Stepping into the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, you immediately begin immersing yourself in the stories of the past– exhibits hold letters infused with time-worn splatters of ink, ironwork and molding curl overhead, and the smell of books permeates everything. Women from all walks of life and from all over the globe send everything from their tax statements to society-altering treatises to the Radcliffe Institute to be preserved and cataloged for future generations. The documents can come neatly organized in acid-free folders or tossed haphazardly into cardboard boxes. Once at Radcliffe, Kathryn (Kathy) Allamong Jacob ’72 and her peers sort through the documents and essentially mold history and help determine who and/or what is remembered and forgotten.
Kathy came to Goucher with an interest in history that continues to this day– she received her Masters from Georgetown and her PhD from Johns Hopkins in history. She has worked as an archivist at the National Archive and as a historian at both Johns Hopkins and the US Senate. She has published three books about various aspects of American history. Currently, her title is Curator of Manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library of the History of Women in America. On paper, she sounds intimidating. In person, she is a wonderful Goucher Girl who embodies both the academic prowess and the independent spirit that has defined generations of Goucher students. As soon as I found out that we shared the same first name and both loved books, I knew that my externship with Kathy would be fantastic. Also,the bibliophile/geek inside of me was overjoyed that I would get to spend my externship in a library nosing around through volumes and databases.
My day started off in classic Cambridge style with a run along the Charles River and a stop at a local cafe in Harvard Square. I called Kathy and told her I would be there in five minutes. However, almost half an hour later, I arrived at the Schlesinger dewy and stressed because my mentally-challenged phone was not equipped with a GPS and I had neglected to print out a map. My sense of direction seemed to have lost itself somewhere along Harvard Square. Luckily, Kathy had not yet called the Alumnae/i House women, otherwise this getting-lost-in-Cambridge event would’ve become slightly worse.
Once at the Schlesinger Library, Kathy took me upstairs to her office and we talked about the influence that Goucher has had on her life. It turns out, her high school Spanish teacher was a Goucher grad from the 20’s and became Kathy’s mentor throughout both high school and college. When her teacher passed away, she left Kathy with all of the silver jewelry that she had collected throughout her travels. Now, whenever she returns to campus or has a Goucher event, Kathy wears a piece of her teacher’s jewelry to honor the woman who led her on the path to Goucher. Goucher has always been a huge part of Kathy’s life and she now “returns the favor” by serving on the Board of Trustees as an alumnae representative and has been the author/collector of the ’72 Class Notes for a few years.
Throughout the day, there were plenty of Goucher stories and connections:
- Kathy and her classmates called the Loop Road the “Magic Circle” because of its ability to protect those outside the boundaries of the Circle (in the woods) from prying eyes.
- Current Goucher professors, Jean Baker and MaryAnn Githens, assisted students in organizing groups to go to protests against the Vietnam War in Washington D.C.
- Froelicher Hall, where Kathy lived, was guarded by a house mother who ensured that doors were open when men paid a visit and that curfews were obeyed.
- In the tradition/pattern of many other Goucher gals, Kathy is now married to a Hopkins grad.
- Jenny, Kathy’s colleague, ran around campus when she was younger because her dad was a dean.
She also took me on a tour of the climate-controlled vaults (home to Amelia Earhardt’s baby book and Julia Child’s recipe files), a tour around Cambridge, and even located a list of interesting biographies of one of my idols, Julia Child. Throughout the day, we talked about books, academic research, catalogue systems, archival methods, transitions in history, Paris, and what Kathy would describe as the “cool factor” of her job– reading women’s diaries. Over lunch with Kathy and Jenny, conversation flowed easily and I felt like I was back with my friends at Goucher– albeit in a college town a few hundred miles away. At the end of the day, I even got to get my hands dirty by reading and sifting through Civil War letters and finding sections that highlighted the yearning for home and for loved ones by Union soldiers.
Overall, Kathy showed me how you can turn a passion for writing, reading, and books into a stimulating career rather than a side hobby. And most importantly, how a Goucher Girl (to borrow Carol’s phrase from a previous blog post) can leave her mark on history.
Merci beaucoup for everything, Kathy, and thanks for pointing out all of the Julia Child tidbits!