Students Save a Seat for Women in History

Lilley Library art exhibit invites remarkable women to the table

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

This quote by author Virginia Woolf sums up the invisibility of women in the collective history of the world. Overshadowed by the accomplishments of men, few females have made it into the history books. And, yet, women have made their presence known in every aspect of human existence from art to banking to the military to the board room and beyond.

In 1979, feminist artist Judy Chicago gave thirty-nine women a seat at the table in her masterwork “The Dinner Party,” a giant sculpture that imagines famous women from myth and history engaged in conversation.

The installation art, which took more than five years to produce, is composed of thirty-nine ornate place settings on a triangular table with thirteen plates on each side. An additional 999 women’s names are written in gold on the floor. The piece toured the world, gaining an audience of millions; it is now on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum.

Closer to home, you’ll find another dinner party happening in the John M. Lilley Library.

Students in last spring’s WMNST 106 Representations of Women in Literature, Art, and Culture taught by Dr. Sarah Whitney, assistant teaching professor of English and women’s studies, painted plates to honor a women from a wide variety of backgrounds. The students’ work is on display in the gallery space near the entrance to the library.

“For this project, students researched a woman of their choice who made significant contributions,” Whitney said. “They designed and painted on china as Judy Chicago did, using color and shape creatively to demonstrate the chosen figure’s importance. Students also wrote a reflection paper exploring their figure’s historical, and personal, impact on the artist.”

Some of the plates honor women you might expect, such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author Maya Angelou, and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.

Others are more surprising.

Molly Boniger, a junior English major, chose to honor Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

“The purpose of ‘The Dinner Party’ was to recognize women who history had forgotten and I wanted someone who was unconventional, even by today’s standards,” Boniger said. “Pavlichenko has an incredible story. She is a young woman from a Ukrainian village who became the Soviet Union’s greatest sniper during World War II. She showed that woman can be hard and strong, and they don’t have to be the delicate, soft things that society would prefer we be.”

Boniger is an aspiring screenwriter who took WMNST 106 to learn what she suspected she was missing.

“The class was amazing,” Boniger said. “I could not believe the amount of exposure I received and just how much women’s contributions to art and culture have been excluded from the narrative we’ve all been taught.”

Whitney was pleased with the range of women and topics that students picked.

“The plates reflect a diversity of choices, which is wonderful,” Whitney said. “I especially enjoyed learning about new women from our international students whose choices spanned the globe. Furthermore, some students chose mythical or fictional figures, such as Shakti, which were also quite enlightening.”

Among the women represented are: Coco Chanel, Cleopatra, Julie Andrews, Lynsey Addario, Ellen DeGeneres, Chihiro Ogino, Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson, Pasang Lhamu, Athena, Amy Winehouse, Billie Jean King, Marilyn Monroe, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, and Janis Joplin.

Not all of the plates honor people.

Junior biology major Caitlin Kent, chose to celebrate the essence of womanhood and give a nod to her future career as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

“I painted a uterus as the center of the universe to represent a feminine divine force or a female creator,” Kent said. “All life stems from women. On my plate, one ovary is painted as the sun and one as the Earth to center the uterus as the birthplace of the universe.”

The plates are simple porcelain and students used a china paint, just like Judy Chicago, to adorn them.

“Using hands-on materials to make historical events come alive is a key part of my teaching practice in general,” Whitney said. “I think using manipulatives is particularly important in studying ‘Dinner Party’ both because it is a visceral, intense piece, and because Chicago was intentional about using traditional women’s art practices, like china painting and embroidery, to honor forgotten female artists. By doing it, you sort of experience Chicago’s process.”

Kent and Boniger gave the project, and the entire course, high marks.

“I think WMNST 106 is a class that all people can benefit from,” Boniger said. “These women’s histories are all of our histories. The class covers such a range of subjects, I can guarantee that any student taking it will learn something new, and enjoy doing so. It’s about time we start bringing women into the conversation and including them in the history they have helped create.”

“My Dinner Party” will be on exhibit in the Lilley Library until October 26. Whitney would like to acknowledge the help of the Lilley librarians, and Scott Rispin, assistant teaching professor of art, who helped to assemble the display.

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Women in History Month: Meet Mary Behrend

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to introduce you to some interesting women in Penn State Behrend’s history.  Our college has a rich history filled with strong, intelligent, and generous women, from Mary Behrend, who donated her Glenhill estate to establish the campus, to Dorothy Holmstrom, the first student (and an engineering student, at that) to enroll in 1948. Each Monday in March, we’ll highlight a woman who has made, or is currently making, her mark on the college.

Today, we’d like you to meet Mary Behrend, the “mother” of Penn State Behrend.

 
 LR Mary Behrend

The butterfly effect and Penn State Behrend

Most of us are familiar with the butterfly effect, the phenomenon whereby a small change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, but do you ever think about how it comes into play in your own life?

Case in point: Were it not for the tragic and untimely death of Ernst and Mary Behrend’s 20-year-old son, Warren, who died in a car accident in December 1929, Penn State Behrend would probably not exist and tens of thousands of people would not have earned degrees and gone on to change, improve, and enhance the world around them.

Warren died a hero. He and a friend were headed south on Christmas break when a bus full of school children cut in front of them in Pleasant Hill, North Carolina. Warren swerved off the road to avoid a collision. He was killed instantly. His passenger lived and no one on the bus was injured.

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Warren Behrend (source: Behrend Remembered)

Had Warren survived, it’s unlikely his mother would have donated his family’s country estate – Glenhill farmhouse — and the 400 acres surrounding it to Penn State.

