is less formal, but, here's a good story: So, Joe was graduating in 1962 from Grinnell,and I wanted to go to his graduation, but he got- requested a ticket. His mother had the ticket for me so I could go, but the only problem is: how was I gonna be here? So, Helen Shipley made arrangements for me to be helping her with the card catalog during graduation week, which, of course, needed to be done. And she was always happy to have the help, so this was a real need, and not some trumped up thing. And I thought it was a done deal.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Then Dean Gardener called me into her office for an interview and asked me why I was going to be at Grinnell that week. "Why?" I thought I'd be needed. In which case, I eventually ended up confessing that I had planned to go to Joe's graduation. And she said 'No!'. I couldn't do that. I had to go home. That was not allowed. And I said: 'Well, I have a job and I'm going to marry Joe, so of course I'm gonna go to his graduation.' And I said after more dialogue, that, actually, Helen Shipley will probably put me up at her house, if you don't want me in the dorm. And she didn't like that. I told her I'd go home to Chicago and I'd drive back with Joe's mother and be in a motel.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: She said "Oh, no, no! We can't have you in the motel! We must have you in the dorms! Permission granted." So there's more than one way to win. But that does illustrate, you know, definitely in those days, the Dean was in charge of your morals, and she was not going to be fooled. She was not going to have me here, doing something I shouldn't be doing. Which, of course, I could have been doing all along anyhow, so... So, anyhow, we are very glad we met at Grinnell. We're very glad that Louise helped introduce me to Grinnell, and that our daughter went here.
  • Rachel Glass
    Rachel: Alright. Well, thanks.
  • Margery Piersen
    Margery: Thank you.
Alumni oral history interview with Margery Hendrick Piersen '63. Recorded May 31, 2009.
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