Winifred Asprey interview: Selected quotes

Winifred Asprey

On a separate page: Overview page for this interview

Grace Hopper arrives at Vassar

[B]ut Grace [Murray Hopper] was an extraordinary teacher. And young. She was in her twenties and … had just come from Yale, where she got her Ph.D. And so she had … being a Vassar graduate, Miss Wells had selected her to come back. And she came back, I think it was in the … well, I don’t know, around the early 1930s somewhere.

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 296-299
  • Audio clip [28 seconds] located at 21:20 in full audio of interview

Learning to teach from the master, Miss Wells

[A]nd then I got Miss Wells, I took the complex variables [course]. I was up high enough so I could take some things like that. I took her advanced calculus [course], too. And she was the best teacher I have ever known in my entire life, bar none. And she covered that blackboard in that big window room that looks toward Main there — and this little tiny woman — and just absolutely brilliant explanations. She came in class with her and how she managed — as I thought, I tried to copy her in later years. And I found out another person’s technique does not work; you have to dream up your own. … And when I did come back, I attended every class that she taught when I was free to go to it. Because I wanted to see what she did as a teacher; what she did with the class, rather than what she was teaching. And I had good experiences. Because once I discovered her, I took every class she had run.

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 304-317
  • Audio clip [1 minute 18 seconds] located at 22:02 in full audio of interview

Having dessert first and other pleasures of living with your brother

And one year my chemist brother was taking his degree in Chicago and he got his first job, which is the macaroni expert. Canned macaroni that’s cooked just exactly the right number of seconds. And as a result … he and I were living together one year. And it was marvelous. Neither one of us knew how to cook. And we’d had living through the lush period before, we’d always had maids at the house to do the cooking and being nurse and chores, except Mother was usually there. It was interesting. I remember starting a dinner party, would be cooking beets and didn’t start the beets until the people walked into the house. They didn’t exactly cook. Various little items of that type. But he and I had a great time together. Both of us had always felt — he was a year and a half younger than I — and both of us felt that we never had had dessert at the right time. So that first year, we started our dinners with dessert. So that we could see what it was like to have the thing we loved most of all. And that … we drank very, very lightly. But that was the first time I had ever really had more than one glass of wine, I think. My family offered it always, but I did not like it — I didn’t like the taste or the smell. So … but he and I went and explored Chicago together — it was a gorgeous experience, because with your brother you do not have to think of clever things to say as you would with a date. And, it was just right. We were very used to each other, we both adored fishing, we fished all over the world when we went on trips together.

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 526-543
  • Audio clip [1 minute 54 seconds] located at 37:52 in full audio of interview

NSF workshops and setting a foot in every state of the Union

{Question: Were you doing anything outside of teaching, like during the summers?} Doing everything under the sun I could get my hands on. {Interviewer: For example?} Well, mainly summer school. [indistinct] summer until I came back to Vassar. But after that I traveled all over the world. I went to summer programs and my aim was to visit, at least have my foot in, every state in the Union, which I accomplished quite rapidly. […] They had loads of [summer workshops] that National Science Foundation put on. […] And [participants] ranged from beginning Ph.Ds, which I felt I was the … to outstanding figures in the field. And you lived in a dormitory, at least most of us did. And it was a novel experience. And one of the most valuable things was people got to know your name and you got to know their names, all across the country. And it’s been one of the most useful things I’ve ever done. Because if I … parts of the time, there were few women. If you entered a hall, a lecture hall, in many things, at meetings, everything else, there would probably be, maybe eight women and several hundred men. And every man there knew who you were. Well, this is nice.

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 795-840
  • Audio clip [2 minutes 9 seconds] located at 56:04 in full audio of interview

Convincing the Vassar faculty to get one of the first computers

I was much more concerned about could I ever get Vassar to accept a computer. … Vassar is not mechanical, no sirree! And had it not been for the fact that I was so well known in the faculty, I doubt we ever could have had a computer. Because the faculty, except for the science people, were totally opposed. And they were … nothing to do with computer or liberal arts, it’s just a machine — you know the age. And the … what it was to move faculty. But I was lucky in having strong backing by the president of the college …

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 1111-1122
  • Audio clip [43 seconds] located at 72:44 in full audio of interview

The impact of men at Vassar

{Question: What was the impact of men coming to Vassar after decades of being an all-women’s school in 1970?} Oh, students welcomed it a thousand times … because it meant they didn’t have to worry about being asked away weekends, or asking people up here weekends, and so on. And the faculty I think, for the most part, were ready. Some didn’t want it. But the … they began to find out that women are good at science and know an awful lot about it from courses at the advanced level.

Quote from interview with Winifred Asprey
  • Transcript lines: 1418-1424
  • Audio clip [36 seconds] located at 90:54 in full audio of interview