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Lois Fern

Oral History Interview with Lois Fern, undertaken by Veronica Koven-Matasy at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows Building) on August 10, 2010. At Dumbarton Oaks, Lois Fern was Editorial Associate in the Garden and Landscape Architecture (now Garden and Landscape) Studies program.

VKM: My name is Veronica Koven-Matay and it is August 10th 2010, and I am here at the Guest House of Dumbarton Oaks to interview Lois Fern about her time at Dumbarton Oaks. According to our records you were hired as an editorial consultant for garden and landscape studies at the end of 1978 – beginning of 1979. Is that about right?

LF: Yes, that is about right.

VKM: What was your background in garden and landscape?

LF: My background in garden and landscape was practically non-existent. I had never lived anywhere that had a garden, and I loved a beautiful garden when I saw one. But I had never studied gardening. My background was as a reference librarian. I had done my undergraduate work in General Studies at the University of Chicago, taken a master’s degree in library science, and I worked as a reference librarian at the University of Chicago until 1961, when we moved to Washington. And then I worked again in a very general collection at the U.S. Information Agency, which in those days – it no longer exists, it’s been folded into the State Department – but it’s job was essentially to do public relations for the United States worldwide. We ran the Voice of America. We had a large publishing collection – publishing operation rather – that we distributed materials very, very widely. And the library here was a backup. It was like a good small university library, or maybe more like a college library with a very up-to-date collection – we collected newspaper clippings daily that would prepare us to answer questions from abroad and publish things about the states that people wanted to know. I did that for about ten years. But in work as a librarian, you begin to understand the importance of little things that most people ignore, like punctuation and consistency in bibliographic citation. And when I – well, things changed at the U.S. Information Agency during the Vietnam War and it became less interesting to me. I had a background – I’d done some editorial work at the University of Chicago for the press there, and my husband was traveling a lot. I just decided I didn’t want to go to an office five days a week. And so I stopped my library work in the ‘60s and started doing copyediting, and that’s what brought me to Dumbarton Oaks.

VKM: So, how did you first become aware of Dumbarton Oaks?

LF: Well, I – we had a good friend named Bates Lowry. I should go back. You can’t live in Washington and not be aware of Dumbarton Oaks. My husband and I had subscribed to the concerts; I had walked frequently in the gardens here. It was a gorgeous place and a place I was drawn back to. But in 1977, a friend of ours named Bates Lowry, who was an architectural historian, came here. He had a project at that time; he and his wife were doing some publishing of microfiche in American art and architecture. He subsequently became very interested in the preservation at the Pension Building downtown, which today is the Building Museum, and he ultimately became the first director and really organizer of the Building Museum. But I think in ’77 he was still working at something called the Dunlap Society. Anyway, he was an old college friend of my husband’s. They moved down here, and I can’t remember at this point whether that was about the time that Betty MacDougall came to Dumbarton Oaks, or whether she was already here.

VKM: I think she started around ’72, so –

LF: Okay, then she was here. But, Bates knew her. They were good friends. And through Bates Lowry, I met Betty MacDougall. My husband and I met her, and we became friendly. And she knew what I was doing. I had at that point just finished five years editing the rare book catalogue of the Lessing Rosenwald Rare Book Collection for the Library of Congress, which was a very demanding assignment. But I had finished it, I’d finished the indexes, I’d done the bibliography, it was at press, and I was looking for other assignments. Betty was about to reissue a symposium on Persian gardens that had been held here, I guess in the early ‘60s. And I think it was out of print. She wanted to have it reprinted, and she hired me to do that job.

VKM: So, you had already seen Dumbarton Oaks before you came to work here. So when you first saw Dumbarton Oaks, or visited, what were your initial impressions of it?

LF: Oh, I was awed. It was very very beautiful and it was – well, one of the joys of having this assignment was that I got into the gardens when they were not necessarily open, and I could wander at leisure. I was – as I recall – I wasn’t working by the hour, so I had time to take breaks and enjoy the gardens, and I had met Mrs. Bliss once.

VKM: Really?

