Reed Magazine November 2004

An oral history of reed college

Jane Willson Falkenhagen ’37

Jane Willson Falkenhagen spent the first year and a half of her time at Reed living at home and attending classes as a daydodger, before she was able to afford to move into Anna Mann. To support her education, she worked as a tutor, a babysitter, and as a table-setter for dinners in commons. “I just seemed to roll with the punches. And I thought it was such a pretty place with all the beautiful brick buildings. Very inviting.”



After Anna Mann, where her room was “the size of a large closet,” Falkenhagen moved into Old Dorm Block. Students conducted themselves on the honor system, without “adult supervision,” and regulated their evenings based on their academic requirements. Eight women lived on her floor, two to a room, and shared a bathroom equipped with one tub.

Any man entering the dorm had to be announced with the call, “Man in the house!” The story of a man breaking into Old Dorm Block appeared in headlines in the Portland paper. “This young woman hit him over the head with a milk bottle and that ended that.”


A snowstorm closed the college one winter, primarily because city buses couldn’t run. Open house was declared: men could visit women in their dorms, and vice versa. The game “Monopoly” had just appeared, “and we played Monopoly until doomsday and had so much fun.” Students skied to the nearest grocery store and picked up supplies for commons.

falkenhagen imageTEA FOR

Tea as a social institution at Reed was a very popular afternoon event, given in Prexy, by Mrs. Dexter Keezer, held three under the auspices of faculty wives. Tea also was sometimes served in the chemistry lab on the fourth floor in Eliot. “Dr. Carmody had a tea party every so often. He was the head of the department. He had all these beakers he kept beautifully clean and polished, and they served tea in the chemistry beakers.”



Although the chemistry lab was a world in itself, according to Falkenhagen, she stayed engaged in some of the campus activities, especially dances and athletics. Dances were great social events enhanced by live orchestra music. Groups of students regularly enjoyed dancing after dinner in commons for a half-hour or an hour.

For spring Canyon Day, Bonnie Koehler Hermanson ’38 and Falkenhagen were chosen to be “water girls.” They pulled a child’s wagon with a bucket of ice water in it. Everyone dressed casually for this occasion, which also provided a good opportunity to meet people. “It was all kind of fun and games, though it was an effort, a one-day effort to make the campus look nice.”


Freshmen were required to take gym, and there were a variety of ways that this requirement could be met. Falkenhagen says that anyone interested in playing volleyball could join an all-campus group convening after classes. In the same way, students earned credits by playing tennis, golf, ping-pong, swimming in the outdoor pool, or shooting baskets, which Falkenhagen did until she broke her finger. “Going to gym was not a burden, it was something people liked to do, because they’d been sitting still or needed the relaxation.”


To satisfy the history requirement, students could take a social studies class, “Contemporary Society.” “The school called me and asked if I would come out on registration day and tell newcomers what this class was like and answer their questions. They also asked (L.) Merrill Falkenhagen ’37 if he would do it. So I met Merrill for the first time and we were each giving advice to the freshmen who walked in.”


Falkenhagen was enthralled by her chemistry classes at Reed. Classes were small, and individual attention was available, but she also understood that she had to demonstrate initiative in solving problems. “That’s the biggest thing that studying chemistry taught me to start with. You can’t go look up an answer.”

Although a job in a large laboratory appealed to Falkenhagen, her thesis adviser, Dr. Keith Seymour, recognized that she would face gender prejudice in the effort, and encouraged her to prepare instead for teaching. In her senior year, she worked as a lab assistant, and after graduating Phi Beta Kappa in chemistry, she earned her teaching credentials at the University of Oregon summer school program in Portland.

“I tried all summer applying for various jobs, teaching jobs, mostly in smaller towns and cities. I didn’t find very many where they were interested in having a science teacher. They said, ‘Well, you probably could run the sewing class or the art class.’” She was finally hired at Canby Union High School, teaching general science alternate years with chemistry and physics. (“And then a few other jobs they didn’t tell me about. I had to be able to coach the dramatic team and do the debate team, which I’d never heard of in my life before. But I threw my heart into it and we did well, and it was quite a wonderful experience.”) Falkenhagen worked there for two years. In 1938 she married Merrill Falkenhagen in Reed’s chapel, where they had attended lectures in literature. The couple moved to Salem, where she worked as a substitute teacher for a year. As a mother of three, she occasionally tutored, especially in mathematics. Reaching a solution to a problem remained a lifelong fascination. End of Article

Jane Willson Falkenhagen ’37 was interviewed by Barbara Carter Radin ’75.
Read more on the oral history project.

Reed Magazine November