REED HOME Gryphon icon
Feature Story
reed magazine logoSpring 2008

Excerpts from interviews conducted for the Reed Oral History Project. Transcripts of the complete collection of interviews are held by Special Collections at Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library. Research assistance by Laura Ross ’98, MALS ’06.

Lewis Leber ’50
I was assigned a room in Winch. There were about fifteen students and I can remember having discussions with them about religion. There were two of us in the dorm that professed to believe in Christ, and the others did not. I was just totally surprised that that was the case.

Phyllis Glasener Whitman ’44
They did have a little service Sunday afternoon in the Reed chapel. I forget what they called it. I was aware of two students, one girl and one boy, who were really upset that Reed was not more of a religious school, and didn’t have more of a fundamentalist viewpoint. But those were the only two.

Michael Nelken ’60
There was a lot of attitude towards religion; I would say 90 percent negative…There was one student at the time…who said he was going to become a preacher, and he intended to go to Yale Divinity School…he was considered an ineffectual oddball that was pretty harmless and didn’t really bother anybody with his ideas, whatever they were…Whatever was done was done on an individual basis, and damn quietly, too. Because anybody who tried to make a big thing out of their formal, orthodox religious practices in those days would have been laughed off campus.

Harlow Lenon ’35
Every day there was a chapel service at noon. Sometimes it was a recital…sometimes it was classical records played on the big phonograph…and sometimes it was lectures. Most of the time, it was run by Dr. Coleman who was the president…Dr. Coleman was unlike Cerf and McKinley and Arragon and [William] Monte Griffith, the psych teacher, in that he was a devout Christian. And when he conducted the chapel service at noon, we sang Christian hymns, and he had sermonettes about goodness. Those chapel services were not as heavily attended as some of the others.

Helen Thorsen ’24
I went to chapel every day. I remember that particularly. I never missed a chapel service…it was just somebody coming in and reading excerpts from the Bible and then giving a little talk…It was just before lunch, and I think people had other things to do, but I always found time to go.

William Bernhardt ’60
There were, I suppose, a few active Christians and a few active Jews among the students. But in general, people were not very interested in religion. I remember [Herbert] Chermside [’62] saying something to me about Moral Rearmament, and I didn’t even know what he was talking about…There were some Quakers also at Reed, as they tended to be in politically progressive locations. But religion I don’t recall being a big issue at all.

Jim Kahan ’64
Most Jews here were like me—non-believers, non-observant…that’s another thing about Reed, is these things did not make a difference. You’re Jewish? So what. You’re Episcopal? So what.

Richard Conviser ’65
I was aware that there were other Jews as well as Christians on campus. We even had a couple of Mormon students who had wandered into Reed our freshman year and left on their missionary work, and didn’t come back, at least while I was there. So there were some people whose social values and political perspectives were more conservative than was typical of Reed students. And I think those people stood out.

Bessie Ramona Johnson Day ’40
…there was a man [Barry Cerf, English professor, 1921–48], who gave the lectures once a week on English. He claimed he was an atheist, but I have never heard a better lecture on [the book of] John than he gave. And when he was through, I said to myself, ‘you’re no atheist.’

Steven Lamm ’63
I went to Mary McCabe, who was head of the commons [1955–68], and asked… could I get one of the side dining rooms to have a Seder. She said she’d be happy to do it, but why don’t I put a note up and see if there are other people who would come. Because if she’s going to set up for one, she might as well set up for five. So I put up a notice. At that time there were about 640, 650 students at Reed. Four hundred people signed up for it.

Jean Tibbitts Thiébaux ’57
My freshman roommate, who ended up in the room across the hall in Anna Mann, was a very religious young woman, and she somehow felt that I needed guidance…she took it on as her duty to look out for me, especially when I became interested in learning about Buddhism and other religions of the world…I think she felt that I was going to become a member of one of these other religions, whether it was Judaism or Buddhism or whatever…she certainly took it upon herself and I’m sure she said a lot of prayers for me.

reed magazine logoSpring 2008