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Currie: First of all, I'd like to say how happy I am to be doing this interview with you.
Montgomery: I feel the same.
Currie: I was wondering, Gladys, if we could start by talking a little bit about your early life. For example, when and where were you born?
Montgomery: I grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Wellesley also was my college.
Currie: Were you born in Wellesley?
Montgomery: I was born in a nearby town, Natick. My parents were in the process of moving to Wellesley. After I was born, I stayed with my grandmother for almost a year because my mother's health was quite precarious.
Currie: So your really early memories are of Wellesley?
Currie: But you're a real New Englander, then.
Montgomery: I am a real New Englander. It comes out later on in surprising little ways. I was born almost at the turn of the century, 1896.
Currie: Let's talk about your parents a little bit. For example, can you tell me a little bit about your mother?
Montgomery: My mother came from Maine, as did my father. She was completing her high school and she had insisted on— [Tape interruption.]
Currie: Your mother had completed high school in Maine?
Montgomery: Yes. Mother completed high school and was taking a business course, living in Skowhegan, Maine, when she met my father. In talking with my sister, I learned that she took the course after her marriage, to be helpful to my father who had his own business.
Currie: Where was your mother from in Maine?
Montgomery: Mother was from a little town called Solon, Maine. My grandmother came from that area, too, and had inherited a farm from her father and mother when they died. There were two younger children, but she was the older one, so in her teens, she had to run the farm with very little experience.
My grandfather came from a nearby town. Before he was married, he and a boy that he knew, whose parents had died, decided to go west and make some money in the gold fields. They earned enough money to get there. They came back after not too long a time with very little money, a few nuggets of gold worth, but with a wealth of good stories he had about the
gold field area, the ones that he knew there, and so on. My recollection of my grandfather is of telling these stories about his experiences. There aren't many persons to whom you can say, "Tell that story again," but my grandfather was one that you could relish hearing his stories again and again. I hate to say it, but I think each time he told it, it may have been embellished a little. [Laughter.]
Currie: Storytelling is a great talent. A good storyteller's hard to find.
Montgomery: So when he came back, my grandmother was in a nearby town and they knew each other, but very soon it blossomed into a romance and they were married. His inclination, I believe, was not farming, but he was very much in love with my grandmother and he applied himself to making the 240-acre farm worthwhile, if not sensationally worthwhile. In Maine this was considered a large farm.
My grandparents on my father's side came from Hampden, Maine, which is near Orono. My grandmother was a teacher before she married. She was not especially fond of children as this minor incident may illustrate. She had an extraordinary talent of making fresh deep dish strawberry pies. No matter what came before, always there was this strawberry pie which was cut into the required number of slices. But when she came to the last slice, she'd look at my brother, Norman, and myself, and cut it in two. We always felt cheated because we had only that little piece of pie. My grandfather, who was kindly, noted it, and a few days later he said, "I'm sorry you children didn't get all the pie you want, but we're going out in the strawberry patch now." So we went where the strawberries were, and he had marked off a certain amount. He said, "You two get in there and eat all you want."
Currie: So was your father's father a farmer, also? What did he do for a living?
Montgomery: He had a farm, but not a large farm. I always felt he had some small business interest, but I do not know what it was. I asked my sister and she said, "Well, we lost whatever material we had on it." She also said, "I don't remember because I wasn't around much of that time." So I can't tell you what he did. Whatever his occupation may have been, it included a little more formal way of living. Perhaps my grandmother, with her teaching background, was also instrumental in that. I remember him as a quiet, dignified, kindly person.
Currie: When you say "formal," how was their style more formal?
Montgomery: A little more—it isn't formal. That isn't the right word. But it was not quite the free and easy way that my grandfather—
Currie: So your father was one of how many children in his family?
Montgomery: My father was an only son.
Currie: Only child?
Montgomery: An only child. On my mother's side, there were three children.
Currie: Did she have brothers or sisters or both?
Montgomery: She had a sister and a brother. The brother was the nearest to her age. When they got of high school age, it was decided that they would go to live in Skowhegan with a close relative and attend the school there, which was much better than what they had in the little town of Solon. So they grew very fond of each other. One of the great tragedies of my mother's life was when her brother contracted tuberculosis and died of it. Then not long after that, their young sister
contracted the same and also died of it. That left her alone in the family, of course. This was after she was married.