LF: Yes, she was an old lady, but when we first interned – ’61 – she was still on the scene, and not that I had any long conversation with her, but it was kind of fun to be in her home and see what she had created. At that time – and at this point I don’t know to what extent things have changed – but the garden operation, the garden library, and the exhibition space for the rare book collection were all right here, sort of on the 32nd Street side, and the library was on two levels, the rare books were on the street level and the working collections – the working gardening collections – were underground, down that circular staircase, that you may have seen. Much of my work was done at home because, as I remember it, on the first project, which was the Persian Gardens, I didn’t see it until the galley stage. Now that may not be familiar to someone who has grown up with a computer. But publishing in those days was – there were many parts to it. A manuscript would come in. It would be edited. It would be sent to a printer who would then type in the printed text. It would come back in a first stage of prints, which were called galleys. It wasn’t divided into pages; it was just, you know, line by line. They would be edited and proofread. The manuscript would already have been proofread, but then the galleys would be proofed. Corrections would be made. They would go back to the printer. The corrections would be made, and then the text would come back again in page proof form. You would have to correct – you would have to check that all the corrections had been made, and then at that point any indexing could be done because there would be page numbers related to the text. So you would prepare an index at that point, if there was to be one. And it would then go back to the press. If I remember correctly, I wasn’t around for anything until the galleys came back because I think a copy of the first edition would have been sent to the printer for resetting in type. Oh, and I should also answer that the joy was – I did have to work at home mostly – but when I came in, I could sit at an absolutely gorgeous desk in the garden library, which looked out on the gardens and it really felt good.
VKM: So, you worked on the Persian Garden.

LF: That was the first publication.

VKM: What were your other projects?

LF: Well, following that – I don’t know if it is still the case, I think it is, but the garden library, the garden – I shouldn’t just say library – but the gardening section of Dumbarton Oaks. I can’t remember exactly what it’s called.

VKM: I think they call it Garden and Landscape studies now.

LF: Okay, the Garden and Landscape Studies section would hold an annual symposium, and the papers from that symposium would be published, which again added to the length of time. Papers would come in. The authors would be told that six months later they were supposed to have final copy. They would have delivered them orally at this symposium. Then they were supposed to submit a final typed version of their papers. Some of them would come. Some of them wouldn’t come. It was always a struggle. But probably within six months or so, they would have all appeared. Betty would have decided what order they should appear in. She would, probably by then, have written a forward of some sort, organized it, asked for any major substantive changes that she might have wanted. She might have asked an author to elaborate on some subject. And then, they would come to me – the manuscripts – at that point, after, not Persian Gardens, I think the next one was the sixth colloquium, which was on John Claudius Loudon and the nineteenth century in Great Britain, and at that point I had manuscripts and I would change them for punctuation, spelling. Again, because it was a different world, there was no such thing as spell-check.

VKM: Oh, I can imagine!

LF: And even today, with spell-check, you have to check because “to” is a very different word from “too.” But in those days, the authors would’ve type their own manuscripts because they were all academics and they didn’t have secretaries. And some of them could type, and some of them couldn’t. And typewriters did not make corrections, so the corrections were either made in whiteout or by hand by the authors, before the manuscript would come here – some of them legible, some of them not. And it was my job at that point as a copy editor not only to check for spelling and punctuation and correct grammar, in some cases – because often, not often but sometimes, the authors were foreign and there would be rather awkward translations. But I had to get the manuscript in shape to go for that first stage of typesetting, and I did that for the John Claudius Loudon Colloquium, which finally was published in 1980. And I’ll tell you about another publication that came out in 1980 later, because I want to talk about two of them together, but also the Roman Gardens which came out in 1981. In between I did Beatrix Farrand’s Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks, but that was a very different publication from the symposium – from the colloquium. And then again I worked on the Beatrix Farrand colloquium in 1982. On the Beatrix Farrand books, what I did was more substantive.

VKM: So who did you work with the most during your time at Dumbarton Oaks?

