Old Dominion University Libraries
Special Collections Home

Copyright & Permitted Use of Collection Search the Collection Browse the Collection by Interviewee About the Oral Histories Collection Oral Histories Home Dr. Marie C. Klinkhamer was a Professor of History at Norfolk State University when this interview was conducted in 1978. The interview discusses her background as a Catholic nun with the Dominican Sisters and her religious beliefs. She also discusses her travels, her teaching experiences at several universities, including Norfolk State University, and issues concerning women.

Oral History Interview

Interviewed by Irvin Leon Jordan, Jr.
Norfolk, Virginia
November 10, 1978

Listen to Interview

This is an interview with Dr. Marie C. Klinkhamer, a Professor of History at Norfolk State College, Norfolk Virginia. This interview is being conducted on November 10, 1978 in Dr. Klinkhamer's office which is located in the Tidewater Hall Annex Building on the Norfolk State campus. The interviewer is Irvin Leon Jordan, Jr., a graduate student representing the oral history program of Old Dominion University.

Question: Doctor, I would appreciate it if you could tell me something about when and where were you born?

Answer: I was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 21, 1917. Just in time to keep my father from having to serve in World War I.

Q: How was that? I don't understand.

A: Any, any father of an infant was not automatically drafted in 1917. The war broke out three weeks or so after I was born so my father did not have to serve. Instead of that he spent his World War I career working for Ford Motor Company which in turn was doing a great many government contracts.

Q: And your education?

A: I said I was born in Detroit. When I was six years old, my family moved from Detroit to Royal Oak which is about ten miles North of Detroit. Partly they moved there because it was time for me to start school, and they were concerned about the neighborhood that we lived in. There were a couple of very busy streets that I would have had to cross in order to go to the nearest school. So they thought that in view of the fact that the whole neighborhood was getting to be more and more business and less and less neighborhood, it would be desirable to move. So they moved to Royal Oak and that meant that I had three and half blocks to go to school. None of the blocks involved crossing heavy, heavily trafficked streets. And ironically I was hit by an automobile on one of those less heavily trafficked streets that very same year.

Q: My goodness.

A: Nothing much happened. The van was not going very fast and I was not injured at all really. But it does seem ironic that they moved to avoid traffic and in the place that had less traffic I actually should be struck by an automobile. So I started in the local, parochial school. We lived in St. Mary's Parish and it had a school of its own. It had at that time eight grades but before I was out of sixth grade, they had high school. So I went for all twelve years to that school. And when I was graduated, I went as a commuter from Royal Oak to the University of Detroit, which was about six-and-a-half miles away. But easily reachable by public transportation and that is something I cannot say about most other places I've attended. So I went to the University of Detroit for three years and then I entered the convent.

Q: What, what made you enter the convent? Was it because of your religious education, your education _____ your religious background or some personal decision?

A: Well certainly a personal decision. I'd- I don't know any way that I could describe it. Except that the sisters who taught in St. Mary's school were sisters who had taught my mother. And from the time I started first grade, I suppose I never really had any mental picture of myself as being anything but a sister. I tried on various occasions to think of myself as being a librarian or a teacher without a habit or a lawyer - I tried that when I first went to college, but it just never worked. I never could get any clear mental picture of myself as anything but a sister.

Q: I see. Well would you describe your religious order. What--

A: Yes. The sisters who taught in that school and the congregation I belonged to are Dominican Sisters. And their headquarters is in Adrian, Michigan which is about seventy-five miles a little southwest of Detroit. They had at the time I entered the convent an academy - that was where my mother had gone to school and a college. So while I was a young sister, what we call a novice, I finished my education. I finished my Bachelor's Degree at that college. And I did years ___ student teaching, I suppose one would call it now until the rest of my novitiate year. And then I was sent by my religious congregation to Catholic University to get a Master's Degree. I don't know whether that answers the question you were asking about the congregation. I don't know whether you want more background on the Dominican Order or not.

Q: Yes, I think I would like a little bit more background about what the order is and this mission.