Currie: That's very sad. I guess a lot of that was going on then.
Montgomery: At that time, yes.
Currie: Let's go back and talk about your father a little bit. He grew up in Hampden?
Montgomery: Yes, he grew up in Hampden. As I say, he graduated from what became the University of Maine. His subject was civil engineering. As I recall, later in life he got another degree in that. However, I'd have to check on that to be sure. I know it was talked of. He was well known in Maine for not only these water systems, but for his success in banking.
Currie: Tell me about the water systems. How did he get involved with the water systems?
Montgomery: The water system was civil engineering, where they would put in a system. I can't tell you how it was done, because I don't know. But my sister tells me that he was involved in building or advising about forty towns in the Northeast on this matter. He worked on his own. He would bid for putting in the system in a certain place. Apparently you had to bid so that you wouldn't lose money and you wouldn't make too much. So he became well known for the fact that he put in these water systems in these various towns, more towns than cities, I guess, throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and, I believe, Vermont had some. At any rate, it added up to the fact that he was a specialist in this kind of work and later on he was hired for consultation by cities that were going to revise or put in water systems, whatever it was. He was a consultant for a number of places.
Currie: So he was an independent businessman.
Montgomery: Independent, himself.
Currie: Did your parents ever talk about how they met?
Montgomery: No, I don't remember, but I think that New Englanders, as a whole, don't go into that as much as maybe others do in other parts. He adored my mother, and she could see nothing wrong about whatever he did, so that it was a very happy marriage all through their lives.
Currie: Did they meet in Maine?
Montgomery: They met in Maine, in Skowhegan when he was doing some work there, I suppose some of his engineering.
My father was chairman of the board of selectmen [of Wellesley, Massachusetts]. Wellesley, at that time, was governed and may be now, for all I know, by a board of selectmen. My father was chairman of that board, as far back as I can remember, and he also had built a number of apartment and business buildings, three, I think, one being named for my brother.
Currie: Was your father living in Wellesley when he met your mother?
Montgomery: No, no. They met in Skowhegan.
Currie: Do you know how they moved to Wellesley?
Montgomery: I think it was because of some work that he had in his engineering. Wellesley is a suburb of Boston, and it's a small and beautiful town with a number of well-known educational
institutions, such as Wellesley College and the Babson Institute, Dana Hall School, and so on. Because it was near to Boston, there was a commuter train that went about nine o'clock in the morning, and a number of men living in the town would go back and forth to Boston, to offices.
Currie: So they moved to Wellesley for his business and he was on the board of selectmen.
Montgomery: I don't know how they happened to move to Wellesley, but anyhow, they probably thought it was convenient for him and also a very lovely town to live in. I suppose even then they were thinking of me going to Wellesley. But when that time came, that was where I didn't want to go. [Laughter.]
Currie: Naturally, because your parents wanted you to. [Laughter.]
Montgomery: No, because I got to be called my father's daughter, you know. He was head of the Board of Selectmen. Of course, Wellesley College came under the jurisdiction of the town. So I wanted to get away. I wanted to be independent.
Currie: Can we go back and talk about your dad a little more? He's an interesting character. I'd like to ask some questions about him, and I do want to talk about your family life and about your brothers and sisters, but I think we could talk a little bit more about your mom and dad.
Currie: For example, did your father campaign for these board of selectmen slots?
Montgomery: He didn't seem to need to campaign. He was just automatically voted in. I can't remember that he did much campaigning, but what I do remember is at the end of each year, he would have what they called then a town meeting. He would make a report of the past year. I remember him as an eloquent speaker. When I got up to the age that it seemed I could appreciate this, I sat in the gallery with my mother, the old town hall having a gallery with it, and listened with pride as he reviewed what didn't mean a thing to me. [Laughter.]
Currie: But he sounded good.
Montgomery: It sounded good.
Currie: How would you characterize your father?
Montgomery: My father could best be characterized by what we call the proper Bostonian. He was the prime mover of things within the home and town. In fact, we had a couple for help, and because he didn't want Mother to go into Boston to the agency to hire them, it being eleven miles away, he would do it himself and hire the help.
