The redoubtable Gail Kelly served as “mascot” of the Reed College Bowl team in February, 1966. From left: Gerald Green ’68, Jack Friedman ’66, Mike Staeheli ’66, and Peter Goldstein ’69.
Rigorous, disciplined, iconoclastic, Miss Kelly (as she preferred) was the quintessential sink-or-swim professor.She pushed her students to the limit of their ability, brooked no compromise, and suffered no fools. An implacable champion of the Western canon, she scorned any proposal that smacked of “neo-nannyism.” She sewed her own clothes, never drove a car, and was known to scold students for wearing white after Labor Day.
Ray Kierstead [history 1978–2000]: The attitudes of many of the men hired at Reed in the late 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s were those of that era. I noticed that some of the faculty titans seemed uncomfortable around intellectual women. The great exception to the rule was Gail Kelly, who inspired respect, awe, and terror in all who knew her.
Peter Steinberger [poli sci 1973–]: There were the “barons” of the faculty when I first arrived, and they were extremely impressive, very smart, but very intimidating and very tough. I feared them. In many cases I admired the fact that they were not only committed to the ethos of the college, but they also understood and lived it. They lived the idea of rigor and of quality and of seriousness: “If you’re going to come to Reed and screw around, get out! That’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to study and study hard and to enjoy it while doing it.”
Bruce Livingston ’65: Gail Kelly was my advisor. A real tough cookie. As thesis time was approaching, she called me aside one afternoon at the end of class: “Mr. Livingston, a word please.” “Yes, Miss Kelly?” “I have just looked at Mr. Weisner’s thesis”—Tom Weisner ’65 was the hero of the department—“Judging from the state of his thesis, I dare not imagine the state of yours. By five o’clock this afternoon, I would like to see you at my house with your typewriter and all your notes, and you will stay there until your thesis is finished.” So, I lived there at her house for the next four days. On the third day of being incarcerated, I was upstairs working away, and I heard this knock on her front door and looked out. There was a cluster of my cohorts standing outside. Miss Kelly opened the door, “Yes?” “Miss Kelly, can Bruce come out and play?” “Not yet.”
Larry Large [admin 1982–99]: There were those who said that we shouldn’t create “neo-nannyism,” a term that I believe was coined by Gail Kelly. She was not convinced that the college ought to invest in auxiliary services for students, that instead everything ought to be focused on the intellectual, cognitive development of the students.
Leslie Scalapino ’66: Gail Kelly had incredible fashion sense, and sewed her own high-fashion clothes. I liked her tremendously despite the fact that she was so disbelieving in women’s abilities, which was just uncalled for.
David Conlin ’88: Gail Kelly... didn’t like me very much, but I certainly admired her knowledge and her understanding of her subject, even though I was afraid of her. She had a British affectation in her speech, and once told me that she was to be called “Miss Kelly,” because anthropologists in the British tradition are called “Miss” and “Mr.” They were never “Gail” or “Professor Kelly.” She called her students by their last names. “Mr. Conlin,” she said once, “you are anti-intellectual.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that was code for something akin to being a fascist.