Esther Hale Saunders


Esther Hale Saunders

23 minutes
Helen Ancona Bergeson
Interview/Event Date: 
August 9, 1976
Biographical note: 

Esther Hale [1893-1985] was a member of the University’s Class of 1917. She married Arthur James Gosnell, UR1916, on October 7, 1918. They had two sons: Thomas H. Gosnell and Arthur James Gosnell, Jr., UR1950. Mr. Gosnell, Sr. died August 29, 1949. He had been an officer and director of the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co. He was also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School. She subsequently married Wilbour Eddy Saunders, President of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School on January 2, 1952. He died in 1979. She passed away on July 5, 1985. She had been a member of the Advisory Council of the College for Women. She had long been active in Rochester civic and philanthropic organizations including serving as a member of the central planning committee of the Council of Social Agencies as well as the YWCA.

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HB: This is a recording for the Oral History Project of the Friends of the University Libraries. I'm Helen Ancona Bergeson and I'm interviewing Esther – Esther Hale Gosnell Saunders, at her home on Lake Road in Webster, on Monday, August the 9th, 1976. Mrs. Hale, you have very kindly agreed to share of your –

ES: Mrs. Saunders.

HB: You have very kindly agreed to share some of your reminiscences about your student days at the University, and your recollections of Dean Annette Gardner Munro. Tell us a little bit about her living in your home.

ES: When it was decided that they needed a Dean for Women, my father[1] said he knew the right person. Dean Munro, Annette Gardner Munro, was a classmate of my mother's[2] in Wellesley College. Although, due to rheumatic – I think it was what we would today recognize as rheumatic fever, she never finished at Wellesley. And there was some discussion as to whether the climate here in Rochester would be

HB: So that – now was your father at that time Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University?[3] There was much involvement of your family in

ES: Offhand, I wouldn't know the exact years that he was Chairman, but I know that it – he was the one that recommended the Dean to President Rhees. Mrs. Rhees and Dean Munro became very warm and very close friends.

HB: Isn't that interesting! Now she was a Smith College graduate[4]

ES: Yes.

HB: Miss Munro then came and lived at your home.[5] Were you a student at the University or were

ES: I was not in the University when she first came – came

HB: That would be about 1910[6], 't it?

ES: I graduated in '17. But shortly thereafter. She was Dean all the while I was in the University.

HB: Where did you go to school for your high school preparation?

ES: Columbia in Rochester and Wheaton, which is now Wheaton College which was then Wheaton Seminary, in Massachusetts.

HB: Do you recall what kind of a woman Miss Munro was? Her pictures show her to be a very beautiful woman. Was she large or was she small?

ES: According to today's large women, she was not. However, she was – nor was she petite. She was average size for my age grouping, and a very distinguished looking woman.

HB: That's what her pictures reflect.

ES: Yes.

HB: What was her reception like in Rochester? Do you have any

ES: Oh, she was very well received in Rochester. I don't remember that she was other than well received by the faculty of the University because it just wouldn't occur to her not to be.

HB: Were there any women – other women – on the faculty at the time when she came, do you recall?

ES: No, I couldn't be sure, but I doubt it.[7]

HB: So she had quite a - quite a bit on the line –

ES: Yes.

HB: When she stepped into that position, didn't she?

ES: Yes.

HB: How did the students respond to her? They had ten years from 1900 – 1910 with no one to relate to. What was the reaction on the part of the women students to her being appointed Dean?

ES: Why I don't think there was any special reaction. We were pleased to have a Dean come. We – she had her own quarters, as it were, after we got moved over to Catherine Strong. Our class was the last class to have rooms in Anderson Hall. After that all classes were over in Catherine Strong – Anthony Memorial Campus.[8]

HB: So, were all your student days spent in the Anderson Hall quarters for women or were you – did you have some years over in Catherine Strong?

ES: No, we just had one year. We were the last class to be there at all.

HB: I see. So, 1913 was the year you were in Anderson Hall, then you moved 1914-15 – no, 1915, '16, '17, you were over in Catherine Strong?

ES: Catherine Strong.

HB: Do you know any students that had any problems – did the girls have a need to talk their problems, academically or socially, over with the Dean, or were they so used to not having anyone –

ES: No, I think they talked things over very freely, both from the personal, because many of us out of the women did have personal needs, especially financial, and of course, academically she reviewed our standings, as I remember it, once or twice a year for every –

HB: So you had an academic conference with her about your work?

ES: Yes.

HB: Was that a pretty formidable affair?