When he learned that a butler we had had been in the Army, he decided that he would have a gymnasium set up in the basement, and the butler would conduct the class. So there was a gym class in the basement with my father, who was no athlete, my brother, who was certainly no athlete, myself, and my cousin, who adored my father and stood in line for the gym exercises with a sort of air of awe. I can remember, "Position!" and we'd all stand in position, a most unlikely group for the exercises, and go through a certain number of exercises. Then the next morning we'd have it again. But unfortunately, the cook did not live up to the expectations, so after about two months, the class was disbanded and no other one ever had the qualifications to keep on. So I'm sorry that I didn't get a little more vigor put into me in those early days.
However, there was in that basement something else that seemed to have a bearing. My father had gifts of choice wines and liqueurs given him. Not being a drinker himself, nevertheless, these beautiful bottles of liqueur in a lovely glass occasionally one put on the mantle or elsewhere. He had built in the basement a small wine cellar for these wines. They were put in there and locked up. There came a time when through the years there was quite an enviable collection because they always were among the choicest that could be obtained, many of them Italian. The furnace needed to be repaired. My father always had a certain value placed on people that were up early in a business. One morning, he heard something going on in the basement very early. Apparently the help were not around. But as Mother told it, he said, "Oh, Mother, those men deserve to succeed. They're down there now fixing that furnace." So it was with considerable praise for them that he got up and found, to his horror, that they were not there to fix the furnace, but they were there to open the liquor chest. They had walked away with all of his choice liquor, which never was found. So indeed, they did "succeed," as he said.
Currie: What was your father's name?
Montgomery: Charles Norton Taylor. I recall that he put great emphasis on being on time for breakfast, and my brother, who was more or less a sleepyhead, would always come down ten or fifteen minutes late. Even five was as bad as ten, in my father's estimation. He would reprimand him. One day he was exasperated and he said, "You'll never succeed in life, Norman, if you keep on being late to breakfast like this." When I thought that was the easiest way to succeed, I got there a little early. However, it was most unusual that Norman did not get the preference and it seemed, as I recall, that Norman was always right, perhaps because he was the only boy, and I was always wrong. I remember one time being exasperated over this and looking at Norman and saying, "I'll succeed in life. I'll make more of a success in life than you." It was then as I look back I see the beginning of my establishing my rights, despite whoever was against me.
Currie: Norman was the only brother you had. Was he younger or older?
Montgomery: Norman was four years younger than I. I had two sisters, about ten and a eleven and a half years younger.
Currie: So you were the oldest.
Montgomery: And in between those two, there was a boy who only lived a year and a half. So it made quite a gap between my sisters and myself, those ten years. So I was always so much a chapter ahead of them that we never were very close. I'd be away, you know, or I'd be in high school or something. So with those years' difference, there wasn't any closeness between us, nor was there any animosity.
Currie: How did you get along with Norman?
Montgomery: We didn't get along too well. There were the usual sibling quarrels, but less and less as we grew older.
Currie: Your father was a young man when he died at fifty-seven.
Currie: Let me ask you about your mother. How would you characterize her?
Montgomery: Mother was a very attractive, stylish woman, as I remember her. I can't remember whether she was—seems to me she was head of the Women's Association. If not, she was well up in it. She was very beloved in the town. She was always going to some meeting or doing something, you know.
Currie: What was the Women's Association?
Montgomery: In the church, the women's association in the church. The church was the Congregational Church, which dated back to the Pilgrim days, you know, and was a church that each unit governed itself, unlike, for instance, the Presbyterian or the Episco[pal], where there's an overhead to it. But it was the old church of New England. My father was very prominent in the church, and I can remember we went to Sunday services, and then there was Christian Endeavor, and then there was some kind of young people's group. I don't know. There were about three meetings to go to in the church. The minister, named the Reverend William Washburn Sleeper, was well named.
But my father had a very good singing voice, and I didn't. I sat next to my father. My mother sat next to me and then Norman in the pew. I wouldn't sing sometimes, then Father would be nudging me, nudging me. I heard this sermon where the Reverend Sleeper said—[you'd think I made (his name) up, wouldn't you? Laughter.]—that if you wanted a thing badly enough, it would come to you, that you had to believe that with God, all things are possible. So I applied that to myself and I said, "Well, next Sunday I'm going to believe that I have a singing voice and I'm going to sing that way."
We got up with the opening chords and so on, and I started loudly, off tune, and in no way living up to this miracle that I had tried to incorporate in my thinking. My father always gave me a nudge to sing. This time the nudge was a little more pronounced because I was standing up, as everyone was, for the song. Finally, with his nudging, he got me to stop singing. When we got home, he wanted to know what I meant by that performance I put on. But I stood and looked at him and never would say a word. I just stood there and said nothing. I don't know why I did it or what it meant, but never did I explain, as I should have explained to my father, my disappointment. But from that time on, I never had quite the firm belief in religion that I did.
