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Kay Olson Freeman '59

Since childhood, I liked the romance of history.  I was drawn to the stories, the clothes, etc.  I liked subjects of historical novels - pirates, royalty.  My senior year history teacher at Hunter College High School, NYC, (which was all female then - as was Vassar) was Barbara Keyser, a Vassar Alum.  She introduced me to "primary sources" and to look for authors' biases.  Actually, I was very naive and knew very little about anything (although I did not realize it!). There was so much to absorb about things I had never heard about before. In all subjects.  I really should not have taken so many courses in other fields at the same time.  I say I majored in eclecticism because I took so many different courses: cartography, drafting, religion.  I liked the physical building of the History Dept.  Now I know Swift was a charming example of Colonial Revival.  Most memorable was my first A grade.  For Medieval History, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to draw examples of Merovingian jewelry.  I was surprised to be rewarded for doing this. I learned that History is not just in books. 

I learned a similar lesson from my classmate and friend, Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles. Very sophisticated, she would read novels and biographies (often French) which provided a different historical background.  I am still most proud of my senior thesis on the Architecture of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.  No one knew about that World's Fair then and much has been written about it since then.  I feel I was very original.  For my thesis, I had to use the NY Public Library on 42nd St. more than the Vassar Library.  Vassar seemed to concentrate more on World History rather than American History in 1959.  I thought I would become an architect like my father. I did get into Columbia Architecture; but I got a job with the Regional Plan Assn before marriage.  For 55 years I have directly used, in many ways, the skills I learned as a History major at Vassar.

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