ES: Well, I didn't happen to find it so. I knew her pretty well. But I think it varied, as it would.

HB: Was she an approachable woman? Was it easy to relate to her?

ES: Yes, I would say for the women, very. Because she had their interests and – very much at heart. She was a person who really was marvelously suited for her job.

HB: Isn't that great!

ES: Yes.

HB: Do you have any feeling of the kinds of – any insight into the kinds of hopes and aspirations she had for the women students?

ES: After college, you mean, or during –

HB: No, the kind of things she wanted to see happen for the women students, academically or socially in their extracurricular activities.

ES: No, I don't think – I think that rather than being promotional or dig in for it – it just went along normally. You expected that we would be accepted as part of the University, and that we became.

HB: Then as far as the faculty was concerned, she was readily accepted and became a real spokesperson for the women, as far as course work or –

ES: I can't imagine that she wasn't readily accepted, although from the faculty point of view, I wouldn't have any definite knowledge on that. She did see to it that we got our rights, but she wasn't a flag-raising feminist.

HB: When you say that you got your rights, what kind of things did you mean by that?

ES: Well, I think we walked in the front door of Anderson Hall, or we went to the Library, and more normally than we had before. It hadn't been – there used to be just one alcove where you, as a woman student, were supposed to go to study. But it got so we went to other alcoves.

HB: In other words, horizons gradually began to open?

ES: I would think so – I would think so, yes. Without commotion so you weren't conscious of it.

HB: That's great. She probably made more headway in her quiet determined little way than if she had been aggressive about it.

ES: Yes.

HB: What was your class like? Did most of the girls come from Rochester or were there girls from out of town?

ES: Most of them came from the area, Rochester. We were supposedly the last small class, as it were. 1918 had many more girls and women, and well, I wouldn't say there was exactly feeling between them, but we were always – perhaps always just had to be sure that people knew 1917 was there also. [9]

HB: You had a very famous class. There were some fine women in your class.

ES: Yes, we did.

HB: If a girl lived outside of the city and came to the University, did she board in the city? Were there any dormitory facilities for her?

ES: Not at first.

HB: Now, when you moved over to Catherine Strong Hall in your Sophomore year, were all your activities over on that side of the Campus, Catherine Strong and Anthony Halls, your class work as well as your out-of-class activities?

ES: Mostly they were, not completely. You see we opened up our own gym, so we had that type of activity, and – but we still, I think I said before, used the Library on the Campus, and we did go to the other Campus for a few classes.

HB: Was there any intermingling of the men and the women in a social way? Were there parties where –

ES: At the fraternity houses.

HB: Just at the fraternity houses?

ES: Practically, yes.

HB: The men did make some overtures of friendship then for some of the women students in a social way?

ES: Yes, some.

HB: In some of the earlier years it was only through the churches in Rochester that they intermingled. What were the chapel services like and where did you have chapel in your student days?

ES: Well, freshman year of course it was on Campus, in Anderson Hall. And we, the women, sat in the back in chairs or stood up, and the men had the real seats. When we got on – when we got over to Catherine Strong Hall, of course, we had the seats, and now and again a few men came, but usually it – we were the important ones.

HB: Was chapel required?

ES: Yes.

HB: What would happen if you didn't go to chapel?

ES: You had a certain number of cuts, and if you went beyond, you were called in.

HB: What kind of tone was set? Was it an inspirational time in the day or was it –

ES: I think that varied. Mostly at that particular time, you were used to doing what was expected of you, much more than later on. But - so I think there was very little feeling one way or the other. Chapel was like going to a class—you were supposed to be there, and you went.

HB: Dr. Rhees gave a course for Seniors in some earlier years, Ethics of Living, or something like that. Was this still true Seniorsonly?[10]

ES: I don't know. I didn't take it if he did.

HB: Do you have – as you look back on your student days, are there any professors or any classmates who stand out in your mind as being unusually interesting or outstanding?

ES: Well, that's hard to say because we were perhaps a more united group, as a class, than you are when you get larger numbers. Because we were, the last of the small classes which – maybe we took too much pride in – but anyway – I don't remember especially one way or the other about the professors. By the time we were there, I think they had gotten to accept women so it was much more natural than it had been perhaps a few years earlier.

HB: Did you feel as a woman student that the professors expected the same standard of performance as they did with the men? Was there any – were they harder on you as women than they were on the men or did you feel comfortable with equal expectations of the professors?

ES: I wouldn't say I would have felt anything one way or the other as far as that was concerned.