Currie: That's an interesting story because it tells a lot about your character. What was your mother's name?
Montgomery: Her name was Cates.
Currie: That was her maiden name?
Montgomery: Yes, but Cates was my maternal grandparents' name. I've gone back another generation from my mother to the Benson. But as I knew them, it was Cates.
Currie: What was your mother's full name?
Montgomery: It was an odd name. Flavilla. Now, where it came from—there was no foreign background—I don't know.
Currie: She never worked after she married your father?
Montgomery: I'm talking not about my mother; I was talking about my grandmother. No, my mother's name was Myrtle. They called her "Mertie." And that's what irritated me when I came to get my diploma. I had left off my middle name and just put down Gladys Taylor for the diploma.
But this busybody that knew my father, you know, and was head of that compilation of names and so on for the diploma, said, "I don't know why your daughter didn't put down her middle name."
Currie: Was your middle name Myrtle?
Montgomery: Yes. And I hated it. And they call it "Mertie," you see. Mertie. Nobody I knew ever had a name like that, so I just put down—whereupon when I got home, my father said, "Your mother's name is good enough for me, always. And if it isn't good enough for you, then the diploma isn't good enough for you. I won't sign my name to it."
Currie: Let me just turn the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Currie: Let me go back a little bit. What were the politics of your family?
Montgomery: Republican. I never knew anyone in the town that wasn't a Republican. I never knew, until later, that Mother took the car or whatever we had at that time, and collected some of the women that were a little backward about going down and voting, to be sure that they voted Republican. So Republican dominated that part of the country.
Currie: Were they active Republicans? Did they campaign? Did they talk about politics at the dinner table?
Montgomery: No, I can't remember that it was. When they'd have dinners, or when my family had dinners, we children were never a part of it.
Currie: That's interesting. Your parents ate in the dining room and you ate in the kitchen?
Montgomery: Oh, no. Only when they had a dinner party, which wouldn't be but a few times in the year, you know. Any family would do that, I think.
Currie: Sure. My family did that.
Montgomery: Yes. They had some of the leaders in the town, the ones on the Board of Selectmen in the town. I don't believe they had any from the college, because there was no reason to. It was the town. But whenever there was a special event at the college like a speaker, they would be sure to have an invitation for it. But I can't remember, when I was in college, ever having anyone say anything about my father, any reference to him particularly or any favor that I got because I was my father's daughter.
Currie: What was your family dinner table like?
Montgomery: There was a separate dining room with a fireplace at one end. The hallway was octagonal shape and the living room would come off here, the dining room off there, and then there was a music room. Now, my father decided that I would be a pianist. Well, I didn't have the turn that way. So the worse I was, the more he paid for my lessons. Finally, I took lessons from a very noted pianist in Boston, but by the time I finished my freshman year in college, he gave up the idea. I always wanted to take violin. Now, I'm not saying that I would have been better in violin, but it was what I wanted to do. But my sister, the younger sister, got the violin. Don't put this down, but it's very amusing. She got the violin, and after his death, the violin was put away. More recently, four or five years ago, she got out the violin and had it appraised. Well, it came into the antique category, so I think they took it to London. Anyhow, the violin was sold for a great deal more.
My father had a miserable habit. When for just an informal gathering, you know, a couple or two would come in, he'd say, "Now, Gladys, won't you play us a piece?" Now, if there's ever a wrong thing to do! So I would always play the same piece. I don't know if I did it for deviltry or I didn't know any more—"Humoresque." So one day he said, "Will you see if you get something else to play? I can't figure out quite now what that 'Humoresque' has cost me." But he said, "It's cost enough to drop it."
Currie: It sounds like he had very strong ideas about what his children should be doing.
Montgomery: Very strong ideas. When I went for that month to Washington—and you may not want that now.
Currie: I think we can get that later. But when you were a younger child, what were your parents' expectations that you would do with your life?