A: Well, the order was founded in 1216 by Dominic (sic) de Guzman, a Spaniard. Mostly, by way of encouraging the education and preparation of priests to fight off the Albigensian heresy, a heresy that as you may recall teaches that everything corporeal is evil and only things that are spiritual are good. So the Albigensians taught what was basically a destructive kind of doctrine. It was against society, against the family, marriage, having children, procreation - all that sort of thing was just automatically evil according to the Abgensians because it involves bodies. The only thing that's any good was what involves souls. Dominic thought this was a pernicious doctrine and he founded an order that was intended to prepare people with university educations. He was himself very well educated. And he knew that in order to fight the Albigensians, he'd have to have men who were very well educated. So we got approval, church approval for the order in 1216, but even before that time, ten years before in fact, he had come across a number of Albigensian ladies who believed that there was something wrong with the doctrine and asked him if there were some way that they could at least support in prayerful fashion the kind of crusade he was beginning to mount against the Albigensians. So in actuality he founded a convent of women ten years before he founded the order of men. Now, from the time he founded those women, until about 1806, women Dominicans lived in monasteries. That is, they lived cloistered lives. They went into the convent and they stayed there forever. They--they supported themselves in various fashions. Some of them had titles to property, and the property would come with them and help to support the convent, but they could also make vestments or illuminate manuscripts or later on do some kinds of things that would help churches, various churches and, in that way, they could--they could keep these little what they thought of as little citadels of prayer going. But after the Napoleonic expropriation of land and the dismissal-- the opening up of convent doors and the dismissal of the nuns because they were regarded as undesirable, you know, an encumbrance on the territory. If the government was taking over the territory then, then the government had no reason to keep people in convents. So nuns, and they were called nuns because they were cloistered and had solemn profession of vows, those nuns were forced to leave the convents and find some other way to live. So between the beginning of the nineteenth century and just after the middle of it, more and more nuns were either bringing young people into their convents where they could teach them. Especially small children, they were not trying to do advanced education. But--or else they were having to leave the convents and find some other way to live. Now the only way they could live was to get some different kind of recognition by the church. And they got recognition as third order Dominicans. The first order is the men, the second order is the cloistered nun, the third order is either non-cloistered religious women, properly called sisters not nuns, and lay-people who want to affiliate themselves with the order and agree to do certain kinds of good works, let's say, or to engage in certain kinds of prayer. And that division of the Dominican Order into three parts is still true. The congregation that I belonged to was originally founded as a cloister. It was founded by the migration of four German nuns from ______ Regensburg to New York just after the middle of the nineteenth century. They came at the request of a Benedictine priest who wanted people to begin to teach in parochial schools. But from the time those women came until about twenty-five or so years later, they still followed the European model of bringing extras into the cloister. Then one day, this is a legend in my own religious congregation, the youngsters were out on the playground and one of them fell and hurt himself and one of the sisters ran out of the cloister to take care of the youngster. She did not take the time to change her white habit. We wore white habits and put on a little black suit that the sisters wore when they went out to shop because they were not supposed to wear their white habits out of the cloister. She didn't stop to do that. She just went out to take care of the youngster and then that evening or within the next few days, there was a whole rethinking of, "Well, we're teaching these children in white habits in a classroom, why are we so concerned about wearing something black to go out on the playground?" And with that whole episode as a kind of catalyst, the congregations gradually began to understand that they could move out of the cloister and they could be satisfied with taking simple but perpetual vows. The difference between simple and solemn vows really is the way church receives them. It has nothing to do with what people say. The formula is the same. The formula for Dominicans has been the same for seven hundred and fifty years. It is a very simple formula. So the transition came about by reason of the kind of work the sisters were engaged in doing. Now that particular sister was one of the people who was sent from New York to Michigan as one of the first to do something, in our case it was originally to run an old people's home. But that was a self-defeating project because it was one of those situations in which old people had been told that if they would bring a hundred dollars, they would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Sometimes that might mean twenty or thirty years, and a hundred dollars would not really support them. So we began to go out to teach in parishes and to begin to teach on the same property where the old people's home had been. It was called Little House in the Cornfield. And when I entered the convent, that sister who had run out on the playground to take care of the youngster was still a member of our congregation. She was by then I suppose in her late eighties. But there was a kind of link there with that old way of doing things. I might add by the way that our congregation was not (coughs) excuse me, the only one that was begun from New York. There are forty-three separate congregations of women Dominicans in the United States alone. And they all stem from some kind of European foundation, either directly or indirectly.

Q: I see. What you're saying is you didn't - you actually lived in a convent that was not exactly a convent?

A: I did, or the other sisters?

Q: No, yourself. We're talking about yourself.

A: Well when I entered… I guess that's a technical phrase too. To enter the convent is to become a religious. If I say to you, you matriculate as a student, you know what that means.

Q: Yes.

A: Now entering the convent is matriculating as a religious woman. It does not strictly speaking, mean that you go into a building called a convent. It did used to mean that when I entered, but that's not necessarily the way things go now. There are a great many changes that have taken place within the last fifteen or twenty years. And most young women would not refer to their coming into some kind of affiliation with the religious group as entering a convent anymore. That's an old line phrase.

Q: So the modern world is affecting the church and how it runs or how it administers itself, is causing the church to make changes in regard to the so called progress.

A: I don't know whether that's the way I would put it at all. The church is in the world and no matter what old line separations between the church and the world -- it's kind of an Albigensian thing, you know, to say here's the church and there's the world.

Q: Umm Hmm.

A: That cannot be. The church is made up of human beings, so it's made up of bodies as well as souls. And the church is made up of human beings who have to earn their living. So that the kind of thing that a person does by way of profession or avocation or job or what have you, has something to do with the church and always has had something to do with the church. It -- it's impossible to make that dichotomy that you're suggesting. Therefore the church has always either had to be influenced by the society out of which it draws its members or it has had to influence the society out of which it draws its members. And I suppose you could say that the problem really is to maintain some kind of equilibrium between the claims of civil society and spiritual society on a person. Of course there's always the economic reality that the church has to be supported too. There has to be some way for the church to recognize that in its official service, the clergy, the ministers, the priests, the sisters, whatever, the need --- the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are not lost because one decides to become a priest or a deacon, or a brother, or a minister, or a sister, or what have you. I don't whether that makes it any clearer or not.

Q: What I'm getting at is that, was that for persons who are not part -- who do not belong to the Catholic church. They see cert-- they believe that certain ideas, certain things that the church believes and follows along with have become our day to day society, such as priests becoming married. Many people question a priest counseling a couple, and here's a man who has never been married, but he's offering advice and counseling to a couple who is married.