LF: Betty MacDougall, who essentially was my boss. She was the fulltime person in charge of the garden and landscape research effort. I never quite understood it, but I think that at least at that point the staff members here had faculty appointments at Harvard – they may still. I don’t know. She was something like an adjunct professor. She was a very distinguished landscape and architectural historian. I should say architectural historian – I guess in those days – with a specialty in landscape architecture. Italian gardens were her great specialty. Betty was the fulltime person here. She supervised the librarian, Laura Byers, with whom I worked a lot because I had to check references and things down in the reference library. Betty would have, I gather, made any acquisitions of rare books at that point. Although, I think, I don’t know how much money was left in those days.

VKM: Not very much.

LF: Once Mrs. Bliss died – actually once the property was transferred to Harvard – the rare book library may have stopped making additions.

VKM: I think what basically happened was they had to sell the books that weren’t related to the gardens in order to afford to buy new books.

LF: Could be. I don’t know that. I had never heard that. So that could have been a later development.

VKM: It was. There was a lot of stuff in the records about how Harvard felt about Dumbarton Oaks selling books that maybe weren’t related to their collection, but Harvard wanted.

LF: Oh that’s very possible. Yes, but I would imagine that the rare books related to the gardens –

VKM: – Oh, those they kept.

LF: Those they kept. The others might have been sold, if they were duplicates from Harvard, or gone up to the Harvard libraries. Yes, I think, it’s my impression that for all three of the studied collections, the books, rare books even, related to those collections remained here, because they were certainly shelved in the garden library here and exhibited in that entrance – in that long hallway leading to the garden library doors, just as you came in the 32nd street entrance, where they are exhibited today. Betty would have supervised all of that, anything having to do with the – ah, the garden – oh, but not the gardens themselves. That was a totally different operation. There was a gardener on staff and of course a large staff of gardeners, and he had charge of the gardens. He might have used the library, although I rather doubt it. But, by then those were two entirely separate departments, and that’s where the Beatrix Farrand Plant Book comes in.

VKM: Can you talk about any changes that took place in 1980 when Diane McGuire took over while Betty was on sabbatical?

LF: Yes, and that’s exactly where the plant book comes in, and – Diane McGuire was a landscape designer, landscape architect. She was not an academic. She was a hands-on designer and gardener. She was also an ardent feminist. Feminist – Feminism as a movement was really blossoming just about that time. There were a lot of women in the landscape architect profession interested in the history of women in the profession, and Beatrix Farrand was the first. She had been, I don’t know, should I talk about her background; who she was?

VKM: Beatrix Farrand? Sure.

LF: Yes, Beatrix Farrand.

VKM: I’d be curious to know how much was, you know, common awareness, when because –

LF: No, I mean this, the original research, or most of the major research on Beatrix Farrand was done here at Dumbarton Oaks, and subsequent to the symposium – colloquium. I keep calling it symposium. Sorry about that.

VKM: I get them mixed up too.

