Schalk Remarks - In Memoriam: Evalyn A. Clark, 1903-2001
I am privileged to speak in this chapel, where Evalyn attended her first Convocation in the fall of 1920. Nevertheless, there are two reasons why I wish that I were not standing before you.
The first is that Barbara Rous Harris, Vassar Class of 1963, Professor of History and Director of Women Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, was scheduled to deliver a eulogy of her beloved mentor. But Barbara, for reasons that we all understand, could not be here today. (1)
Secondly, I profoundly regret that Evalyn, with her superb health, her undiminished energy and vigor, who as late as 1995 could send me a brilliant note in her elegant handwriting, analyzing Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, appeasement and related topics, could not have been with us for at least two more years. Her legion of admirers would have thrown a tremendous 100th birthday party, surpassing even the marvelous occasion of her 90th, which many of you will recall.
Well into her 90s Evalyn would graciously accept invitations to come to Swift for departmental dinners, and she would charm and awe us all, putting new colleagues, a third her age, at their ease. She was indominitable. I never saw her walk slowly; she would cover at a brisk pace the distance to campus from her beautiful home on College Avenue, a Mecca for generations of her former students.
My files contain numerous notes from Evalyn in her fine hand; one, which I especially cherish, reflects her profound and personal understanding of the so often tragic and sometimes glorious history of France. She writes of her memories of the great historian and Resistance martyr Marc Bloch, who after writing Strange Defeat "burst upon or intellectual horizon and became a kind of ‘culture hero’ to both Frenchmen and foreigners disillusioned by Vichyite complicity and defeatism – and treason?" She put a question mark after the word "treason," because she was too careful a historian to state point blank that the Vichy Regime actually was treasonous – a question that is still hotly debated.
Unlike the other speakers today, and to my great regret, I was not, and could not have been, given the date of coeducation at Vassar, a student of Evalyn’s. And I never had the pleasure of working with Evalyn as a direct colleague, since she retired the year I arrived in Poughkeepsie. But we did collaborate on several occasions, especially in organizing the symposium for Dean C. Mildred Thomson in the fall of 1975. Evalyn was a mere 72; I recall that she was superbly efficient, immensely tactful, guiding the young department chair that I was at the time. We didn’t need an Alumnae Directory; she had a photographic memory and simply gave me a list of alumnae to invite and that was that!...
If one goes back and looks at Vassar Course Catalogues from the years Evalyn taught, one quickly perceives the richness and diversity of her course offerings, and her heavy teaching load, which continued despite her administrative responsibilities. There were, among others, the famous History 230 on the French Revolution and Napoleon, History 345 on Contemporary Europe, and a full-year course, 377a/b on Modern European Thought and Culture. Each of these courses was taken over by a different colleague after Evalyn’s retirement. Professor Emerita Rhoda Rappaport taught History 230, Professor Emeritus His-Huey Liang offered History 345, and I attempted at least to teach nineteenth and twentieth century European thought, in a course re-baptized European Intellectual History. Evalyn could effortless teach them all!
It is fascinating that Evalyn added a substantial ingredient of cultural history to her course on European thought, at a time when the vogue was "pure" intellectual history, the realm of ideas. Only in the 1990s was there an extensive renewal of interest in cultural history. (2) So Evalyn really was ahead of her time.
When I think of Evalyn I think most of all of her unstinting devotion and loyalty to Vassar. Think ofhow diminished we would all be if she had not accepted that full scholarship, if she had been lured away by Smith or Mount Holyoke! Our community has immensely benefited from her wisdom and generosity. It is difficult to imagine the college without her. We cherish and honor her memory.
1. I realized immediately after the service that I had been unclear here. Barbara and her family are fine. The problem was, I learned later, that so many flights were cancelled that she would have missed a couple of days of classes had she made the trip. Evalyn would have agreed with Barbara’s decision!
2. See Jean-Pierre Rioux and Jean-François Sirinelli, eds., Pour une histoire culturelle. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1997.