A: I've never taken drugs, but I have no hesitation at all in speaking to a student or anyone else who comes to me and says I've got a problem with drugs or alcohol, or petty theft, or anything else. I, I think that the argument that you mentioned has been used for centuries. But I'm not sure that it has a great deal of validity. I think that the basic factor which is common to the priest and the married couple, or the potentially married couple that he is counseling, is humanity. They're both human beings.

Q: Umm Hmm.

A: For him to say from some kind of position on Mount Olympus, "well I have never had any attraction toward a woman and therefore I don't really know what you're talking about", would probably be to belie the reality.

Q: And so you're saying that the church necessarily not being forced to change because of society but it's still able to function as it has functioned, offering help and assistance to human being souls, regardless of technological progress.

A: Any kind of progress.

Q: Any type of progress?

A: Umm Hmm. For one thing, the church has encouraged all kinds of progress. Now I know that -- I can tell by the expression on your face -- that things are coming to your mind about, for example, the trial of Galileo.

Q: Yes.

A: Or something of that kind. Uh, that does not -- what I said does not mean that every churchman has always encouraged what we now perceive to be progress. He may not have encouraged what we now perceive to be progress, because he did not understand that it was progress. Or he may not have encouraged it for some other much less worthy reason, like this is going to interfere with a particular program I have, or it's going to interfere with my livelihood. Or it's going to lose me the favor of the local Lord who is not going to like the fact that Galileo says this as a possibility of affecting some other thing he has going for him. All -- remember that I said that the common factor is humanity. And so the fallibility, the proneness of a person to give in to one or other weakness is not going to be canceled out because he takes vows, is ordained or any thing else. He is a human being. She's a human being. It would be entirely appropriate for me to say, for example, that I found when I first became a sister, and I have continued to find since I have been a sister any number of women who have this or that or the other weakness, or defect. And I'm sure they could say the same about me.

Q: I'm not trying to imply that the--

A: No. I'm not saying you are. I'm saying that I think that in this conversation what we have to recognize is that if we are going to talk about religious life, or the life of the church, we do have to remember that the members of the church are human beings - they are not, therefore, perfect. They are on a road which it is to be hoped will lead to perfection.

Q: Okay. But not just for them, not just for them.

A: For all the people that they deal with.

Q: All they deal with.

A: Umm Hmm.

Q: I have spoken with persons who are nuns and they have told me of experiences such as living the life in convents, such as having to walk on the far side of the wall as superiors come with head bowed, and that sort of thing. Have you had to deal with this?

A: No.

Q: Or did you have any experiences such as that?

A: No, I've never had that particular experience but I think I might point out that the Dominican order has a particular reputation. It was the first order to grant the right to elect superiors. So that the fathers have always elected their own superiors. The sisters and the nuns came to that recognition much later. We don't even use the term anymore.

Q: Which term is that?

A: Superior.

Q: You do not?

A: Hmm umm. We don't use it at all. We don't even speak of a sister as being in charge of a house or a convent. If there is anybody who has to be the official spokesperson, or the official representative from the point of view of the church, or the point of view of civil society, she might be called the coordinator but she does not automatically command any greater respect or evidence of respect than anyone else. And in my own congregation even the -- we, we had for a long period of time in the United States the use of the term "Mother", as, as the way to address the person in charge. Like the person in Adrian who was in charge of all the sisters wherever they were, was called Mother. No other sister was ever called Mother. And we have abolished that title. The sister who is in charge of all the sisters, Adrian sisters wherever they are is, is called Sister. The same as the rest of us are. Only most of us don't bother using the term "sister" anymore. We're -- we just call each other by our first names, the way real sisters would.

Q: That seems to me an evidence of acknowledging the tendency in the world today to do away with titles, or, or of a sort of equality of everything, of everyone within an organization.

A: I think that's a legitimate inference, but I think that you're ignoring the inference that you could also draw from the fact that the order was established to begin with, with equal rights of all persons to elect the -- the person to be in charge. So that you could say that it's a kind of happy combination of going back to an original spirit of democracy and bringing it into harmony with current usage. And I really think that that's the way most of us feel about it. We are not saying oh well since Vatican Two with all the windows open and the fresh air let in as John the 23rd said he would like to do we are starting over again. We are saying way back there, there was that tradition and it's too bad that we let other things overlie it. Now let's bring that tradition up and put it in harmony with current usage, with current -- current terminology.

Q: Have you had any -- have you undertaken any major trips, Doctor, any major travels? Not just relat -- in relation with the church, but yourself as a person?

A: I don't really know how to answer that. I -- I taught at a college for women in Miami for three years. And in the course of that time, I was asked, this was back when sisters were still supposed to travel in two's -- that requirement has been updated too, shall we say.

Q: Yeah.

A: I was asked by a sister who was planning a trip to Europe if I would go with her and however many people we could get to go. Because this sister wanted to people who would benefit from a music and drama festival tour. So I did have three weeks in Europe on that trip. Now, I don't know whether you would regard that as church-related or not. If you mean have I done traveling on my own initiative without any kind of thought in mind except sheer pleasure, I don't suppose I've ever done that.

Q: So -- so all your travels have been in regards to church activity.