LF: Correct the record, please – colloquium. Diane came in. I can’t remember whether she came as a fellow or exactly what. I don’t remember the order in which she was actually employed here. But Diane’s interest was in the Dumbarton Oaks gardens and in Beatrix Farrand, who had designed the Dumbarton Oaks gardens. Beatrix Farrand was a very, very interesting person. She was the first major female landscape architect in this country. She came from a very prominent old New York family. She was Beatrix Jones Farrand and the “Jones” was always part of her signature. The Joneses in New York were the sort of family that looked down on the Astors as nouveau-riche. Beatrix’s father was a Jones of that family. His name was something Cadwalader Jones. These were all New York Dutch and English names. Her mother was an interesting person in her own right. Henry James was one of her mother’s closest friends. She had a kind of salon in New York. The parents separated when Beatrix was twelve, and I think that may have had something to do with Beatrix’s independence of mind, growing up with a mother who didn’t have a lot of money anymore. She had enough to live on properly in New York. But she grew up sort of in that salon, meeting a lot of very interesting people. In the Beatrix Jones Colloquium – there it is – there is a biographical section on Beatrix, and it talks about her background. She – now we’re talking now about the 1880s, ‘90s – she may have been born earlier; I don’t remember the birth date. But like girls of her societal rank, she was homeschooled. She never went to college. But growing up in her mother’s salon, she was well-read. She must have been a good listener, I think. She was certainly brought up with all of the manners that would be required to deal with high society, wherever she went. And I think I failed to mention that her father’s sister was Edith Wharton. Edith Wharton was also well-connected and was also, as you may know if you’ve read any of her history, a very independently-minded woman. She took a great interest in her niece, who was considerably younger, and they were always very close, and indeed Farrand was her executor, after Edith Wharton’s death. At some point, long after the father had left – Beatrix must have been in her late teens – I think I remember reading somewhere that she actually had a coming-out party, which I’m not sure of. I may be wrong about that. But anyway, at some point she was sent, and I made a note here, she was introduced to Charles Sprague Sargent, who was a horticulturist and was at that point the either coming or already director of the Arnold Arboretum in – outside Boston. She was sent up to study with him, to apprentice – although they probably would not use such a low-class term. But she was sent up to work with him, and he took a great interest in her, and she apparently fell in love with plants and planting and really took a great interest in it and was a prized student of his. But at some point, probably under her aunt’s influence, instead of following Sargent, who was basically a horticulturist – he was interested in how plants worked, in naming plants, in the relationships of plants and plantings in a kind of wild landscape. Meanwhile Beatrix had done some traveling, mostly in Italy, where Wharton was living, and had been introduced by her aunt, who was interested in interior decoration and garden design, to the great Italian gardens, and at that point, I think, Beatrix realized that what she wanted to be was a designer of gardens, not a horticulturist. She began her career and was the first female member of the American – I think it’s called – the American Society of Landscape Architects. She was the one woman accepted by all these men, who were designing gardens in those days, like Fredrick Law Olmsted and a number of others whose names just escape me at the moment. But anyway, they invited her to join them in founding this society. So, Diane, who was very interested in gardens, as a designer was also interested in Beatrix Farrand’s history. She came here, I think she may have been assigned, and I’m not sure of this, it would have to be checked. She may have been sent down by Harvard to work with the gardener because in 1970 or before, she was familiar with Beatrix Farrand’s Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks. The Plant Book had been requested, I think, and it’s somewhere here in these books, but I’m not going to look for it now. It’s in the introduction to the Plant Book. I believe Mrs. Bliss, at the time Dumbarton Oaks went over to Harvard –

VKM: I read the introduction. I think it was William Tyler, maybe, who asked her to write up –

