News of the Alumni Association February 2004

A message from the alumni association president

Clock ticks on efforts to preserve Reed’s heritage

By Steven Falk ’83

Steven Falk '83While it may not seem like millennium celebrations were all that long ago, it has now been four years since that mostly unmemorable day when our computer systems didn’t catastrophically crash and we stepped over the threshold into this new century. Four full years! This apparent quickening of time’s unrelenting forward march has led your alumni association board of directors to a couple of conclusions.

The first is that we had better start shopping for candles and cake, because Reed College’s hundredth birthday party is right around the corner. Reed, of course, was founded in 1908, but it wasn’t until September 17, 1911, that the college opened with 6 instructors, 50 students, 3 million dollars, and 86 acres. Though there may be some difference of opinion on this matter (yes, it can happen at Reed), we’re presuming that la grande fête will be in connection not with the founding, but with the anniversary of that first matriculation. In other words, leave your social calendar open for 2011, which—although still seven years away—is sure to fly by in the blink of an eye.

Our second conclusion is that, given this short time frame, we need to increase our initiative and focus on delivering an oral history of the college to its alumni. (This task, of course, is in addition to our efforts to provide an illuminating Alumni College, stunning reunions, and strong year-round programming to all Reedies.)

Since the oral history project’s inception three years ago, many wonderful and dedicated alumni volunteers have completed 75 interviews, depositing the transcripts (on acid-free paper, of course) into the Reed College archives. Our ultimate goalOlde Reed picture is to interview a total of 250 Reed alumni from the 1920s through the early 1970s, along with selected former staffers and emeritus faculty, and then to use those interviews to present an oral history of Reed’s social, cultural, and academic history.

We hope to create a book for Reed’s centennial that weaves together excerpts from the oral histories into an honest and compelling historical and sociological perspective of the “Reed experience.”

The pressures of time, however, are substantial. As we close in on the centennial, the people who carry Reed’s institutional memory around in their heads are in danger of being lost forever. Within the last few years, many of the principal bearers of Reed’s story—among them Florence Lehman ’41, Dorothy Johansen ’33, and Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’38—have passed away, taking their memories with them. Reed has also lost many long-term members of the faculty and staff during the same period.

Olde Reed picture

Recognizing this situation, the oral history project has thus far focused on key figures who can tell stories from “the early days.” We completed comprehensive interviews with Ellen Johnson before she died, and several other transcripts describing Reed memories from the first half of the twentieth century are already in the archives. Beginning with this Reed magazine issue, we will be featuring excerpts from selected oral history interviews (read the memories from George Joseph ’51).

But, as they say, time marches on! For this reason, your alumni association and its oral history project volunteers have made a considerable effort this year to develop a work plan, a book proposal, and funding strategies for completing the project.

To that last point, this project has thus far been funded entirely by a few committed Reedies. The annual cost of the project, however, will be $25,000, and our needs are sure to increase as we close in on 2011. If you are moved by our efforts to preserve and document Reed’s history, you can support us by embellishing your annual fund contribution with an additional check earmarked for the oral history project in the envelope with your annual donation to Reed. Many of us on the alumni board have done this—join us in providing this additional support to Reed and this important project. No amount is too small.

If you are otherwise interested in volunteering to serve as an interviewer for the oral history project, or if you have stories from Reed’s earliest days that you’d love to tell, please call the alumni relations at 503/777-7589 or email

Nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to all of us to preserve the rich history and heritage of our common bond and pride, Reed College. End of Article

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Reed Magazine February 2004

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