A: No, well not -- see that's not strictly speaking too -- true. Our congregation was one of a relatively small number in the United States that used to provide for a one week stay at home every three years for a sister. Now that's not much vacation time and we have expanded that now. So that now it's up to us, in terms of our local situation to determine how much time we can spend and how much money we can spend on an individual vacation. So I guess the closest thing I could come to that is to say that I -- I have twice in the course of the past seven years, decided that I needed a vacation, and that I had enough money accumulated to do something. So I went to California and visited a friend in California. That was a sheer vacation. But part of the reason I went was not just for my own pleasure but because I believed that she needed to have a visit. Just as last summer I went to New York for three days but that was partly because a friend of mind had called and said "I really feel the need to get away, but I don't want to go to New York alone, will you come with me." I, I don't know any -- I, I don't -- maybe I'm not really getting the full implication of what it is you're asking. And I think that there may be a confusion here. I don't feel -- see I don't feel that any of those home visits that I took were for my benefit alone. They were to bring me into contact with my family, which lived at a great distance. I've never lived close enough to my family to have the kind of visits that many sisters found just commonplace. Where they -- they lived in the same state, or they lived on the other side of the same city, and they could go back and forth. The families could go back and forth. At that point we could not go back and forth. Now we can. We can go anywhere. But at that point the families had to come, except for this one week every three years. So I don't know that I would regard that as, as something done on my own initiative for my own pleasure. And I don't mean to condemn it. I just think it never occurred to me. I do know one thing though, maybe this would answer your question, at the time that this friend and I agreed to go to New York, I had reached the conclusion that I needed a vacation and that if she had changed her mind, I was going to go to New York anyway. So maybe that would be the closest.

Q: What was your impression of New York?

A: Oh, I loved it. I always love it.

Q: You did not find New York frightening in some ways?

A: Oh no, umm mm, not at all. It's one of the few places that I know of where I don't feel much apprehension about walking down the streets at night. Now I'm not walking down back streets, dark streets.

Q: I understand, yes.

A: Or through Central Park, I don't mean that. But the kind of thing I'm thinking of is the difference between an ordinary street in Washington, D.C. where I lived for twenty-three years, and Georgetown where the streets are brightly lighted at night, and people are coming and going at all hours and nobody finds anything to be fearful of because the place is just so full of very friendly people, just circulating as though it's broad day light, and that's the way the areas in New York that I'm referring to affect me.

Q: And you find New York City and Washington D.C. friendly?

A: Umm Hmm. Very friendly. Well, I lived in Washington and Washington was the first place in my life where someone explained to me how the streets are laid out and I cannot get lost in Washington. I know tour motorists tell me it's very easy to get lost in Washington. I do not find that true because I am not a motorist, I'm a pedestrian. And I know how the streets are laid out and I know that within a very short time I can find exactly where I am and go from there to where I might be living or staying or whatever. And it's the same way with New York. They're so logical, they're just so beautifully laid out in terms of logic. I, I love them for that and then I love them for all the variety that they offer. London is something like that. I found London fascinating in the same way. That was part of my music and festival tour. We spent about three and a half days in London and I loved it.

Q: What period of time was this that you were in London?

A: 1966. August.

Q: Umm Hmm. And you also find London enchanting, friendly?

A: Yes, yes. More friendly than many other places where if one stops a person on a street and asks for directions, he will turn and walk a block or block and a half to be sure that one makes the right turning. That's unusual. I did not find that in the other places that we went. I found them fascinating for other reasons. I think it's fascinating to see the same style and type of architecture in Paris and in London, but to get an entirely different impression because the quality of the life is different. The color is different. So that the same stone shows up differently.

Q: In working on your Ph.D. did you encounter any difficulties in reconciling your -- your religious role with a more worldly role? Did you -- were there any difficulties or did you receive a full and unqualified support of your religious order?

A: They sent me to get a Ph.D. When I finished my master's degree in a year and they sent -- they sent me back and said, "Get a Ph.D." So they certainly offered me every encouragement to get as much graduate education as I could. And after I went back to the same university to teach -- this is all Catholic University in Washington -- they told me that it might be desirable in the future for me to get additional education and they would like me to get some Education credits. And when I got about 25 or 26 graduate credits in Higher Education -- Organization and Administration in Higher Education -- while I was teaching at the graduate level at -- in Washington. And then later on there was a request to our congregation and a number of others from the Canon Law Society of America to send sisters to get some education in Canon Law, so they sent me. And by that time they should have not been sending me, they should have been asking me if I were willing to go.

Q: They were sending? They were not asking you at all, they were just --

A: That's right. But by the time they got around to this, they were sup -- really were supposed to be asking me, and I did point that out to them, but they said did I have any rooted objection and I said no, I would be very happy to go. Only I did not want to go to Dallas which was where they wanted to send me because I had planned that summer to visit an aunt in the San Francisco area. And they said well that's very simple, there's another program in San Francisco, so go to the University of San Francisco. That was fine because I could visit my aunt--


A: --and I could go back and forth to her on weekends. And I could go to the University of San Francisco which I did for two summers. So I got about thirty-eight or thirty-nine hours of graduate education beyond the doctorate and in addition to that I have two research fellowships, one at Yale Law School and one at Johns Hopkins University in American History. Those decisions to go to Yale and to go to Johns Hopkins were my own decisions. I had, there was enough money available because I was at a college that the trustees - who were the general counsel in my congregation, the sisters in charge of the congregation - they had decided to close it and there was some money that had not been used. It had been budgeted for a particular purpose so I was able to use that to go. It was my decision too because I was the President of the college and therefore I could determine what was to be done with the money. I don't mean that I took all the money there was, by the way. I did see that a couple of other people got money to pursue their educations, but this was, this was money that had been budgeted for and either people had left or the programs had faded out before the end of the year. And the same kind of thing happened the second year when Johns Hopkins -- the Johns Hopkins fellowship opened up, it was a funded fellowship so I could simply take it.

