Oral History Interview with Ellen Baumann
Oral History Interview with Ellen Baumann
An interview with Ellen Baumann, Vassar Class of 1963, on May 5th, 2013 about the mini dress she wore for her wedding in November of 1968 and her relationship to Vassar College.
May 5th, 2013,11:00 AM
For Better and For Worse
24 minutes, 37 seconds
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Oral History Item Type Metadata
Alumnae House, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Ellen: It was very small. My father had died a year and a month before the wedding, about a year before my fiance proposed...um...we had been going together for eight years...we knew... we'd known each other since we were thirteen, and we'd lived across the street in the summertime. And he asked me to marry him in October, I think, and I think he was looking forward to a long engagement (laughter), but my brother had been drafted. You know--it was Vietnam, it was 1968--so, I knew my brother was coming home for Thanksgiving, and I wanted him--I had two brothers--and I wanted them both to give me away since my father wasn't there. So we planned our wedding in three weeks. And I remember I chose that very fitted gown because I said to my mother, â€˜I think everyone in town is going to think I'm pregnant and that's why we're rushing, you know, to get married in three weeks!â€™ 0:01:15.0 So, very small. It was...I just had my sister as my matron of honor, tit for tat since I had been her maid of honor, and Greg had his brother as his best man and then my two brothers gave me away. So it was very...I think... we only had about fifty people--I just didn't...I don't...I'm not a fan of huge weddings, spending all that money on everything. And fortunately we didn't have time to plan that anyway, so...And we just went back to my mother's house, which was just a beachy kind of house and had hors d'ouvres and I remember saying to my mother, â€˜I just want to have champagne, everybody can drink.â€™ She said, â€˜You know, not everybody likes champagne, I think we need to have some other things as well.â€™ So we did. And it was just basically relatives and a couple of really good friends. And my Vassar roommate was on her way down from New Haven to come to the wedding and got stuck, I think there was a Long Island Railroad strike that started the night before. Anyway they got stuck in terrible, terrible traffic, and ended up turning around and going back to New Haven, so that was my one big disappointment, but it was just fine. Small and simple and understated. And then we just went into New York for the weekend because I went back. It was Thanksgiving weekend so it was a long weekend...and we...I went back to teaching on Monday. And Greg went back, he was in medical school at the time, so I think we took, it was about a year later, we went out to Montauk Point for five days or something. I just hated making a big deal of everything. My sister had a much bigger wedding. And I thought there were a lot of people there I had never seen before and I've never seen again (laugher), and I thought that she--I don't think she felt that way--but I thought she kind of got lost in the crowd, you know, it was her wedding but it was more of an excuse for a party than a celebration of her, which is what I thought it should be. I think she had a fine time. (Laughter) Yeah, I know you've already talked to her.
Emily: That's great. Where exactly, so you got married in your home town? 0:03:36.3
Ellen: In Point Lookout, New York. Yeah, we, I grew up in Jackson Heights, New York, which is in Queens, near LaGuardia Airport. Are you from...?
Emily: Yeah, I'm from the area so I know LaGuardia and Queens.
Ellen: Okay, and then we always had a summer house in Point Lookout, and by the time, by 1968, even before my father died, he and my mother had started living full time at the beach and, so we got married down there and Greg's family was there too so it was nice, perfect.
Emily: And you said that you'd known each other when you were growing up a little. How long did you know each other before you got married? 0:04:15.7
Ellen: I think we were thirteen, I think he was a freshman in high school and I would have been too. And his family came down to Point Lookout. My father owned the house across the street from our house and he rented it out in the summer. And he had put an ad in a local paper and Greg's father saw the ad and came down to Lookout and I remember Greg went to Xavier High School, which is a Jesuit, and it was a military school at the time and he was in his uniform, so... (Laughter) I fell for this guy in a uniform. 0:04:52.3 And then, you know, they rented that house that summer and then they eventually bought a house on the block across the street from us, so. You know, we went to junior prom together in high school and his was called "the military ball". So it was, well we dated throughout the time I was here and then for about five years after that.
Emily: That's great.
Ellen: We've known each other quite a while.
Emily: So how old were you, were you both, when you got married? 0:05:21.6
Ellen: Um, twenty-six, yes.
Emily: Both of you?
