SINISTER SUGGESTIONS by Dr. Karen Stephen: The World As It Was in October 1961

Clips from the October 1961 issues of the Stanford Daily tell it all. This is the world that greeted this author as a freshman at Stanford University that fall. It is also the world inhabited by the fictional characters in Sinister Suggestions, the author’s first book in the Stanford Daily Mysteries series, centered on young journalists on the campus newspaper solving crimes on and off campus. View suspenseful book trailer.

The LOOK for the men on campus. Levi Jeans with rolled up cuffs, loafers, and an attitude for less than a latte now days.

The look for the women on campus. This author never was and never would be that thin!

Main character Mattie Thorne has her own dress style: Back in her room, [Mattie] threw on her teal and charcoal plaid, pleated wool skirt with its matching neck scarf—that she had laboriously sewn in a Singer sewing class back in her high school days—and trotted down to breakfast.

World politics at your fingertips if you weren’t busy trying to get a date (which would have been this author’s daily endeavor), trying out for Rally Club (my dormmates), or studying for your Chemistry exam (which should have been me!)

And the even scarier international news. The Russians STILL seem to be the problem!

Reaction on campus: By Monday morning, all staffers were being encouraged, no, ordered to return to covering other stories of the day. It wasn’t hard to find one worthy of attention. News had broken via an early morning television alert that Russia had exploded a 50-megaton bomb in the atmosphere. Joe was doing his bit to mobilize a massive protest—a 24-hour “lie-in” on the main library lawn. Similar protests were being organized at Cal Berkeley and San Francisco State. Petitions to ban atmospheric nuclear tests were being distributed across all three campuses as well as across the nation. Even Palo Alto was scheduled to have a peace march in the morning for elementary through college students.

Stanford students were introduced to the classics with luminaries like Dame Judith Anderson coming to campus at bargain prices.

At the same time, students were encouraged to smoke with huge advertisements on almost every page of every issue of the Daily, including this very sexist series sponsored by Pall Mall. And, yes, this author smoked at the time.

And last, but not least, we have the new Dean of Women, who appears center stage in the novel with her sexist lectures on the role of women at Stanford. The very one who, in real life, sent this author a letter at the end of the year requiring me to get counseling if I was to return to Stanford the next fall (which I didn’t do). A novel excerpt taken from a Daily article on character Mattie Thorne’s reaction to the Dean’s speech to freshman women:

As Mattie read through the account, she realized she had been there. She remembered being outraged by the first question the Dean posed—the same evil woman who, weeks later, would be sending her threatening letters about not attending class. The offending question was quoted verbatim in the article. Can an educated woman be a person of charm and integrity, a scholar, a helpful wife and mother, and a loveable woman? What had occurred to Mattie at the time was why the hell would any self-respecting woman want to be all those things? She hadn’t gotten a combined SAT score of 1490 and fought her way into Stanford to attend charm school, nor to find a husband and pump out babies, although perhaps some of the other girls had.

Mattie had come from a long line of educated women. Her mother, to her credit, had graduated from the prestigious University of Chicago in 1937 with a degree in Political Science—although the mores of the day never allowed her to pursue her dream of becoming a city manager. Instead, she had worked as a medical secretary all her life—until, that is, she married her well-to-do dimwit second husband when Mattie was sixteen. Even more significant, Mattie’s maternal grandmother had received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 1900s and taught Latin and German prior to her marriage. Following in the family tradition of educated females, Mattie had applied to Stanford with the intention of carrying through to medical school and finding a cure for cancer. Wow! She just remembered her goal in life. Now all she had to do was figure out how to undo the fact that she had screwed herself over on ever reaching it.

She read on, her animosity toward the Dean growing with each word. The Dean had described the stereotype of an educated woman as cantankerous, unreasonable, and an expert only in knowledge. Whereas 20th century men had the image of their fathers to look up to—fathers who were versatile people, good hosts, sportsmen, fathers, husbands, as well as competent executives. Mattie guessed that her own alcoholic father, who had abandoned the family shortly after her birth, broke the mold. When the Dean ended her presentation by suggesting the women could meet in small groups with her for further discussion, Mattie remember thinking at the time, the hell I will. Right now, however, she would give her right arm to meet her face to face and give her a piece of her mind for sending out threatening letters to young women who were in dire straits.

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s