Montgomery: Well, the expectations were that probably I would marry and would take on some volunteer work in connection with whatever my interest was. If by any chance I wanted to do anything else, it could never be more than teaching. There was no plotting of any career for me at all. In those days, I don't think there was much. If parents were affluent enough, you got into some volunteer work and social life, and that was it. So when I said, at the time of my graduation from college, I wanted to be a reporter and then called it a Washington reporter, that was the most horrifying thing I could have said, because my father had very little liking or trust for any reporter.
Currie: What were the differences in the expectations your parents had for you and your sisters and Norman, your brother?
Montgomery: Norman was taken care of. He was going into business with my father. Marion and Dottie, I really don't know much about because I didn't follow them that closely. Marion eventually married a young lawyer from Rhode Island and they now spend part of the year in Newport and part of it in various resort places, winter places. They lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, where their children grew up. A few years back, they sold the house in New Canaan and kept the one in Newport.
Currie: When did you start thinking about becoming a reporter? Early on?
Montgomery: I started thinking about it when I graduated.
Currie: From college?
Montgomery: From college. I feel that graduation is, in a way, the end of an era and the beginning of another, so you begin to project what you're going to do. I began by thinking I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to teach and I didn't want to do secretarial work, and there were very limited things that a woman or a girl could go into at that time.
Then I thought, "I'd like to do reporting." But I had no experience in reporting. As I defined it further, one of my classmates was going to the Bureau of Standards to work. She turned out to be one of the great scientists of this period. But anyhow, I wanted to do something different. First I wanted to do reporting. Then I thought I wanted to do Washington reporting. But how was I going to do Washington reporting with no experience in reporting? That is where the story begins. Isn't it?
Currie: Yes. That's where you come to Washington. But let's get back a little bit. What were your ambitions when you were a child? Did you have any sense of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Montgomery: No. I think I was more involved with this keeping ahead of my brother in any way I could. Well, it was just a foregone conclusion that I would go to grammar school, I'd go to high school. I'm the only one in the family that didn't go to a private school, Dana Hall or whatnot, Sarah Lawrence or something. All of the others went. I was the only one, however.
Currie: You went to the local public school?
Montgomery: Yes. My brother finally did graduate from Boston College, but he had a tutor that lived in the house some of the time when he had an exam or something. However, I was the only one of the girls that took advantage of a college degree. My father had died a few months before the big Depression, and it was a tremendous loss in the family, because Mother wasn't geared up to know what to do right then.
Currie: What kind of emphasis did your family place on education?
Montgomery: Oh, very much. Very much on education. I can remember Norman going to these private schools. There's one up there in Boston that's quite prominent. Anyhow, he went to the best. He hardly ever lasted the year in all. One time he came back, the report card came back and he had all As except one B+, and my mother said, "Now we've found the ideal place for Norman."
And my father sat there, I can remember, with kind of a half-disapproval on his face. He said, "Tomorrow I'll see that he's removed from that school."
Mother said, "Removed?"
And he said, "Norman is not an A student. They want something. I don't know what, but they're giving him As. That can't be a school of any great scholastic rating." So Norman was pulled out of there because he got the As! [Laughter.]
Currie: That's the only time I've heard of someone being punished for As.
Montgomery: But that was right, wasn't it? Because he didn't know enough to get an A in all these things. The difference between us was that Norman was a very friendly soul in town. They all liked him. He'd stop and remark about the ones, little things in the family and so on. He was very likeable. I would say, "Hello," or make a little quick remark, but he was the one that built up all these friends. I didn't have any that didn't like me, but scarcely did many know me. That was the difference. I was always aiming for a goal. I learned to be ambitious for myself in order to defeat Norman, to begin with. But that became a part of me, so that it dominated my life even to my later years. I always had a goal, but I never was quite sure should it would lead on to some further development, which it did. I mean, I had a goal at a time when women had a very limited opportunity.
Currie: What kind of student were you?
Montgomery: I was a good student. I was not an A all the way through or anything like that, but I passed. The only thing I had a problem with was mathematics. It was not my bent, and then it wasn't just ordinary adding and subtracting, but it was trigonometry and things like that. As I said, I thought they were best unsaid. [Laughter.]
Currie: Did you ever work on the high school newspaper?
Montgomery: I didn't. I don't seem to remember whether we had one. In college, I did write the class song, and I wrote the crew song, never being a member of the crew.
Currie: You mean the rowing crew?
Montgomery: Yes. They had races on the college's Lake Waban. The crew was quite a bit of the college athletic good times. I was not athletic. I never was much different than I am now, in weight.