Ellen: Yes. And at that time, I was getting worried. (Laughter)
Emily: Great, um, so, I'm going to move on a little bit. I'll probably have more questions about the wedding later but I can't think of them right at this moment. Where did you buy your wedding dress? It's lovely, by the way. 0:05:42.4
Ellen: It came from Bendel's, in the city. My mother and I went looking, I think we just went one day and we looked, you know we probably looked at Lord & Taylor's and Altman's and um, Bergdorf's, you know, do the whole circuit in the city. And I think we went to Bendel's first and I really liked the dress and then we looked around at a couple of others and I just, you know, the long, and I don't really think there was time to get a long dress unless it fitted me perfectly, and i weighed about a hundred pounds at the time so, fitting me perfectly was actually difficult then. But I just, I liked the simplicity of that.
Emily: Yea, why did you chose the particular dress? You mentioned the simplicity and the... 0:06:30.2
Ellen: Simplicity, it fit me, and I just liked the elongation. And it was fitted so no one would think I was expecting (laughter).
Emily: That's great. Did you identify yourself with the, like, popular fashion culture of the time, do you think? 0:06:46.7
Ellen: Not a whole lot, I mean I had a couple of mini dresses and things, but you know I was teaching in a small independent school and things were pretty conservative. I don't think it was until three or four years later that I got up my nerve to wear a pant suit to work. And I remember the dean of girls, who was also my math teacher during high school, who said to me, she approved of what I was wearing, but she said â€˜You know, some people...um...it's more appropriate for some people on this faculty to wear pant suits than it is for other peopleâ€™ referring to a colleague of mine who was a little heavier (laughter). A little more fashion forward perhaps, than I was.
Emily: So why did you choose to donate the dress? 0:07:41.0
Ellen: It wasn't the kind of dress that any of my grandnieces or nieces would wear, I don't think, and we don't have any children, so... And my sister had spoken to Holly, I think, when MaryLee was up here for some reason and it just seemed like a really perfect place for it to be. You know you don't just want to give it away to Vietnam Vets or something. I'm just really happy to do it. I think I borrowed...yeah...I had borrowed someone's veil, that other person on the faculty who used to wear â€˜inappropriate pant suits,â€™ so she loaned me her veil, so I didn't have a veil to donate, but, I did find the shoes.
Emily: The dress is lovely. So, for how long were the two of you married? Are you still...? 0:08:36.9
Ellen: We're still...
Emily: Still married.
Ellen: It will be...um...I think it's forty-five years this November--1968--is that right? Still 2013. Yeah.
Emily: So at the time of your wedding, how important was it for you to get married? I mean you mentioned that you wanted to get married so soon after the engagement because of, you know, your brother coming back.
Ellen: Right, right.
Emily: But I guess more, how important was it, to you, just the sentiment of marriage, at the time? 0:09:10.4
Ellen: Oh definitely marriage and we, I'm fairly religious and my family and Greg's family certainly were, and, you didn't live together, you didn't, it just wasn't, I mean, I was worried about people talking about the fast, or the short time between my engagement and the wedding, but had we been living together, this would have... And, you know, I think public opinion did matter somewhat. It would have mattered to my employers at the time. You know, I was supposed to be a role model for high school students and that was important.
Emily: Were you teaching where you got married at the time or in New York?
Ellen: I taught, I went to graduate school in Georgetown and I did all my course work form '63 to '64, I went down there right after graduation and I taught in a catholic girls school in Hyattsville, Maryland. Then I came up and taught, starting in September '64 in a school that all my siblings and I had gone to all the way through. So that was neat. I was suddenly a colleague of my own high school teachers. Which I think too put a little pressure on me to be the good girl.
Emily: Has your view of marriage changed at all over the years, do you think? 0:10:38.2
Ellen: Um, my view of marriage? Um, I certainly, I don't feel any, you know, I don't feel critical in any way of people who live together for a while. I think marriage is important, you know, the commitment. 0:10:56.1 And even though now it's not so important for insurance purposes and so on, from my lawyer's point of view, I do think it is a commitment, especially if you're going to have children. But I do know, you know, I have friends who are not married and especially friends who are widows, for example, who just don't want to marry again but who have, you know, a special person in their lives whom they travel with and so on. And that to me is a good thing.
Emily: That's great. So going back to the wedding a little bit, do you remember what your spouse wore to the wedding? What your husband wore? 0:11:35.8
Ellen: He wore a tux. You know, I meant to look at, we do have a wedding album somewhere, that you know, just I put together, and I mean, we didn't have any photographer or, I think we might have bought some hor d'ouvres from a local caterer, but everything was, I just didn't like all the pomp and circumstance, so, we have pictures that were taken by relatives and things, but, he had a tux on. I think just a dinner jacket, actually. And his brother wore the same thing.
