THE CONFESSIONS OF A COLLEGE PROFESSOR'S WIFE
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
A college professor--as may be proved by any number of novels and
plays--is a quaint, pedantic person, with spectacles and a beard, but
without any passions--except for books. He takes delight in large fat
words, but is utterly indifferent to such things as clothes and
women--except the dowdy one he married when too young to know better....
It is always so interesting to see ourselves as authors see us.
Even more entertaining to us, however, is the shockingly inconsistent
attitude toward academic life maintained by practical people who know
all about real life--meaning the making and spending of money.
One evening soon after I became a college professor's wife I enjoyed the
inestimable privilege of sitting next to one of America's safest and
sanest business men at a dinner party given in his honor by one of the
trustees of the university.
When he began to inform me, with that interesting air of originality
which often accompanies the platitudes of our best citizens, that
college professors were "mere visionary idealists--all academic
theories; no practical knowledge of the world"--and so on, as usual--I
made bold to interrupt:
"Why, in the name of common sense, then, do you send your own sons to
them to be prepared for it! Is such a policy safe? Is it sane? Is it
practical?" And I am afraid I laughed in the great man's face.
He only blinked and said "Humph!" in a thoroughly businesslike manner;
but throughout the rest of the evening he viewed me askance, as though I
had become a dangerous theorist too--by marriage. So I turned my back on
him and wondered why such a large and brilliant dinner was given for
such a dull and uninteresting Philistine!
This shows, by the way, how young and ignorant I was. The mystery was
explained next day, when it was intimated to me that I had made what is
sometimes called, even in refined college circles, a break. Young
professors' wives were not expected to trifle with visitors of such
eminent solvency; but I had frequently heard the materialistic
tendencies of the age condemned in public, and had not been warned in
private that we were all supposed to do our best to work this
materialist for a million, with which to keep up the fight against
In the cloistered seclusion of our universities, dedicated to high
ideals, more deference is shown to the masters of high finance than to
the masters of other arts--let me add not because Mammon is worshiped,
but because he is needed for building cloisters.
The search for truth would be far more congenial than the search for
wealth; but, so long as our old-fashioned institutions remain, like
old-fashioned females, dependent for their very existence on the bounty
of personal favor, devious methods must be employed for coaxing and
wheedling money out of those who control it--and therefore the truth.
I was a slender bride and had a fresh, becoming trousseau. He was a
heavy-jowled banker and had many millions. I was supposed to ply what
feminine arts I could command for the highly moral purpose of obtaining
his dollars, to be used in destroying his ideals.
Well, that was the first and last time I was ever so employed. Despite
the conscientious flattery of the others he gruntingly refused to give a
penny. And--who knows--perhaps I was in part responsible for the loss of
a million! A dreadful preface to my career as a college professor's
However, before pursuing my personal confessions, I must not overlook
the most common and comic characteristic of the college professor we all
know and love in fiction. I refer to his picturesque absent-mindedness.
I had almost forgotten that; possibly I have become absent-minded by
marriage too! Is not the dear old fellow always absent-minded on the
stage? Invariably and most deliriously! Just how he manages to remain on
the Faculty when absent-minded is never explained on the program; and it
often perplexes us who are behind the scenes.
I tell my husband that, in our case, I, as the dowdy and devoted wife,
am supposed to interrupt his dreams--they always have dreams--remove his
untidy dressing gown--they always wear dressing gowns--and dispatch him
to the classroom with a kiss and a coat; but how about that great and
growing proportion of his colleagues who, for reasons to be stated, are
wifeless and presumably helpless?
Being only a woman, I cannot explain how bachelors retain their
positions; but I shall venture to assert that no business in the
world--not even the army and navy--is conducted on a more ruthless and
inexorable schedule than the business of teaching.
My two brothers drift into their office at any time between nine and ten
in the morning and yet control a fairly successful commercial
enterprise; whereas, if my husband arrived at his eight-o'clock
classroom only one minute late there would be no class there to teach.
For it is an unwritten law among our engaging young friends the
undergraduates that when the "prof" is not on hand before the bell stops
ringing they can "cut"--thus avoiding what they were sent to college for
and achieving one of the pleasantest triumphs of a university course.
My confessions! Dear me! What have I, a college professor's wife, to
confess? At least three things:
1--That I love my husband so well that I wish I had never married
2--That I have been such a good wife that he does not know he ought
never to have had one.
3--That if I had to do it all over again I would do the same thing
all over again! This is indeed a confession, though whether it be of
weakness of will or strength of faith you may decide if you read the
The first time I saw the man who became my husband was at the Casino in
Newport. And what was a poor professor doing at Newport? He was not a
professor--he was a prince; a proud prince of the most royal realm of
sport. Carl, as some of you might recall if that were his real name, had
been the intercollegiate tennis champion a few years before, and now,
with the kings of the court, had come to try his luck in the annual
national tournament. He lasted until the finals this time and then was
put out. That was as high as he ever got in the game.
Alas for the romance of love at first sight! He paid not the slightest
attention to me, though he sat beside me for ten minutes; for, despite
his defeat, he was as enthusiastically absorbed in the runner-up and the
dashing defender of the title as--well, as the splendid sportsman I have
since found him to be in disappointments far more grim.
As for me, I fear I hardly noticed him either, except to remark that he
was very good-looking; for this was my first visit to Newport--the last
too--and the pageantry of wealth and fashion was bewilderingly
interesting to me. I was quite young then. I am older now. But such
unintellectual exhibitions might, I fancy, still interest me--a
shocking confession for a college professor's wife!
I did not see Carl again for two years, and then it was in another kind
of pageant, amid pomp and circumstance of such a different sort; and,
instead of white flannel trousers, he now wore a black silk gown. It had
large flowing sleeves and a hood of loud colors hanging down behind; and
he was blandly marching along in the academic procession at the
inaugural ceremonies of the new president of the university.
I wonder why it is that when the stronger sex wishes to appear
particularly dignified and impressive, as on the bench or in the pulpit,
it likes to don female attire! No matter whether suffragists or
antis--they all do it. Now some of these paraders seemed as embarrassed
by their skirts as the weaker sex would be without them; but the way
Carl wore his new honors and his new doctor's hood attracted my
attention and held it. He seemed quite aware of the ridiculous aspect of
an awkward squad of pedagogues paraded like chorus girls before an
audience invited to watch the display; but, also, he actually enjoyed
the comedy of it--and that is a distinction when you are an actor in the
comedy! His quietly derisive strut altogether fascinated me. "Hurrah!
Aren't we fine!" he seemed to say.
As the long, self-conscious procession passed where I sat, smiling and
unnoticed, he suddenly looked up. His veiled twinkle happened to meet my
gaze. It passed over me, instantly returned and rested on ray eyes for
almost a second. Such a wonderful second for little me!... Not a gleam
of recollection. He had quite forgotten that our names had once been
pronounced to each other; but in that flashing instant he recognized, as
I did, that we two knew each other better than anyone else in the whole