Currie: In high school, what kinds of activities did you enjoy?
Montgomery: I was head of the speaking group, whatever they called it.
Currie: Would you do debates?
Montgomery: Yes, I'd debate and I'd always say that I could take both sides and win on each side. I was rather good at that, I think.
Currie: Was there anything else you enjoyed in high school?
Montgomery: I don't seem to remember. I just remember going to the high school about a mile from my home and having that little tin box with my lunch in it, which I abhorred. It got not very palatable by the time it had been in the box all morning. But we had no lunch service in the high school.
Currie: Was one difference that your family was more affluent by the time Norman was going to private school?
Montgomery: No. My family was affluent all the time that I can remember. When I was young, of course, we had a maid and we had a nursemaid. Sometimes there were three. They called it a second maid. But I never had a nursemaid. That came in later, probably in my young sisters' time. But I can always remember that there was no emphasis on what I had or what someone else didn't have. We were never pointed out as being rich. My father said, "We're living to the best we can with what we have to give." I was brought up so that now, when a friend of mine was speaking casually the other day about somebody, "Oh, she'll get along all right because she has a million dollars and I guess she uses it carefully. She'll get along all right." I could never think of anything of that proportion, then or now.
No, all I want to say is that I was never brought up with the feeling that we were rich. We had this and we had that. Nor do I ever remember that any point was made of it.
Currie: Did you have any favorite writers when you were a young girl?
Montgomery: I don't seem to remember any.
Currie: How did you decide which college you were going to go to? Was it a big deal for you to go to college?
Montgomery: Well, it was expected that I would go to college, and it was expected, of course, that I would go to Wellesley. When I said to my father, "I don't want to go to Wellesley," he was horrified.
He said, "One of the best in the United States, and then you're not satisfied!"
Well, that didn't make too much of an impression on me. I just said, "I don't want to go to Wellesley. I want to go away."
Currie: Where did you want to go?
Montgomery: I didn't care whether it was Vassar, Barnard, or where. I wanted to get out from being my father's daughter. I didn't want to be stamped. I wanted my own individuality to come out. So a few days later, he said, "Well, Gladys, I've given some thought and I'm going to let you go away to college. You can live in the college dormitories." That was away from my home, about a dozen blocks.
Currie: So the way he was going to let you go away was to live at the Wellesley College dormitories?
Montgomery: Yes. I was okay going to Wellesley, but I could live in the college dormitories at Wellesley, which I did for all my time.
Currie: What did your mother have to say about all this?
Montgomery: My mother wanted me to go where I wanted to go, but she wouldn't fight him too much because she always said, "Well, now, maybe your father's right. We know everyone here and maybe he's right." That's how I happened to go to Wellesley.
Currie: What did you decide to major in?
Montgomery: I majored in history and my minor was English.
Currie: When you started college, did you have any expectations about what you would do after you got out?
Montgomery: Well, we were so busy with what was going on—now, when I went to college, my class was called the war class because a little more than half of my time we were in World War I.
Currie: You went to college in what year?
Montgomery: I graduated in '19, and it was four years. It was the "war class." We busied ourselves with mufflers and socks and all these things that we could knit, which were sent to whatever place they were collected and went to the soldiers. But so far as being a part of the war, that was the part that we had. A number of the traditional events were cancelled, so that the promenade and various things connected with the college events were omitted.
Currie: What was the promenade?
Montgomery: I don't remember that. I just said some of the traditional events were omitted.
Currie: How would you describe Wellesley at the time you attended?
Montgomery: Wellesley always had a top rating scholastically.
Currie: Did you like the other young women who were attending Wellesley with you?
Montgomery: Oh, yes. One of them called me a few days ago, said she was in town, and that she wanted to see me. Yes, I always was looking for what I could do when I got out of college. I was trying to weed out what I might do, but we were too busy with things going on because of graduation, with some of the traditional events taking place. It was at that time that I came upon my goal of Washington reporting.
Currie: After you graduated?
Montgomery: At the time of my graduation, when we were all talking. I went with a group to one of the rooms and each one was telling what she wanted to do, I said, "Oh, something different." One of the girls said, "What do you mean by that?" "Oh," I said, "I'll tell you what I'd like. I'd like reporting." So it started in that little room.
Currie: Had you thought about being a reporter before that?
Montgomery: Yes, I had, but it was so vague in my mind. I thought, "I guess I can't do it." All the negative things were looming up at that time.
