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Elizabeth Lamb Tate ’39

Elizabeth’s father quit school as a boy to work in the cotton fields of Texas. It was his heart’s desire that his daughter attend Reed.

She was born after the Lambs moved to Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood and graduated from Washington High School. The country was still in the throes of the Great Depression when she went to Reed as a “day-dodger.”

“People around us were losing their real estate, and all of their savings,” Elizabeth remembered. “The banks closed and savings and loans went down the drain.”

Stung by the cliquishness of high school, she rejoiced at the absence of fraternities and sororities at Reed. She majored in literature, and, at the suggestion of her thesis adviser, Prof. Barry Cerf [English 1921-48], wrote a thesis comparing Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra with historical sources. The experience taught her to do research, cite sources, and write well. 

After Reed she worked at the Multnomah County Central Library, got a bachelor’s in library science from the Pratt Institute Library School in Brooklyn, and in 1942 began working at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She later earned a PhD at the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago. Starting in 1964, Elizabeth worked first as assistant chief librarian and then as library director for the National Bureau of Standards. In 1973, she took over the descriptive cataloging division of the Library of Congress. She retired after more than 33 years of federal service, but stayed active editing Library Resources and Technical Services, a publication of the American Library Association, and tutoring for the Literacy Council in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Elizabeth met her husband, Douglas Tate ’35, while she was working at the Library of Congress. Though both were Reed graduates, they never met on campus. She was a friend of Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’39. Douglas’s boss at the National Bureau of Standards was married to Ellen’s sister Kathleen Knowlton Wilson ’32. Douglas and Elizabeth met when they were invited to the Wilson’s home for Christmas dinner. They married in 1943. Douglas was a physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He passed away in 2004.

The couple lived for years in Rockville, Maryland, before moving to a retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Through the years they were extremely generous with their support of Reed. They established the Elizabeth and Douglas Tate Scholarship, with preference given to students majoring in physics, mathematics or other scientific disciplines.

“Our Reed experience was very important to us,” said. “Both of us having the Reed background meant that we approached problems with the scientific method. We both ended up with the same attitudes towards a lot of important problems.”

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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