LF: Maybe it was Tyler –

VKM: – all the plants she had in the garden

LF: Right. He asked her, probably employed her, to go through section by section of the gardens explaining what her vision had been for that particular garden; how it related to the house, and then list the plants that she had proposed, because even by 1940 some changes had been made, during the war I’m sure the gardens had been neglected – everything else in this country had been neglected. Those were hard times. They wanted a record which hadn’t been here when she could come annually and oversee and work with Mrs. Bliss on the gardens and work with the gardener. And at that point she had prepared a plant book, which existed in manuscript and manuscript only. Diane, working with it and working with the gardeners here, realized that it was a valuable document, and she was very eager to have it published. And she – I guess she must have persuaded Betty to hire me to help her bring out that manuscript, because Diane wasn’t used to writing a lot and this was a pretty – what should I say – Farrand wasn’t a writer. I mean, Farrand gave directions usually orally, or notes, and this was not something that was ready for publication. So, it was much more substantial from my point of view. I really worked on the text, and then Diane taught me, bless her, to identify the – and not just identify – but correct for or research for correctness the plant names and link them up with the popular plant names, because the plant names were give in Latin usually. Sometimes in the text they would be in popular form, and to know the relationship and be sure that it was accurately depicted was a big part of the job, which I really enjoyed. I learned a lot from that particular – I learned from all the assignments – but I learned a great deal about gardening from that one. And then, I would – I can’t remember exactly the dates of Diane’s coming in and substituting for Betty, but Diane also took responsibility for the colloquium on Beatrix Farrand, and I worked very closely with her on that. And, indeed, I think I am given credit on the title page of that one. We had a good time. Well I met her friends and by then I was really interested in Farrand, so I really – I loved doing that book. I subsequently visited as many gardens of hers as I could, and it turned out that she had been the original landscape designer for the University of Chicago, where I had gone to school – something I had never known. But Diane was here and while she was working on the colloquium, she had – she was very very keen to see the gardens returned to the state that Farrand had left them – that they had been on Farrand’s last visit. She wanted them returned to where they had been designed. Well, over the years there’ve been many different gardeners, many changes made, that beautiful Italian pool, reflecting pool, had been added. Diane always said that Farrand would have been very upset to have seen that happen. But, and of course that could not be removed at that point. But, Farrand had – Farrand – well first of all there was no air conditioning when Dumbarton Oaks was built. There was no such thing as an air conditioned interior. This house was designed for – to be lived in and entertained in by the Blisses in the spring and the fall. They would take residence here in those seasons and do a lot of entertaining, and the gardens, as envisioned by Farrand, were an addition to the house in which entertaining would take place. So, as you may have noticed, as they move away from the house, they get more and more wild, but near the house they are quite formal, almost like rooms. And I’m sure tables would have been set up and entertaining would have been done in many of those rooms, and Diane was very conscious of that, made me conscious of it, and, I think, tried to make the gardeners increasingly conscious of that, and tried to bring the landscape as much as possible back to where they had been. I don’t know how the gardener at that point felt about Diane. I’m sure there were conflicts. I don’t know if Giles Constable is still around, but if there were conflicts, he would be able to tell you about those. Diane would sometimes grumble. The gardener was never anything but nice to me, but I hadn’t of course – there were – Harvard was paying for all of this and I don’t know how Harvard felt about it all, but if Diane had had her way and unlimited funds, the gardens would have been returned to Farrand’s plan, and were returned to a certain degree, I have no doubt. I can’t tell you specifically how much. But and – again that was what 19 – she was here in ’80 –

VKM: 1980,  ’80, ’81?

LF: The book came out in ’82, with again the same process of reading it, the proofs and all of that. But what – it’s thirty years – the gardens today – I would have to go through these gardens with the plant book to tell you whether they still reflect Farrand’s plan or not. I imagine they do, fairly close up. I know that the number of major trees that were fundamental to her plan, that had been preserved from the eighteenth century, maybe early nineteenth century, and on which she had focused various views came down in various storms over the years, subsequent to this work. And I hope that they have been replaced at least by the same kind of tree. But, they can’t possibly be at the same height and majesty that they were when Dumbarton Oaks was at its height, in the Blisses’ days. But I imagine that the gardeners have worked with the plant book now that it is published and have probably followed as much as possible the plan. Anyway, the Beatrix Farrand colloquium was the last book that I edited here at Dumbarton Oaks. Yes, very shortly after that, I think – well I was told – whether I was fired for cause, whether I was fired because there wasn’t any money anymore, I don’t know. I was told the latter.

VKM: I think they were a little short on funds.

LF: Simply that they were short of funds, that they were no longer – that they no longer had funds to pay for editing these things. They were going to hold the authors responsible for seeing that their text was clean, and I suppose Betty must have read the proofs after those years, and I’ve never looked at them to see if I felt they needed editing. But my formal connection with Dumbarton Oaks ended at that point. I should say that I went on to do some work with Betty, with Diane, who edited a book called – or was instrumental in putting out a book called Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes, which has a big section, as you can imagine, on Dumbarton Oaks, and I edited that book when it came out in 1985. So that is really my last formal connection. Anything else you want to ask me?

VKM: Did you say that there was the Beatrix Farrand Colloquium? Did you attend it?

LF: Oh yes, of course. I attended all the colloquiums that I edited except Persian Gardens, which – I was young. It was the year – actually it was just the year before I came to Washington. But I attended all three colloquiums that I edited. That was always very pleasant. It meant – people would come from all over the country. They all were delighted to see one another because there aren’t that many people – professors – interested in landscape architecture. It’s still – I imagine it’s still a fairly small group and they know one another, and they were thrilled to come. We would have lunch in the gardens, a boxed lunch of some kind, and there were cocktail parties and the papers obviously were delivered, and then there would be question and answer sessions, and that was one reason why the authors went back following the colloquium because often points were raised that they wanted to elaborate on. So, it was a genuinely scholarly meeting and – but it was lovely. Usually your scholarly meetings are at universities in the basement of the library, and to come to Dumbarton Oaks was a very special treat.