In his book Behrend Remembered, author Benjamin Lane, associate professor of English and dean of Student Affairs emeritus, explains, “With Ernst Behrend’s death in 1940 a decade came to an end in which events had conspired to extinguish the legacy of his family name. His only son had died in 1929. One of his brothers had committed suicide a few years later, and the other had no children.”

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Ernst Behrend

It would seem that the Behrend name would be extinguished, but in the spring of 1948 Mary encountered two men from Penn State who had come to Erie to search for a place to establish an extension campus.

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Glenhill Farmhouse

A lasting legacy

With her daughter Harriet grown and married and her husband and son deceased, Mary had been thinking that it may be time to sell the farm. On a stop by Glenhill on her way back from a trip to California, Mary noticed two men walking near the swimming pool. Ever the gracious host, she went out to greet the men. She gave them a tour of the farm and was happy to learn that they were interested in acquiring the property to establish a center for higher education.

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Harriet Behrend and her beloved dog, Bruno

A few days later, after discussing it with her daughter, Harriet, Mary decided to donate the property to the college, saying “I think this is something that would be a wonderful memorial to Father—something he almost could have planned himself. I think I should give it all to the college.”

And, in that gift, the Behrend name will live on forever.

Dedication of Behrend Center, October, 1948

Dedication in 1948

At the dedication of what was then known as the Behrend Center on October 30, 1948, (photo above) Mary said “Looking back over the years, I know I was able to make two important and very right decisions. The first was in 1907 when I consented to marry Ernst Behrend. The second decision…was to make this outright gift to the Pennsylvania State College of Glenhill Farm as a memorial to my husband.”

It’s a fitting tribute to Ernst Behrend who, along with his father and brothers, Bernard and Otto, founded Hammermill Paper Company, an innovative and respected leader in the paper industry for nearly 100 years, in Erie.
According to Behrend Remembered, for many years Mary visited the college annually to meet with administrators and board members as well as students. She took pleasure in chatting with students individually and took genuine interest in them.

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As the school grew, it became impossible for Mary to speak with each and every student, but she tried to meet as many as she could before addressing a mass audience, which it was said she did with true affection, like any proud mother would.

About Mary (Brownell) Behrend 1879-1976

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Family: Husband, Ernst (1869-1940); son, Warren (1909-1929); daughter, Harriet (1911-1986)

Nickname: Molly

Hobbies: Playing the harp, painting, horseback riding, gardening, and throwing dinner parties.
Well-traveled campus: Mary and Ernst loved world travel and would often bring back a tree as a sort of living souvenir. Their journeys are the reason that Penn State Behrend has a unique collection of exotic trees and is a recognized member of the American Public Gardens Association.

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Monument to Warren: The Behrends erected a monument by the side of  the highway in North Carolina to mark the spot where their son had died. Years later, when the state decided to widen the road, the monument was moved to Erie. It now stands before the entrance to the Behrend chapel in Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery.

Hanging of the Greens: Each December following Ernst Behrend’s death in 1940, Mary would have a wreath of Christmas greens cut and placed on the door of the Behrend chapel in Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery. In 1948, T. Reed Ferguson, administrative head of the new Behrend Center, decided to continue this practice as a sign of thankfulness and respect to the Behrend family. Every year since then, a brief informal service led by Behrend administrators and students has been held in the chapel. It’s the college’s oldest tradition.

A Memorial for Mary

After attending the Hanging of the Greens ceremony in 2012, a group of student leaders led a campaign to create a memorial on campus befitting Mary Behrend.

“A bunch of us got together and brainstormed ideas” said D.J. King, a senior Marketing major. “We wanted to do something prominent and eventually settled on the idea of a monument.”

The memorial—to be located next to the Studio Theatre, across from Glenhill Farmhouse—includes a monument in a plaza of engraved pavers. At least 500 pavers must be sold to begin construction. Learn how you can buy a paver and leave a permanent mark on campus here.

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Story behind the Hanging of the Greens (the college’s oldest tradition)

Hanging the Greens

By Robb Frederick
Public Information Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

In December 1948 – just two months after the dedication of what was then called the Behrend Center – T. Reed Ferguson, the administrator of the new campus, placed a wreath on the doors of a small chapel in Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery.

That was a favor to Mary Behrend, who had donated her family’s Erie farm property to Penn State. She had moved to Connecticut and was unable to visit the chapel, as she had in years past. She asked Ferguson to hang the wreath in honor of her husband and son, who were interred inside.

Every year since, a small group of students, faculty members, staff and alumni has returned to the chapel. Holding candles, they sing Christmas carols and give thanks to the family that made Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, possible.

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This year’s program will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6. Shuttle service will be offered from the Reed Union Building.

“It’s a very different feeling, when you gather in there,” said Ken Miller, senior director for campus planning and student affairs. “You’re singing Christmas carols. Everybody’s holding a candle. It’s special.”

Singing

The program honors Ernst and Mary Behrend, whose 400-acre farm property is now a four-year college with 4,350 students. It also pays tribute to their son Warren, who died on Dec. 19, 1929, while driving to South Carolina for a family holiday. He had swerved to avoid a school bus, which a 16-year-old student was driving.

No one on the bus was hurt.

Warren’s death devastated the Behrends. “They say Ernst never got over it,” Miller said.

Mary Behrend spent less time at the farm, choosing instead to live at the family’s home in Connecticut. In the spring of 1948, while returning from a cross-country trip, she stopped at the property. From a window, she noticed two men walking. She went out to talk and learned they were scouting land for a new Penn State campus. Within six months, they would have it.

Entering the chapel