HB: What courses did you take? Did you tend to science or did you tend to literature and languages?

ES: No, I was just the humanities.

HB: I see.

ES: Humanities.

HB: Was Raymond Dexter Havens[11] one

ES: Yes, he was, a very popular one.

HB: Do you recall any of the other professors that you had?

ES: Well, I recall Professor Morey,[12] which is more than I should confess to because he's supposed to be so far back that I should be walking with a cane, if walking at all. But he was a real personage, and asked very - what seemed to me at the time – difficult questions. But if you didn't know them, why it was pretty hard.

HB: As you look back over the years, are there any things that stand out in your mind that have meant a great deal to you as a result of that college education? You've probably forgotten all the facts and all the books you read and everything else, but is there something that has put meaning into your life that that college experience gave you that you kind of hold to and are glad to have?

ES: Well, I guess it was the first place where I had functioned as a person, myself, because I had an older sister who was, in earlier years, very much more outgoing, so that I had tagged along pretty much up until that point. And when I got to the University, I think it was Dean Munro who told me I was supposed to be something, so I set forth to be something.

HB: That's great. You really had a sense of your own potential and your own worth to develop and to mold. That's lovely. Your family has had many years of affiliation with the University, starting with your father. And your mother was very active in community affairs. Those were kind of pioneer days. You –

ES: Actually, it started with my grandfather[13] who also was a trustee of the University of Rochester.

HB: Is that right?

ES: Yes. He – nor was he a college graduate. In those days – well, he just hadn't had the opportunity but had become an educated, self-educated person.

HB: That takes a lot of ambition and courage. Well, you must have a great deal of satisfaction in reflecting back on the years and seeing all that your family has contributed to the University. Are there other things that flash through your mind in relation to the students you knew or the faculty that you were exposed to that have been milestones in your life, given you strength and wisdom through the years?

ES: Oh, that is a very difficult question because, when it becomes a part of you, you don't really separate it out. I'm sure that what I got outside of the educational side of college life has really meant a great deal to me.

HB: Well, you – are there classmates that you still see now? Do you still get together?

ES: Yes, and not too many because we - well, we did for our 50th – how long ago was that? – we had quite a group here, but after that – you just all become a part of the – enter in such functions as you really want to.

HB: Well, this June would mark your 60th anniversary, wouldn't it?

ES: Yes, it would.

HB: A real – a real milestone. I salute you—I think that's remarkable that you are so active and alert and able to enjoy life, and I hope there will be friends that will come back and reune with you.

ES: I think they probably will.

HB: That's great.

ES: There usually are. And we have a few here in the city who are quite loyal. We do meet on various occasions.

HB: We.., this has been a very pleasurable little visit. I thank you very much on behalf of the Friends for letting me come into your home and sharing all these thoughts with us. Thank you so much.

ES: Thank you for coming. I feel I'm privileged to have been asked.

[1] William Barton Hale, UR1885, AM 1888. DKE and PBK.

[2] Clara Louise Andrews, Wellesley College, Class of 1885.

[3] UR Trustee elected 1906 and served for 32 years until his death in 1938, but never served as the Chairman of the UR Board of Trustees. However, he was Chairman of the Board of the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co.

[4] Harriet Chapin Seelye Rhees's father was Laurenus Clark Seelye, the first president of Smith College. Mrs. Rhees was in the Class of 1888 at Smith College,.

[5] 19 Prince Street, just a few houses from the Prince Street campus.

[6] Dean Munro arrived at UR in January 1910.

[7] Elizabeth Denio was on the faculty at the time. Lecturer on the History of Art, 1902-1910, Professor of the History of Art, 1910-1917.

[8] Catherine Strong Hall and Anthony Memorial Hall opened in 1914.

[9] Class of 1917 had 35 graduates and 17-non-graduates, Class of 1918 had 53 graduates and 18 non-graduates.

[10] "At the outset of his Rochester career, Rhees taught an elective course for Seniors on the life and teachings of Jesus, and a second on the life of the Apostle Paul, neither of which attracted many students. Freshmen were required to attend a set of eight lectures on "College Ethics" give by the President…" Arthur May. Manuscript History of the University of Rochester. Ch. 14. Online edition.

[11] Raymond Dexter Havens: Burrows Assistant Professor of English, 1908-1925.

[12] William C, Morey: Watson Professor of History and Political Science for whom Morey Hall is named.

[13] Maternal grandfather was Ezra R. Andrews, UR Trustee from 1895 until his death in 1900. He was the founder of the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co.