Emily: That's great. And you said you didn't have bridesmaids, correct? 0:12:12.2
Ellen: No, just my sister.
Emily: Do you remember what she wore?
Ellen: She wore, I believe, a yellow taffeta dress, which she picked out, you know, I figured, I'm not gonna have her wear, whether she's worn it again or not, I don't know. And I think I wore a yellow taffeta dress at her wedding, that's why I wanted to look back at the pictures, because her wedding pictures are in black and white, so, a little harder to remember. She and my mother and I went dress shopping together for my mother and my sister.
Emily: That's great. So actually, moving on a little bit from your wedding, when I talked to your sister, she told me that you would be the one to ask, because we also, of course, have your mother's dress.
Emily: And I was wondering if you could tell me anything about her dress or her wedding that she might have told you over the years? 0:13:03.6
Ellen: She...her father died...well she was planning her wedding, and her father died a month before she got married. Yeah, and I think they had a fair number of friends and relatives but it wasn't a huge deal, I think they toned it down. One other reason they got married, they went ahead with the wedding was that, they went to Europe for a three month honeymoon and that was all booked and 1929, so, they went ahead with it. 0:13:43.9 I think it was very hard for me to get married a year after my father died and I remember understanding, suddenly understanding how my mother must have felt, a month ahead, because her father died very suddenly. But she was also twenty-six. She worked up here for a couple of years after she graduated as purchasing agent and she worked in the book store. You know, the co op at the time. And she went to New York and she was a...she invested money for, I think, someone else who was a Vassar grad, in...uh...the French building in New York for a while. And then she and my father met through the Catholic club of New York or something. And he was quite a...he was sixteen years older than she, so he very anxious to start a family.
Emily: Do you remember anything about her dress, what she...? 0:14:44.7
Ellen: Yeah...I just...growing up, her wedding portrait was always inâ€¦at the top of the...we lived... Greg and I just sold it. We bought it from my mother right after we got married but...it was an attached row-house in a landmark district in Jackson Heights, and at the top of the stairs going up to the second floor, to the first set of bedrooms, the portrait, the wedding portrait hung. I always thought she had a long dress, for years, until I actually looked at it and I... 0:15:18.9
(Interrupted by her niece) [Audio Gap]
Ellen: She's my older brother's third child. He had five children. My sister had six, so that was (laughter).
Emily: You have a nice family.
Ellen: That was another reason I didn't have...I could have had all these children in my wedding party, but there were a lot of them (laughter). And I have a picture of Melinda and her sister who were about, I don't know, seven and eight, or eight and ten, at the time. They were allowed to come to the ceremony but I didn't want all these children at my reception especially since it was just at home, and the picture of the two of them sitting on a piano bench all dressed up, and they've told me since that they would really have liked to have been more a part of my wedding, but, that's how it goes.
Emily: Anyway.. 0:16:14.1
Ellen: Oh, my mother's dress.
Emily: Yeah, you were telling me about your mother, sorry.
Ellen: I finally realized, I guess maybe I saw it once when my niece was getting married, Lee Hartzell, whose dress you have, in the 70's and I looked much more closely at the portrait and I thought â€˜Ah, it is short.â€™ But that...I remember my mother always saying it was short and she always had a long veil to make it look less short. But then I looked at my dress, you think the twenties and the sixties and the short skirts were similar but her's was much more modest and longer.
Emily: That's lovely though, did she tell you anything about her wedding, about the ceremony that happened? 0:16:57.9
Ellen: Um, she had a lot of very traditional...you know...she had something blue and something borrowed and orange blossoms were a very important symbol, I don't think they are so much anymore, of purity and fertility and I don't know exactly what all they represented but she had orange blossoms in her veil 0:17:23.8 and I think she had them maybe in a little vase, they were either dried or fake by the time I got to see them but she had them there. I just remember orange blossoms.
Emily: That's lovely. Do you know where she got married, or what year? 0:17:39.7
Ellen: They got married in Queens, I believe, I think in Elmhurst, she was born there and my father had grown up in Manhattan, but he was working at the time as an assistant DA in the Queens County DA's office so...you know...Queens kind of became their center, but I'm pretty sure she was married in St. Bartholomew's Church in Elmhurst but I'm not... I have a copy of their wedding invitation somewhere, or it's the engraving from the plate that the printer used. I should look at that.
Emily: That's great. And I guess my last question for you is if you could tell me a little more about yourself? I know you said obviously went to Vassar.
Ellen: Yes (laughter).
