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Evan Hazard: Divergence and convergence among Cornell alums

“The New Yorker,” launched in February 1925, is now read nation-wide. My folks subscribed; I became aware of it in the late ‘30s. I first looked only at the cartoons, by then already the best in the nation.

Later, I occasionally read an article but it was not until I became an expatriate Manhattanite that I began to read its front material about goings on in New York City. Since then, it’s always been around the house. Elaine and I subscribed for most of our married life, and I still do.

In the March 11, 2013 New Yorker, in a delightful article ironically entitled “Heavyweight,” I learned something about my years at Cornell, 1947-51. No, I am not mentioned. But, as a big, “mature” senior, ‘50-’51, I may have noticed a five foot ‘54 coed, Ruth, though I doubt that we met. She may have even heard of me, since I was on Student Council and such. If so, I doubt she remembers it.

I had several buddies in the Cornell dorms, from New York City and elsewhere, mostly in the class of ‘51, and mostly from the College of Arts and Sciences, though I was an “Aggie.” Several were from Stuyvesant High, my alma mater. One tall “Arts” student, not from Stuyvesant, was Marshall C. Berger, from Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His even taller roommate, Arnold Neiderbach, was a Stuyvesantian. A Government (Political Science) major, Arnie went on to grad school at Princeton.

Anyway, I graduated in ‘51, did two years in the Air Force, married my 5’7” coed in April ‘52, earned two grad degrees at the University of Michigan, taught biology and honors at BSU from ‘58-’94, and lost Elaine in 2010. You already know most of that.

Marshall also took advanced AFROTC, and we each served in occupied Germany, at different airbases. I transferred to England, but took a leave to Bavaria in April ‘53, and tooled around with him for a day in München before going on for several days in Garmisch. He soon went to law school, perhaps Columbia in New York City, and Elaine and I saw him briefly when we and Kathryn visited Manhattan in ‘80.

Ruth, like Elaine, had met “Mr. Right” at Cornell; Marty was a year ahead of her, as I had been a year ahead of Elaine in ‘48. Unlike Elaine and me, Ruth and Marty both stayed in Ithaca for their full four years, and also unlike us, married right after she graduated in ‘54. He also spent two years in the military, and both went to Harvard Law School. (Sounds a bit like the Clintons, at Yale.)

Ruth spent her third year at Columbia, returning to Harvard for her final year, but the Harvard dean then refused to grant her a degree. Technically, she is a Columbia Law graduate. Would he have done that to a male student?

Back at Princeton, Arnie earned his Political Science M.A., but learned something from his profs about America in mid-century. He could earn a Princeton Ph.D., but there were few, if any jobs for Jews on university faculties. (All named in this essay so far except Elaine, Kathryn and I were Jewish.) So he worked for his father-in-law until he found a job in financial aid at U.C. Berkeley, staying there until retirement.

Marty eventually became an expert tax lawyer at a New York firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges. But Ruth, although she graduated at the top of her class in ‘59, did not get one job offer.

This wasn’t anti-Semitism, it was misogyny. Through the good offices of a favorite Columbia prof, she eventually landed a job with a Manhattan federal judge, and eventually went on to teach at Rutgers Law, in Newark, N.J., and also practiced law.

As I’ve written earlier, Elaine originally meant to become a pediatrician, but switched to nursing for financial reasons.

One advantage to nursing is they are usually willing to hire women. Discrimination, if any, comes later.

The ’60s were years of many advances in civil rights, mostly for racial and ethnic groups, but not so much for women.

Ruth began to focus her legal expertise on that issue. As a lawyer, she even argued cases on gender discrimination before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now she sits on that court as its oldest (and I think wisest) member. And I believe she and I are connected by only three degrees of separation, even though I likely never met her at Cornell.

Ruth Bader married Marty Ginsburg in ‘54, and, after law school, his first job was at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Already a member of that firm, Marshall Berger must have known Marty when he came on board. Evan to Marshall to Marty to Ruth Bader Ginsburg is only three degrees of separation. Not bad.

Like Elaine, Marty is no longer with us. He also died in 2010.

— Evan Hazard is a retired BSU biology professor. He also writes “Northland Stargazing” the fourth Friday of each month.