Q: Taking into consideration your education and the background you've had in your field -- you're now a professor of history--

A: I was a professor of history before I left Catholic University. I was -- it took me seventeen years at Catholic University and I taught there for twenty to reach the full professorship. I began as an instructor at the munificent salary of twelve hundred dollars a year, I think. No, excuse me, eighteen hundred because we got a salary raise at the end of my first year and I went from eighteen hundred to three thousand which I think is fantastic. However, at the end of twenty years I was making sixty-seven hundred. And I think that is atrocious.

Q: Yes, it is.

A: But I did earn the full professorship. I did spend more time, I think this is quite accurate to say, more time than any other professor, instructor, or what have you, in the department, teaching. I always had the heaviest load, I always had the largest number of students, I was in full charge of the undergraduate program for the entire time that I was there, and it should be easy enough for you to figure out why I had the heaviest load and the largest number of students, and why I was in full charge of the undergraduate program.

Q: Still, taking hours into consideration, why did you decide to come to Norfolk State College?

A: Well, I didn't leave Catholic University to come to Norfolk State. I went from Catholic University to a college for women in Miami at the assignment -- they were still making assignments then -- of my religious congregation. And in -- in Miami, I was full professor of history, naturally I would not take a demotion of any kind. And I was also, within a couple of months, in charge of the graduate division at Berry College. So I doubled the size of the graduate division in three years, and at that point, the people in charge of my congregation came to me and said, "the college that we founded five years ago in Illinois is in trouble, will you go and be the president." So I went to be the president with the understanding that I could recommend whether they should close it or not.

Q: Yes.

A: I recommended that they not close it, but they decided that it was too expensive to keep open. They were -- the congregation was subsidizing it at a rate which it thought was too high. So they decided that when they closed it they would have a phase-out year, and I need not stay for the phase-out year. That's when they said find someplace that you would love to go for a sabbatical. And that's when I went to Yale. All right, now, I'm a full professor, and I've been chairman of the graduate division, and I've been president of a college.

Q: What was the name of that particular college?

A: Barry, B-A-R-R-Y, the one in Illinois was St. Dominic College. I go to Yale for a, wha-- for a research fellowship year, and that was a very marvelous year. I enjoyed it immensely. And I had many contacts with very stimulating people. And while I was at Yale, the fellowship at Johns Hopkins, for which I had also applied at the same time, became available for the next year. So I went to Johns Hopkins. But now remember, all these things have happened over a period of a good many years, so I am getting no younger. And I am a full professor.

Q: Umm Hmm.

A: Now in a job market that in 1969 had four thousand people applying for two-hundred and fifty jobs, I am not a desirable commodity. I'm too old. How many years can I give an institution. If I come in at the top level, and I am not going to settle for coming in at a lower level. It took me too long to earn that.

Q: That's understandable.

A: I had to write, I had to research and write and publish twenty-four articles to get that full professorship. And that was not an easy task because you, did, you, you, missed what I said before. Why was I the one who taught the largest number of student? Why was I the one with the heaviest course load? Why was I the one in full charge of the undergraduate program in History? Because I was the only woman in the department. No man would have taken on all those obligations. I will grant that it might have looked to the people in charge at Catholic University as though it was a fair deal because the men in the department were married and had families, and I was not married and had no family. They were not however, aware of what the domestic problems were in a house that would take care of forty-five people in which certain kinds of domestic work had to be done by those of us who own the house, and I was one of them.

Q: Umm Hmm.

A: So, whatever the men had to do by way of domestic work, I could double or triple. They didn't have room in their homes for forty-five people. And we had the laundry, a good part of the cooking, all the cleaning of that house. All right now: put that together with the fact that I come out of a full professorship, two top administrative jobs, two research fellowships at top notch universities and send out a resume. What is a struggling young college or university department chairman going to say? We can't afford her. She has too much experience. We can't afford her she has too high an academic rank. We can't afford her because we are not going to get our money back. I would have to buy into whatever their program was in terms of hospitalization, or fringe benefits or what have you at too high a level. I would not be able to bring that amount of money. I applied to one-hundred and ten places before I was interviewed for Norfolk State. In the course of that application, which took place while I was at Yale and when I was at Johns Hopkins, I was interviewed by about a dozen places. I was asked not to accept any other place until the University of Manitoba could draw up a contract. I was unanimously voted in as the best candidate at the University of South Florida. I was put up by the department at the University of Texas Arlington for chairmanship of a department in a second place. Faculty recommended three, they recommended me as the second highest. Now those were all possibilities. Manitoba said, "We can't hire anybody except Canadians." The provincial legislature said so. University of South Florida said, "We can't hire anybody for a year and a half. The legislature has cut off all funds." The University of Texas at Arlington said, "We would prefer that a man, a woman, and a man ranking by the faculty, should be changed to a man, a man, and a woman. So of course I had no chance. I negotiated with a religiously oriented and run institution in New England, almost to the point where it came down to Norfolk State or the other place. The other place refused absolutely to tell me what I would be expected to teach and I think that is a totally unbecoming way to deal with a potential faculty member.

