LU Lone Arranger

"Lone arranger" is archivist-speak for someone who works as a solo professional, rather than as a member of a large team of archivists (a generalist rather than a specialist). In this weblog I will share announcements, responses to reference questions that have come my way, and some of my previously unpublished writings relating to Lincoln University and its Archives and Special Collections, located in The Langston Hughes Memorial Library of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.

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I was the Special Collections Librarian in Lincoln University of PA’s Langston Hughes Memorial Library from August 15 2005 - August 12, 2010, having served as Archivist Assistant in the same department prior to that, starting in 2000. My advanced degrees are an M.L.I.S. (Master of Library and Information Sciences) from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. (history) from West Chester University (PA), and I am a Certified Archivist (by ACA, The Academy of Certified Archivists). My undergraduate major (Bryn Mawr College) was anthropology.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Lincoln University's First Alumna, Ruth Fales

Virtually forgotten among her many illustrious graduates is Lincoln University’s first alumna, Ruth Wolfgard Fales, who graduated in 1953. Who was Ruth Fales, and how did she happen to become Lincoln University’s first alumna? Her story is fascinating in its own right and sheds some light on a closed chapter of Lincoln University’s history.

According to her application for admission, Fales was born Ruth Wolfgard Ilgner in Berlin, Germany on April 5, 1915. Her son Evan reports that in 1938 or early 1939 she and her husband, Walter Fales, fled Nazi Germany, via Switzerland, ending up in Italy in 1939. They managed to reach the United States by the end of 1939, starting out their life here as a maid-butler team in New England. Walter Fales had been an eminent scholar and professor in Germany, and, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, he was able to re-establish an academic career in this country.

In 1946 Dr. Fales accepted a position as Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lincoln University and moved to the campus with Ruth and their two young children, Evan, two and Corinna, one.

Four years later, in 1950/51, Ruth Fales enrolled in classes at Lincoln University. She was one of at least four women students enrolled at Lincoln that year. Perhaps because she was a faculty wife she does not appear in the 1950/51 catalogue, but three other women, all with local addresses, are listed as “Special Students” (this was the first catalogue in which women students appeared). Fales, however, had a head start over the other three, for her transcript shows that Lincoln University accepted 104 transfer credits for courses that she had completed in Germany prior to fleeing the Nazis. Over the course of 1950/51 and 1951/52, Fales completed an additional 15 credits at Lincoln, as well as 6 credits at the Parsons School of Design summer school. In fact, by February 1952 she had earned enough credits to graduate. The faculty recommended her to the Board of Trustees, to receive a bachelor’s degree at the 1952 Commencement.

Ruth Fales’ career goal was to become a teacher, and it was in her pursuit of teaching certification from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that her path toward receiving a B.A. hit a snag. Responding to a letter that she wrote to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Instruction requesting a certificate to teach elementary school in Pennsylvania, the Director of Teacher Education and Certification wrote to Lincoln University President Horace Mann Bond, declaring that, under Lincoln University’s current charter, which limited the institution to “the education of persons of the male sex,” the University’s ability to grant Ruth Fales a degree was in question.

The existing charter also restricted Lincoln University’s enrollment to “colored” youth, and while President Bond recognized that this had never prevented the institution from educating and granting degrees to young white men, the university decided that the most prudent course would be to eliminate both racial and gender restrictions from the charter, and to hold off awarding Ruth Fales her degree until this change had been accomplished. Thus Ruth Fales did not receive her degree until 1953, more than a year after she had completed all her coursework. Meanwhile, her husband had become ill with cancer. By the Spring Semester of 1953 Dr. Fales was unable to teach his classes, and he died in April, 1953, shortly after learning that his wife would be able to receive her degree at the upcoming Commencement in June.

Little fanfare accompanied this milestone in Lincoln University’s history. For one thing, the university had not yet made a commitment to full coeducation. The charter change, although it was apparently initiated in order to accommodate women students – specifically Ruth Fales – was not publicized as having that goal.

Rather, the publicity it received emphasized the goal of transforming Lincoln University into a racially integrated institution, “…where men from everywhere in the world may come, who wish to learn, and to practise, the art and science and faith of the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God.” This plan for transformation, known as Lincoln University’s “New Program,” was a response to recent Civil Rights laws, which the Board of Trustees believed would obviate Lincoln’s mission to educate Blacks (just as emancipation had resulted in the transformation of Ashmun Institute as a seminary to educate free Blacks as missionaries for the Colonization Movement into Lincoln University as an institution to educate the newly freed slaves for professions in this country). Strikingly absent from the New Program was any reference to women.

Yet within a decade Lincoln University had become fully committed to coeducation, making plans to house women on campus. The goal of full racial integration of the student body, on the other hand, faded, as the Black Power movement emerged in the 1960s and 70s and with it a revived perception of the value of an institution primarily for Blacks.

Meanwhile, after her husband’s death and her graduation from Lincoln University, Ruth Fales quietly forged on with her life. No longer eligible for campus housing, she moved off-campus with her children to the nearby Lincoln Village, where she lived for many years. She pursued a graduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and received a Master’s degree in 1960. That same year she became the teacher of the London Grove Friends Meeting Kindergarten, where she taught until her retirement in the early 1980s. Over the years I have met many of her former students who remember her with great affection. She built a house in University Heights, the private development where a number of faculty members bought homes in the 1960s and 70s and lived there until health problems forced her to move into the Friends Home in Kennett Square. Through the years she maintained a connection with Lincoln University, attending concerts, lectures and recitals and participating in the Lincoln Community Players.

In her last years Ruth Fales lived in a nursing home near her son Evan’s home in Iowa, robbed by Alzheimer’s Disease of her intellect, but not her joie de vivre. She passed away peacefully on January 17, 2004 at the age of 88.


Blogger JABELLSR said...

Susan-That was an amazing story of the history of Lincoln's first alumna.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Evan Fales said...

Susan - Thanks, belatedly, for this lovely account. I have recently learned of one factual error in the information I provided you. My parents did not leave Italy (by boat) until sometime around the end of Jan. 1940, arriving in NYC in mid-Feb. of that year. My understanding is that this was the next to last boat leaving Italy for the US before Mussolini declared war and shut down all traffic to this country.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Logan J. Skew said...

Fantastic blog, I love reading it, thanks

Off Campus Housing in US

11:12 PM  
Blogger Jessea Gabbin said...

Thank you for this article. Mrs. Fales was my kindergarten teacher at London Grove. Of all the teachers I had throughout the years, she was hands-down the MOST influential. It was NOT until about 4 months ago that I even knew of her historic connection to Lincoln University. To me, she was 'simply Mrs. Fales' a woman who taught me how to appreciate nature and understand nurture. Unassuming, humble, and yet passionate about teaching and influencing the lives of young people. I adored her, still do. Her story IS fascinating and I am forever grateful for letting me/us in on HERstory. Thank you, Mrs. Fales.

8:03 AM  

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