Currie: How did you know about reporting as a job?
Montgomery: Well, I don't know. You get the local papers, and a reporter lived in our town that was always reporting things that my father was doing or his projects, and he was always for the betterment of the town or something like that. So she was probably the one that gave me the idea of doing it.
Currie: This was a woman reporter?
Currie: That's interesting. She was a woman reporter in the local Wellesley paper?
Montgomery: No, she was on a Boston paper.
Currie: Do you remember her name?
Montgomery: I don't remember her name. (I think her name was perhaps Eleanor Early, but I'm not sure.) She didn't think I had much choice because I hadn't had any experience, so she really was no great help to me.
Currie: You went to her and said, "How can I become a reporter?"
Montgomery: Well, I don't remember that she featured in it. I do remember that when I graduated, the question was if I wanted to do reporting and I had no visible means then of becoming one. If I wanted to get out of Wellesley, the only quick way to get out was teaching and watch out all the time for ways that I could reach my goal. I went to Norwich Academy (in Norwich, Connecticut), which, in the old days was called the Rose of New England. But the rose had wilted a little when I got there. I was hired to teach history and first-year French. My background in French was a little questionable because most of it had been in high school, where I had had three years. However, having decided that both that town and the high school had a very good rating, I received permission from my father to tutor that summer. Since it was for teaching, which he approved of, I hired the college professor, the best one in the French department. With no way of making money all the summer, with no college classes, she was glad to take it on. I didn't take social engagements. I took nothing. It was an obsession with me to perfect that French with what I had. I sent for the French book that was used—the lesson book—I wrote out every lesson with her help, and followed any further instructions in the book. I lived with French that summer.
That was part of me. If I had a goal, I wouldn't let go of it. Anything that I'd undertaken I would to the best of my ability. With no likelihood that it was going to lead to my goal, I took the teaching job. Because I put so much effort on the French, I made quite a success of it.
But when I got there, I found that the class that I had, the freshmen, were noted for being an unruly group. There was one boy in the group that was especially a leader of the others and especially unruly. In fact, the teacher the year before wouldn't come back because the class made it so miserable for him. So I took over and I started the class by saying that I was going to try a few new things for our class to make it more interesting, "but if you want to get rid of me, you don't want me, I'm not going to fight it. You can do it. But I kind of feel that there must be a number in this class who'd like to be a part of these new ideas of mine." Well, that did it. They decided they'd go along with me. Well, I did various things. One thing, I had the class meet out under the trees one day. But some of the other teachers got wise to that, so I couldn't do it again because they all wanted to be under the trees then. But anyhow, they got to like me, and I had their support. So the class turned in a very good record for the year and I was asked to come back.
Currie: Did you like teaching?
Montgomery: Yes, I liked it.
When I got to Norwich, it was a question of where I'd live. There was a couple quite near the school, kind of an elderly couple, not old, but elderly couple, and they had a room which was vacant. So I took it. But when I got there, I was surprised to find that the wife had a wooden leg and that the husband was intimidated by it. I learned a surprising lesson in my teaching year. I learned that a leg can be more formidable than the voice. With this leg she used to intimidate him. If it went [demonstrates by tapping her well foot slowly on the floor] when I approached, I'd know everything was nice. But if it went [demonstrates by tapping her foot rapidly on the floor], I knew there would be trouble when I got there. The poor husband wilted somewhat. And what should I do? His wife was a very good cook, so I thought, "Well, I'll enjoy this food, and no matter what she does, I'll make the best of it." So I did through the year.
But anyhow, having finished that year, I decided not to return.
Currie: Why did you decide not to return?
Montgomery: Because it wasn't furthering me any in my goal. There was an opportunity to go to what was called the School of Four Seasons that was opening that fall. They had the first season in Princeton, two in Charleston, South Carolina, and the other one, with every likelihood, would be in Washington.
Currie: So it would move around?
Montgomery: They'd move. It was a private school really for the rich, you might say, and it didn't take me long to find out it had no great scholastic rating.
Currie: Let's change the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: So you switched to the School of Four Seasons.
Montgomery: I decided to accept a position at this School of Four Seasons, which was owned by a Washington socialite. She had inherited, with each husband, an estate. That's how she got the Princeton one, and the one in Washington was likely to provide the fourth location.