Q: Certainly not professional.

A: I would agree. And therefore, when I was asked to come here for an interview, I found the president and the dean and everyone I met in the history department very congenial, very compatible, it was a matter of seeing colleagues working together.

Q: Umm Hmm.

A: The students that I met at that point impressed me very favorably. They seemed to me to be alert and aware of what was going on. I don't mean that I found all the students on that occasion or at any time since, here or anywhere all "A plus." Now that's not what I'm saying. But I did find an awareness and aliveness on the campus. And so when I got an offer, a firm offer that would pay me one and a half times what the New England place would pay me, and when the indication was very clear that I would be fitting into these particular slots, that I would automatically be accepted as a full professor without any problem at all, it seemed to me highly desirable that I would come to Norfolk State. And I have not regretted that decision at all. I think that being at Norfolk State has opened up all sorts of avenues for me, and I think it's opened up avenues for students too. So, does that give you an answer to that question?

Q: Yes, it does.

This concludes side one of the interview with Dr. Klinkhamer. The interview continues on the other side of this tape.

Q: How has your relationship been with the students ??? continue to be a good relationship but have you had any difficulties, especially in recent years?

A: I cannot honestly say I've had anything that I would describe as a difficulty. The closest I could come to say that I had difficulty was with a student who was assigned to me, in what I regard as a rather antiquated way of dealing with majors. I think that to take a group of students and assign them to a professor in terms of alphabet is a little ridiculous. Because what happens is that the advisee comes in and I've never seen him before. Now in this particular case, the advisee came in and he said he wanted to take X, Y, and Z courses and I said I think what we need to do is go over what you have taken and see whether they really do fit into the curriculum requirements, and he did not like this at all. And became really incensed and informed me in no uncertain terms that my attitude was racist, that if I were not white and he were not black we would not be having this kind of problem. So I said it has absolutely nothing to do with color, you will find no matter who you go to that the same kind of requirements are going to be made. So if I see you again, that, I will say the same thing. Two days later he came back and he said I found out that what you said was true. So I would like to find out for this and this and this, but I still think that I'm getting a raw deal. And I said that's entirely possible, you know, for your particular purposes this curriculum may not be the best, but I think what you have to do is give it a chance and then negotiate. The student was at that point about to begin a second semester of his sophomore year. Now, at the beginning of the following semester, he signed up for a course which I designed with a great deal of input from students, called Protest and Accommodation. And he came into the class and he would not participate. If we asked anything he would not participate. He would simply shake his head or indicate that he had no desire to enter into any kind of conversation. Until finally, one day, a student said to him, "You make me sick. The rest of us all are sitting here in a circle" -- that's part of the design of the course -- "and we are all entering into what it is that we are protesting about, don't you understand that when you sit there and you don't say anything you're protesting, you're protesting this class and we've all got to accommodate to you. And I don't think it's fair unless you tell us what it is you're sitting there hiding behind your glasses" -- the student wore tinted glasses -- "you're sitting there hiding behind your glasses, we can't even tell what your expression is." Well the student said, "I never thought of that." So, he said, "Well this is how I feel about what you're talking about," and it was a very much different view from that of the other students, but very well expressed. And then two or three days later he volunteered something and then two or three days later he came in and he wanted to know if he could borrow a book from my office. I keep in my office all sorts of books and magazine articles and that sort of thing, that I think will be helpful for the course. And I had invited the students to come at any time, if there's anyone in the office, whether I'm there or, or just a student, and help themselves to these materials. So he came in and he was going through a table of contents and he said to me what do, what do you think of this. Do you think that I could use this? And I said strictly speaking you shouldn't. The course begins in 1890. What you're looking at was written in the 1840's or 50's. It was something from Thoreau. But if you're really interested and you can relate it to the course, by all means take it. That student gave me eighteen pages of comment and in the middle of what he's writing he says, "it's three o'clock in the morning and I should stop, but I can't." And he went on with an analysis. And from that point on, that student and I have been the best of friends. You know, to the point where he will call up and say can I come over and talk to you at home. I want to bring my little girl to see you, you should not be waiting out here at the bus stop, I will take you home. All that kind of thing. That is the most prominent, the most dramatic thing that I can think of. I remember having a -- some difficulty with a student, the first year I was here. A -- a girl who I think was really hyper. I mean I really think there was a -- a perhaps a physical and certainly a psychological problem … of difficulty in the sense that she would shout at me from som -- this was in a small theater-type classroom, so she would be sitting way up in the back and she might shout at me if she disagreed. But no-- nobody in the class supported her, so I've never -- I've never felt that that was a real problem. No, I think that the one problem that I do encounter and that I think takes up a lot of psychic energy and that I regret terribly is that students who do not know me, avoid me. And I think that is a result of the whole situation at Norfolk State. If students have teachers who are non-black, and you know we have about thirty-five percent of the faculty which is non-black and they get to know those teachers and they see that the teachers really are concerned about them and really care about them, they forget what color the teachers are. When people say to me how does it feel to teach black students, I have to do a double-take. I don't remember that they're black. I'm not looking at black faces, I'm looking at student faces. I'm dealing with student people. Student personalities. And I would like students to deal with me as a teacher personality, or I like better as a co-learner personality. Because this is a partnership that we're in and what I find very difficult is this feeling, it was much more pronounced by the way at Yale Law School than it ever has been on this campus, much more pronounced. Black students -- this is at the beginning of the seventies -- at Yale Law School, walked on one side of the hall. Like that situation you mentioned to me in the convent. Only they weren't pulling away because we were the superior, they were pulling away because they wanted no part of any kind of connection with whites at all. Now that's that black student union, black law school student union, kind of mentality that was being created that was perhaps aggravated because Bobby Seal was on trial in New Haven that year. There were all kinds of reasons for it. I don't mean that what happens at Norfolk State is at that intensity, or that level at all. I don't mean that. It's just that there's a kind of aloofness. A kind of, I'm not sure you're really there, feeling that I get. And I don't like that because I've never -- I've never been comfortable with that with any students, anywhere. I've always liked the idea that a student could drop in at my office or could call me up or could stop me on the campus and ask me anything, bring anything to my attention, tell me about his or -- his new girlfriend, or her new boyfriend, or the new baby or a -- a problem with illness in the family or anything of that kind as well as anything connected with academia. And I mind that. That Norfolk State students with the mix that we have in the faculty, perhaps do not always get a chance to plug into that mix, so to speak. They do not get a chance to find the physi-- physicist in the Sari, the lady from India. Or the Filipino lady in political science, or--

