JANET CARPENTER AS I KNEW HER
Tom Fuhr, ’40
In the fall of 1936, I enrolled at Hastings College and was assigned to a class in freshman composition with Janet Carpenter.
I registered for this class because I was not given another choice. I had graduated from Hastings High School the previous spring determined never to take another English class. The reasons for this decision are somewhat dim now, but I remember that I had had enough of this academic discipline. It did not occur to me that I would not be able to matriculate in a liberal arts college without taking a number of required courses in English.
I was quite aware of the esteem in which Janet Carpenter was held at the College, although I cannot remember ever visiting with her personally on the campus. The classes with which I began my college career were largely prearranged for me, and three times weekly I joined thirty other freshmen in Miss Carpenter’s class.
As I mentioned, the emphasis was on composition. Each day we were assigned a topic on which we were to write a brief paper to be turned in at the next session. Each time, a few students were called upon to read the themes which they had submitted the previous time. I do not remember ever having been invited to read any of my themes.
As I recall, I received a number of grades of “B” on my papers. I came across some of these themes a few years ago in a box of college mementos. I was appalled. Had I been teaching the class, I would have given these papers a grade of “D-minus.” But the chief drawback to these compositions was the absence of any evidence of imagination.
Miss Carpenter usually assigned the topics on which we were to write. Perhaps I did not warm to the subjects which she selected. But at least once during the course, she permitted us to select our own topic. I selected “Women Drivers.” This was an audacious choice considering the sex of the instructor. However, she was gracious about the matter just as she had been generous in grading my papers. This theme drew the only “A” grade that I received during the semester. Perhaps the topic so enlivened me that I rose above my usual lethargy to comment on a subject about which I had a real interest. After all, I had received my own license to drive a car just two years before. I was very grateful for that “A” and only years later have I come to realize how munificent Miss Carpenter was in grading all those other dull papers.
During the semester, she invited each student individually to her office for a brief visit. When I arrived, I remember she said to me, “I am so glad to have you in my class. Your father and I are now senior members of the faculty, and I have always greatly admired his work in the field of music. He has been an inspiration to so many of us. But you know, Mr. Fuhr, you will never be a writer.”
I took just one other course with Miss Carpenter while at Hastings College, a class on the poetry of Robert Browning. Perhaps his words somehow apply to me.
“What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me.”
Before I close, I think I should point out that I went on to major in English at Hastings College.