Alberta Engvall Siegel -- The Early Years
|Excerpts from an interview with Alberta E. Siegel (AES) by Lloyd Borstelmann (LB), at Stanford University on September 15th, 1992.
LB: Let's start by my asking you something about your background in terms of how it might be related to your going into child development.
AES: Well I grew up in Pasadena, in southern California. Pasadena, at that time, was a center of progressive education. It had been influenced by people at the University of Chicago. I can't say who. And one of the signs that they were into progressive education, is that they had what they called a six-four-four-plan. And that meant six years in elementary school. four years in junior high and then four years in junior college. So that the community was supporting fourteen years of public education for the residents. And the significance for me was that, when I got into the eleventh grade I enrolled in a junior college. a four year junior college which was an old institution that had closed during World War II and then reopened in 1946, which was the year I went into the eleventh grade. And it was very exciting, not only because it was a new institution with a new staff and a new student body, but also because the G.I.'s were flooding into the schools that year. And so our junior college had a mature student body And it had a very youthful faculty. Many of the people who taught at the junior college were themselves graduate students at UCLA or Clairmont and were supporting themselves and their families by teaching. So that when I was a junior and senior in high school, I was able to take oh, a year and a half of psychology from high level psychologists. So that by the time I graduated from high school I really wanted to be a psychologist, because I had liked these classes so much. The important one was taught by a man named Ross, Robert Ross, who had previously taught at Stanford. And who gave a very fine course in the classical topics of psychology, perception, learning, sensation, and comparative psychology. It wasn't one of these watered down high school courses; it was a serious psychology course. It compared very favorably to the one I took at Stanford as a freshman. Very favorably. So I knew I wanted to be a psychologist when I entered college. And before I came to college I had another experience that helped to point my direction, and that is I was sent to something in Sacramento that was called "California Girls State" And this was an assembly for a week of girls who came from throughout the state and organized a mock government, with a mock legislature and so forth. And I was elected the Governor of Girls State. So during my senior year, what would have been my senior year in high school, if we had such things, I was invited to come to Sacramento as the Governor of Girls State, to speak to a conference of people that was planning the 1950 White House Conference on children and youth. I didn't of course know anything about White House Conferences on children and youth. By the time I got old enough to go to one, why they had been discontinued. So this was my connection to the White House Conferences. But there were four of us, the Governor of Boy State, and the Governor of Girls State and then I think, the head of the California Junior Red Cross, one male and one female. I think we were the speakers at some luncheon in some hotel. But it was very exciting; Earl Warren was there and I spoke to The Governor.
The Governor came over and shook hands with us and so forth. And I suppose the people who were there were the leaders of voluntary agencies and social agencies and stuff So anyway I gave a very idealistic speech. And afterwards a handsome woman came up to speak to me with her husband. And said that she thought that was a very tine speech, and she wondered if I might give her a copy of it. And she said that she was a child psychologist, and this was Lois Stolz, whom I'd never heard of, but became a great life long friend of mine. And so the way she would tell this story, I responded by saying, "Oh, well I plan to be a psychologist, or I plan to be a child psychologist." And then she said that she taught at Stanford, and I said, "Oh, well I plan to go to Stanford." And I don't think I was quite that persnickety, but that's the way she tells the story. Anyway, so I told her that I hadn't written out the speech, I had just extemporaneously, but I'd be happy to write it out and send it to her, which I did. And she gave me her card. So I sent her this speech and we had a little correspondence. And then I settled down and got my application into Stanford, and was very promptly accepted, maybe you know, just like a week later. And neither of my parents had gone to college so they didn't know that there was anything unusual about that. And I had very good grades and all that. And then I started to realize that my friends who were applying to Stanford had not gotten their acceptances. And so I didn't say much about it. They hadn't heard and they went through the usual channels. But what I learned later was that. Doctor Stolz had come back to Stanford and spoken to the chairman of the psychology.. Doctor Hilgard and said that she had met this young women in Sacramento, and that I had expressed an interest in Stanford, and that she thought I should be encouraged. So he had then sent a note over to the admission's office and the head of the admission's at that time was an historian named Rick Schneider, who has since become a great friend of mine. And so Rick just went ahead and admitted me when the application arrived.
Then when I got to Stanford, intending to be a psychologist, I took the regular courses. And eventually in my third year, I went through my undergraduate program in three years, I took a class from Dr. Stolz. Meanwhile my mother had been saying to me, at regular intervals, "Have you ever gone in to see that nice lady who came up to you in Sacramento'" And I said, "Oh, I've walked by her office a number of times, but she's always so busy and she seems to be so important, and I don't really have anything to say to her." So I enrolled in her class in adolescent development. And in order to get into that class I'd had to take a child development class from Frances Orr and of course general psychology and statistics and there were several prerequisites. So I was a senior before I took the class. And at the end of the first lecture as I was walking out, she stopped me and said, "Have I met you before?" And I blushed, and I said. "Oh, yes Dr. Stolz I met you once in Sacramento", and she said, "Well you're not Alberta Siegel are you?" And I said "Well yes I am." And she said, "Well did you come to Stanford?", and I said "Oh, yes I've been here for three years." So she said. "Well you better come to my office right now," Then I had told her that I had walked by her office many times but, that she'd always seemed so busy. And she said, "Well I always wondered what happened to you." And she like students very much, and spent a lot of time with them. And I hadn't really known any professor at Stanford who was that way. particularly. And so I had just kind of assumed that unless I had business with a professor. I wasn't meant to darken their door. So then we got acquainted with each other. And at that time. I thought I'd be an anthropologist, I had kind of changed my interest. And there was field at that time, that was quite prominent called cultured personality, that was a lot of fun to read, it had developmental aspect to it. But it was more interesting to an undergraduate than child psychology. And you read Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Made and all these people. And they just seemed to have done such wonderful things. And national character was being talked about and I thought that was good too. So anyway. I went to speak to Dr. Keesing, who was the chairman of the Anthropology Department, and asked him if I could do graduate work in anthropology. And he discouraged me. he said that there were these few very well known women anthropologists. but that in general anthropology was a very difficult field for women. And I now think that, that was correct. I think he gave me good advice. I told that story to his son, who is also an anthropologist. and his son was just mortified, to hear that his father had deflected me from ....
LB: He was such a chauvinist.
AES: Yes a sexist chauvinist. But at the time. I think it was right. Yes indeed.
My husband had a brother who was an anthropologist and we got to know a lot of anthropologists in subsequent years and they all have chronic diseases. You know. That they've picked up in the backcountry. And it's not a, it was not a good field for women. Anyway I think he gave me good advice. And I talked to Dr. Stolz about it and she said she thought I should become a child psychologist. And that was a hospitable field for women. That she was then, I suppose, in her 60's, and she said all of her major professors in child psychology had been women, back in the 1920's, at Columbia. And so that's how I ended up in child psychology.
LB: And then she told you that you'd better come to Stanford and work with her, right'
AES: That's right, that's right. And so that's the way it worked out.