Q: ??

A: Yes, I could, could mention all the names I'm just deliberately avoiding them. Or the, uh, or the white man who spent years in Africa with the Job Corps and later doing research. Or with the Indian gentleman who teaches biology. Or the Egyptian who teaches business. Those -- we have a cosmopolitan mix in the faculty, what -- what seems to me to be a highly desirable one, and I wish that we were able to work out an arrangement by which formally or informally more of the students could profit from that cosmopolitan mix, because our students are going out into a cosmopolitan world. They're not going to stay in Norfolk they're going to be all over the world. And I'd like them to have had a little bit more personal contact, not a strictly bookish contact with what they will meet out in the world. So that would be my one reservation. It's not -- no I -- I have not encountered -- I've not encountered as much resistance in a classroom as I -- as I encountered in my first teaching at Catholic University. And I -- I cannot remember in maybe twenty-five years or more, ever saying to a student if you can't -- I hate to use the word behave, but I can't think of anything else right now, if you can't behave better you're just going to have to leave. I did do that. I threw five kids out of class in one year at Catholic University. I ha-- I haven't had anything like that, or any, any kind of situation that demanded that. And I don't mean that's because the students adopt my point of view, and I don't want them to. What I --what I like to have them do is understand these are facts, we can't quibble with those. These are my opinions and if they -- they do not set comfortably with you, then all I ask is that you pay attention to them respectfully and I will try to the same with yours and if we can't resolve them, all right then we'll just recognize that they're in the realm of opinion. And we're each entitled to ours. I'm not saying by the way that I am sure that I live up to that high ideal, but that is the kind of thing that I think happens. See, I think, by the way, that since I mentioned throwing five kids out of class at Catholic University, I should also say that that was back in the days when I wore a habit and I think a lot of the youngsters who objected to what I was doing, objected in terms of, "Oh, this is just another one of those sisters and I've had 'em all my life." In fact I rode on a bus one time in Washington where I overheard two students who were sitting ahead of me saying, "My gosh, I went to parochial school all my life I had nuns all the time, I always had nuns, I get here and I've got a nun for English and I've got a nun for History," and I almost said, "She's sitting right behind you," but I didn't.

Q: What does the future hold for you, Doctor? You think. Will you continue to teach at Norfolk State or do you have other goals in mind for yourself?

A: Oh I -- I have no plan to leave Norfolk State. I -- I -- I like one of the thing -- I mentioned that course, Protest and Accommodation. The college has encouraged me to design courses, so that course went from a one-semester to a two-semester course and I had the opportunity to work for two summers in curriculum development on that. I also had the opportunity to design another course called Ideas and Their Influence. And while I'm not sure that that should be expanded I would be willing to spend some time doing that if the opportunity offered. And I, I'd think that the college has been very supportive of that kind of thing. So I have, you know I would have no -- I would have no reason to believe that I should look for someplace else. I like living in Norfolk, I like the fact that where I have lived in Norfolk has offered me opportunities to work with parishes, local church congregations, and I never had that kind of opportunity in my life before 'cause I always lived in a house that belonged to my own congregation where we had chaplains and we never worked with parishes at all. So now I'm getting a whole new perspective on all kinds of things. Family lives, economic obligations, the transiency of the military component of the Norfolk population; and I'm also getting opportunities to use all the skills and experiences and talents that I brought to this area in church situations where they were never used before. I, I cannot imagine not teaching, but I do know that retirement will come, you know. So I would think that probably I -- I would have in the course of the next four years, to come to some kind of decision about, "Do I need some specific kinds of training that would help me to work into a parish situation after I would no longer be regarded as a great asset in a -- on a college campus." I don't know that I'm regarded as a great asset now. But sixty-five is a kind of generally recognized retirement age. I'm glad that there's a federal regulation that says we don't have to live up to that, but there are certain state regulations that still have to be contended with. And as far as I know they -- the state retirement plan and, well, entire orientation of the educational policies of the state look toward retirement between sixty-five and seventy. At -- at that point, if I have enough energy left, I would like to be able to fit into a more specifically church situation where I could work with congregations in areas where they could use my skills. I think my greatest problem there is I can't find any one skill or experience or talent that would be worth the full-time support of the congregation. It would have to be some kind of a package deal and I guess what I'm -- what I need to investigate is how could I put what I have into a package that would have some kind of appeal. 'Cause unlike the stereotype that most people have of religious women, I have never taught religion as such, except the one year that I taught high school. I was not trained to teach religion, none of my graduate work has been in religion per se, and most parishes these days, if they want sisters, want sisters who can teach religion, and I can't. So maybe I would have to go back to school and learn how to teach religion. And I really don't want to do that. I'd really like to learn theology, and I would not mind at all doing adult education in theology, but if it comes to teaching religion to youngsters right on up through high school or early college, I don't think that I've got the qualifications, so I think I would not go that way. I would go some other way.

