Joanna Rose - English, 1952

Joanna Rose is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Shakespeare Institute, and was a founding member and driving force of the American Friends of St Hilda’s. Known for her support for humanities and the arts, Joanna was for many years the Chairman of Partisan Review, the US political and literary quarterly which published the works of many leading writers until it closed in 2003.

She is also a board member of Bay St. Theatre, Sag Harbor, New York State Council for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center for the Humanities; The Paper Bag Players, Fellow of New York Institute for the Humanities, and on the advisory council, Poets and Writers Inc., National Dance Institute.

Reflections on my time at St Hilda’s

I arrived in Oxford in the autumn of 1952 with two suitcases filled with clothes my mother made for an English winter (a Bryn Mawr European fellowship only went so far).  I carried a copy of Zuleika Dobson and books by my Bryn Mawr professors, Samuel Claggett Chew and Arthur Colby Sprague. The first thing I did was to buy warm tights in bright colors and tell everyone they were the fashion in America.  My second purchase was a gray duffel coat which I treasured for decades.  I felt completely at home.

After four years in an all-female college, I insisted on living in 'digs'; St. Hilda's was amenable so Tony Quinton (married to my college friend, Marcelle) found me a splendid room at 35 Museum Road near The Lamb & Flag and St. Giles, not far from The Bodleian and within walking distance of the High.  My fellow boarders were David Lewis, a classics don at Christ Church, the poet John Adlard and the anthropologist John Middleton.

My tutors: Helen Gardner, brisk and incisive (18th century) and Dorothy Whitelock, gentle and romantic (Anglo Saxon).  My classmate: the poet Jenny Joseph (my friend these many decades).  Memorable lecturers: Leonard Woolley; C.S. Lewis; Basil Willey.  I recollect in detail a seminar on the poetry of the Romantics that was led by David Cecil and Wallace Robson in which the star pupil was Al Alvarez.

I practically lived at Blackwell's, ate lunches at the Kemp, (an upstairs cafeteria on the Broad), and often went to Friday night gatherings at Leslie and Alice Orgel's.  There I met Catherine Freeman, still a dear friend, as are our children and grandchildren.

There were few low points.  One was when we gathered in Rhodes House on U.S. election night prepared to toast Stevenson as our new president only to find Dwight Eisenhower an easy victor.  For most of us it was our first time voting and we were stunned.

Considered a bluestocking at home, plain, outspoken and much too curious, I found that here in Oxford, I was glamorous (those red tights), different, in demand.  I soaked it all up - boat races, commem balls, heated philosophic discussions til two in the morning, serenades, picnics, even (especially) weekly tutorials.

Those were the days when Americans were prized; there were so few of us.  If the British felt contempt, they hid it well.  I was not alone in my desire to learn everything about the Oxford colleges, but I had some advantages, among them that I knew many All Souls Fellows (Isaiah Berlin had been the Flexner Lecturer at Bryn Mawr the year before).

Only the weather presented a challenge.  Once, when I had put my last shilling in the fireplace meter and was still cold, I tossed a book in the direction of a window and accidentally broke it.  Cold, damp air rushed in and realization of the cost of window repair sobered me quickly.

I remember sipping tea in The Mitre, writing poetry reviews for literary magazines, punting on the Isis, eating my first Scotch egg in a pub near the bus station, hitch-hiking to London to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, spending Christmas vacation at the Gloucestershire farm of old friends, traveling during spring vacation to Morocco with a Bryn Mawr classmate.  I probably should have buried myself more in the library, but I was having too glorious a time filling my senses with this new world.  By summer, however, I felt I needed a change from a strictly academic future and wanted to consider other paths.

Oxford remains for me and, I suspect, for many overseas students of the fifties, the world as it should be, could be, and was.