Currie: I see. That's interesting. Who was the socialite?
Montgomery: I have her name written down. As I recall, it was Mrs. C.C. Calhoun.
Anyhow, before that opened in the summer, I received a letter from Norwich and I was puzzled because it was a black-bordered letter, which I opened. It was from the mother of the boy that became my greatest helper and the one that I had the problem with first. She said, "In all my grief, I turn to you because you had such a good influence over my son. He was drowned this summer in such and such a lake." She said, "I don't know how I can cope with my grief." I have the letter somewhere. "But I do know how much he thought of you and somehow the ones that he thought so much of, I'm sort of turning back to." She said, "Thank you for all you did for him, and I know you will share with me this grief that I am trying to cope with now." So I read it and I thought, "I didn't want to teach. I did the best I could. Whatever he got of me seemed to be carried to a number of the others in the class, and I can't say that my teaching was a failure. I will always look back on it not as a great scholastic achievement, but how it affected one life that could have gone on to other lives when this one ended."
Currie: That's a wonderful memory. How did your parents feel about you dating?
Montgomery: Well, dating, to them, was sitting and eating a bowl of homemade fudge and talking in the music room, which didn't make me that popular, or if it was an event, my father calling for me at ten o'clock, that being as late as anyone my age should be out. I had not so many of what we call "dates" with a steady, but I did have good fun with the ones I knew.
Going back to this school, School of Four Seasons, when I got there, I guess I should have known a little more about it, I was carried away with this Four Seasons, with every indication that the Four Seasons would be held in Washington. I could place my feet for the first time in the city where I wanted to be. I could spend time trying to catch on to the other part of my goal. Anyhow, it became apparent very soon to me that these were wealthy—only about thirty there—young ladies who had no great ambition of learning. The classes opened and to my horror, I found that I was teaching not only English, which was the only subject that I was hired for, but I was teaching history, art, and elocution. I went to the principal and said, "There's some confusion here. I'm supposed to teach English." Her name, by the way, you'll think I make up these names, but her name was Mrs. Wheeler Keeler. [Laughter.] She said, "You were supposed to teach English? Is there any subject there that isn't in the English language? Therefore, you teach them."
Currie: So their standards weren't all that high.
Montgomery: So English was anything in the English language, so it could be history, art, any one of those subjects I mentioned to you. Well, nobody could do that, plus three times a week you were to find ways and means of providing entertainment for the students, either a speaker or whatever would be approved. Well, I could see that I couldn't do that, and I could see that I wouldn't have any rating in the future from having gone there.
I contacted—I think it was the college. I don't know. Or it was some agency. And found that Cranston, Rhode Island, had an unexpected vacancy in the teaching of English in the high school. Cranston had a very high rating as a high school. I applied and got the position. I gave my notice and said that I felt that I could not cover all the subjects that were required. One way and another, she threatened to sue me, but she never got very far with it.
Anyhow, I went to Cranston. I spent a brief time there, but a very happy one in the teaching department, which was well organized and perfect from my standpoint.
Currie: And you taught English?
Montgomery: Taught English. However, a few months after I was there, when everything was going smoothly, my mother sent me, as usual, copies of the Townsman, the town paper, which she also had sent to me in Norwich. When I read it, I got to the "want" department, and there was a call for preferably a young graduate to go to Washington for one month to get material and write a report on a certain economic subject which they would specify. I applied, and lo and behold, I got the job!
Currie: That was how you got into reporting?
Montgomery: Yes, one month only. So I went back to the principal of Cranston and he was a rather nice elderly man, and I said to him, "What would you do if you were in my place and you had this? Yet if I accepted, I would leave this school so that you would have to, for a second time, fill a vacancy and one that's harder to do nearer the end?"
And he looked at me and he said, "You know, Miss Taylor, if I wanted it as badly as I'm sure you want Washington, I'd take it. I'd take it." He said, "I can't save your position for you this year because another month would have gone by then, but I'll guarantee that it will be waiting for you in the fall if you want to take it again."
So I went out with much thanks and with somehow a feeling that I would never come back, and I didn't.
Currie: I think maybe that's a good place to stop for today. It's almost 12:30. We can start fresh next time with how you got to Washington and really got into reporting. That's a good place.
Montgomery: Yes. We were going to take it now to the next step, Washington.
Currie: I think this is a good place to stop for today and we can start with Washington next time. It's almost 12:30.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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