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Eleanor May ’45

Her parents, both college graduates, assumed that Eleanor and her two sisters would go to college.

“But they weren’t in any position to provide the means for our living on campuses,” Eleanor remembered. She won a small scholarship at Reed. In the fall of 1941, the tuition was $250, and by living at home she could afford to “go to college.”

She had not been happy in high school, which was cliquish; the kids didn’t like “brains.” “Coming to Reed was like finding heaven,” she said. “It was great. I was a chemistry major, not because I had any ability whatsoever, but because I fancied myself a mathematician. I didn’t know what anybody majoring in math would do. I fancied the white coat, and majoring in chemistry actually served me in good stead.”

In the beginning, there were very few women in her chemistry, math, or physics classes. But after the U.S. entered the war, there was an ongoing depletion of men. In her graduating chemistry class there were three students, and one of them was Frank Weisenborn ’45, to whom she was married for 32 years.

She loved skating on Reed Lake alongside Oscar the swan.

“Oscar was a beautiful swan. You wanted to sing Swan Lake as you observed him,” she remembered. “He must have been lonely. I’ve heard that swans mate for life, but he was all alone. I wonder what happened to him.”

Eleanor remembered there were rules about socializing on campus in those days. “You could drink on campus, but you couldn’t drink in mixed company. Also, if you sat together on the couch or whatever, you had to keep one foot on the floor.”

She came away from Reed with an appreciation for the classics. “There wasn’t even a classics department then,” she said. “But we had a wonderful background, starting with the Code of Hammurabi, and coming up through Homer, Socrates, and Euripides. It enchanted me all my life.”

She married Frank a month after graduation and they moved to Seattle, where he went to graduate school at the University of Washington.

“It was just accepted that men would go to graduate school and women would work their husband’s way through,” she said. “We were very useful people. I got to go to graduate school about 20 years later.”

When her four children were young, she edited a local newspaper in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and was a member of the school board. She was an elementary school teacher and later taught math at Dunellen High School.

After earning her master’s degree, she became an instructor in mathematics at Douglass College, Rutgers University. In 1973, she began a 30-year career as managing and technical editor for the Annals of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. She devoted herself wholeheartedly to this work and found it genuinely satisfying. She enjoyed collegial relationships with some of the most brilliant minds at Princeton and continued working part-time well into her retirement years, cherishing the fulfillment of her work and the association with respected colleagues.

Eleanor was also a passionate political activist, supporting the causes she believed in and campaigning tirelessly for her candidates of choice. She played bridge and competitive tennis and loved to travel. With her many friends she shared her love of intellectual and cultural pursuits, including a deep appreciation for the classics and opera.

Eleanor is survived by her four children, Alan Weisenborn (and his wife Dulce) of Miami, Florida; Lynn Appleby (and her husband Michael) of Charlottesville, Virginia; Eric Weisenborn of Beaverton, Oregon, Robert Weisenborn (and his wife Leigh Anne) of Lambertville, New Jersey, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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