Emily: But, sorry, for what years were you there? 0:18:32.8
Ellen: I came here in 1959 and I graduated in '63 and I... my mother had always, I think she did this to MaryLee too, but my mother had many friends on the faculty and in the administration and on a pretty day like this, she would say â€˜Let's just drive to Poughkeepsie,â€™ which was a little longer drive than it is now. And, you know, she was always introducing us to her friends and taking us around the campus and not ever saying â€˜I want you to go hereâ€™ or anything, but obviously (laughter) it was clear. 0:19:13.5 She just had such a wonderful experience here. And she actually, she was, she had a great aunt, an aunt who wanted to send her to Trinity college in Washington and my mother didn't want anyone paying her way and she got herself a Regionâ€™s Scholarship and was able to come to Vassar because of that. She...I got into every school I applied to, which was a lot easier to do in those days, and my father...I got into Manhattanville College, which at the time was very similar to Vassar but Catholic and I sort of had this feeling that I'd never gone to Catholic school, maybe I should, you know, get some religious education. And my father kind of stood by me and I kept saying â€˜I want to go to Manhattanville, I want to...â€™ because I was so afraid I wouldn't get into Vassar and then...but the day I got my acceptance letter, I knew.
Emily: It was done.
Ellen: And I, let's see, and then I went to Georgetown and I taught for about thirteen years and I just decided, I either was going to stay at Garden school forever or I was going to go to law school which I always thought about and so I applied to one place, just tempting the fates, and I got into Fordham. And I was married at the time, and...uh...one interesting note is that I was so afraid that I was gonna not participate in supporting my husband and myself and he got a raise that year of ten thousand dollars, which was what my salary was, so we replaced my salary, and it cost me, at the time it was like three thousand dollars a semester, for law school, so the timing was very good. Anyhow, then I practiced law for thirty years and I think it was around 2004, I was asked if I would be on the nominating committee for the AAVC board and I said â€˜Yes,â€™ and I had a great experience and that was a three year term I think and then I got, I remember we had been in California and came home and the phone was ringing as we came in the door and it was the woman who was chairman of the nominating committee at that time and she asked me if I would be the next chair and I was, how could this be? But I thought about for a few days and I did my due diligence and I said â€˜Yesâ€™ and the eight years I spent on the AAVC board, which just last June was, I think my last, my term ended. It's just so great. There are just so many wonderful Vassar people who are so inspiring and I...it enabled me to really get..and so did the New York Vassar club, but to get to know the men of Vassar, whom, I was not big on Vassar going co ed, but meeting these great people, and now my niece married a Vassar grad and her daughter, who I think you just got her wedding dress?
Ellen: She got married last June.
Emily: I'm actually going to Skype with her next week.
Ellen: Oh good, good, yeah, she's great. Anyway, I hope that answers your question. 0:22:28.1 But Vassar's really an important part of my life, I just, yesterday when we were walking, and somebody was saying â€˜You can't go up to the Founder's Day celebration.â€™ And I said â€˜But I'm an alum!â€™ And they â€˜Oh, okay!â€™ And then I saw [Kathy Bear] and [Kathy Lun] signing people in and it was just so great, just so many great people here, I'mâ€¦ you probably...you look like you've found that to be true.
Emily: Yes, I love it here. It has definitely been the best, one of the best decisions I've made.
Ellen: Yeah, I think my niece's daughter is coming next year, she's on the waiting list at Brown and she's been saying that was her first choice, but, she also said that Vassar was wonderful and she loved it so much, but then she looked at her mother and said â€˜But all of you have already gone there and you've kind of ruined it for me.â€™ (laughter) â€˜It's like your school, not my school.â€™ But I think once she gets here she'll find that. And I'm working on this other one--this little lacrosse player. It's very hard not to pressure. That was the other thing about being on the AAVC board, I had a grand-niece who was here, she graduated in...well my first one graduated in '06 so we got to see each other when I came up for meetings and then the next one graduated in '11, so I got to see them when I came up, and also to get some idea what was going on on campus and what students...So, it's been good.
Emily: That's great. I'm just curious, do you remember what you majored in? 0:24:10.5
Ellen: English. I had almost as many credits in English as in Medieval and Renaissance History, but then I had to...when I had to decide what my thesis was going to be, I chose English, so.
Emily: That's great. Well, that's all the questions I have, unless you have anything else that you would like to share about your...
Ellen: No, I probably shared more than you really wanted to know. (laughter)
Emily: No, no! It was great!
[End of recorded material]