Q: You are satisfied with your life? Looking back over your life you --

A: I would not change anything?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, I can only say that there are -- that I have -- I have made mistakes--

Q: Yes, we all do.

A: --that I wish I hadn't made, but I think that if I have not actually arrived at an understanding of what good has come out of recognizing that there were those mistakes, I am moving in the direction of being able to put it into some kind of meaningful whole. It, it was not -- it was not perhaps the most diplomatic thing for me on one occasion to say in a staff meeting, "If you cannot change your particular approach to that particular problem, I think I should have your resignation." I think I might have handled that much more diplomatically. But an occasion rose later for me not to apologize for that because I- I- I -- the only thing I could apologize for was the choice of words. But to make that person, to hold that person up before a group of seventy or eighty people as a kind of authority in a particular field and that -- that from my point of view and I think from hers, more than made up for the lack of diplomacy, the lack of tact earlier. And I think that I had moved to the point where I -- where I could say, you know, in effect, you deserve respect for this and this and this. You simply were thrust into a situation where you couldn't handle a kind of responsibility and what I should have done in the earlier case was say, "Let's just sit down one to one and talk this through. And I think you will see that you do not belong in that slot. I didn't put you in the slot, somebody else did and now you're hanging onto the slot because the slot represents security. What you need to hang onto is your own personhood. That's the only security you have." And I think that is probably the kind of lesson I'm learning, myself. I don't find it easy to move. I moved four times in three years. Physically I find that horrendous, you know, I dislike that kind of thing. And I think that what I really -- what I really find is that -- it's not just physically moving furniture, books and all of that kind of thing. It's changing into a situation in which I have to do the human struggle all over again to get accepted as a human being. So my only security is my own personhood. If I don't know that there must be something worthwhile about me or I wouldn't exist, then I hang onto a slot because it's easier, it's more comfortable. I become a barnacle, hanging onto the piling, pulling up a dock, rather than developing. And so I just get crusted over with all sorts of things and I think that's -- that's a way I have to look at myself; and also to recognize that no matter where I am, other people are at some different point. Their timing, their rhythm and so forth are not the same as mine. What we have to -- it's a -- my favorite simile here is the Gulf Stream. If you get up high enough, you can see the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic, it's a different color, but it's not a uniform color. Within the Gulf Stream, there are all sorts of little streams of other colors. And the Gulf Stream unites them somehow so that they -- all the little streams are all converging on one point. And I think that's the kind of -- of thing. I think that's the kind of challenge Norfolk State offers me. To go into a classroom with thirty-five to seventy-five students -- and I've had as many as seventy-five -- and find them all at different -- at all -- all in their own little currents in, in a stream and to try to bring them into some kind of harmony with each other and with me, and then with the total campus. I think that's a tremendous challenge and I welcome that. But I'm also more and more aware that letting go and -- and admitting that this is a stream and that we are all moving involves moving away from that barnacle-like existence, clinging to something that's known. It's the constant challenge of--


A: --diving deeper into the unfamiliar that is very much a part of my life now. And I'm very glad. I think that's the kind of thing that keeps people resilient and flexible. I'm not sure young is the right word to use because it might have a connotation of immature and I hope we're not that. But that resilience, that flexibility comes from being so secure in one's own personhood and in where that personhood came from. I said a minute ago and you looked a little skeptical, I know I'm valuable because I exist. Well that really needs another dimension. I exist because I was created and God didn't have to create me. He created me because He loved me, He loved me first and then I am. And therefore, as I am -- as I develop my existence, I have to realize that it's in terms of His love. There's something lovable here even if I can't find it, you know. So that's what I mean by saying being secure in my personhood. And therefore, letting go of all of these artificial things. You now this is a nice desk. A nice, firm, solid desk. And those are good books. But if the desk burns up and the books are all ripped off and nothing is left here when I come to the campus the next time, I'm still me. A lovable person. And I can bring that personhood and that lovable-ness somehow or other to what I teach or to what I counsel or to what I edit or to whatever happens to me.

Q: Doctor Klinkhamer, thank you very much.

A: You're very welcome. It's a joy to have a former student come back like this.



Interview Information

Top of Page