VKM: This is maybe a strange question, but you mentioned that Diane McGuire was still very feminist, and there were – I mean, I’ve noticed that there’re a lot of women who worked in garden and landscape studies here, but not so many of the junior fellows were women. It was very male dominated in the records. Did you ever get a feeling that –

LF: The world was male dominated until about 19 – let’s face it, today women still get paid less, not at universities, I am happy to say, but I have watched a tremendous change in the way women are regarded in the world. Let’s face it, Beatrix Farrand would not have been the success she was without her social background. A lot of the women who pushed in the early days – women writers. You know, George Eliot was not that woman’s name. The Brontë sisters had to publish – one of them, I think, published under a man’s name. Women didn’t do things like that, professionally. Farrand had the advantage of a lot of very good social connections and her early work was paid for by friends of the family, who recognized her talent and who gave her the opportunities to work on their gardens, because she needed to make a living, until she married Max Farrand. But she – she could do that early pioneering work. In art history, generally, and architectural history, I’m sure most of the professors at the universities were male, if you start looking at bibliographies. I suspect that they were not awfully interested in gardening; that it was thought of as a woman’s – something the woman did. The man designed the house; maybe the lady of the house designed the gardens or worked on the gardens. So, I would guess that women probably – and I am really talking off the top of my head here – but probably entered academia working on gardens, before men did. Women might take a degree in art history and then study Italian gardens, which meant you had to do your graduate work in Italy. I’m sure that that’s what took Betty over there. I mean, she loved Italy. But her good friend here, Hank Millon, who ran the National Gallery’s Studies program for years – Hank studied sculpture and not gardens. I’m sure that that’s what attracted a lot of women to the profession, and over the years of these colloquiums, when you got distinguished professors, distinguished academics, there would have been more women in this profession than men. Now, I think younger men probably don’t even think twice about it. They don’t think of it as a woman’s profession, which would mean that there would be more fellows today – male – more than thirty years ago.

VKM: You mentioned that you used to attend events here, even before you worked here. Was there – did you do a lot of socializing with people who had worked here at Dumbarton Oaks?

LF: Not a lot. My husband was, in those years, curator of prints and then Chief of the Prints and Photographs division at the Library of Congress. I’m trying to think how we met Mr. Tyler, whether he did research over there, whether we met here. The art world here was much smaller in those days, than it is today. Many museums didn’t exist. My husband ended his career as Director of the Portrait Gallery. There was no such thing until the Johnson administration, until the late ‘60s. I remember meeting Tyler and being invited here to concerts by him. But I don’t remember the particulars of how it happened. It probably happened through my husband. So, I didn’t pay attention. We subscribed at one point to the concert series here, and that was lovely. It would be held in the music room, and would spill out at intermission onto the terrace in the gardens, and that was very special. What I honestly don’t remember is whether that was before or after I worked here. So, I’d have to check in your records as to when the concert series began.

VKM: You know, I actually don’t know.

LF: It was an invitational. You had to wangle an invitation to subscribe, and I imagine Mr. Tyler arranged that for us. And it may have been at one of those concerts that I met Mrs. Bliss. It’s very possible because I don’t remember her coming to any of these colloquia. But I honestly can’t tell you.

VKM: I think the colloquia started after she died, so –

LF: Very possible, yes.

VKM: This is maybe a funny question, but someone mentioned that Dumbarton Oaks used to be a part of the diplomatic social scene.

LF: Oh, of course!

VKM: Was that still going on while –

LF: I mean, after all, it was built by a wealthy diplomat, and in those days diplomacy was very different. At the highest levels of the diplomatic posts, and still to a certain extent – but in those days the posts were filled by people not only with money, but with social connections; good family from usually the east coast. Today, because so much of the entertaining has to be paid for by the ambassador, the government has very small budgets, they’ll pick wealthy people who made their own money. But in those days, it was old family, and the diplomatic community was very socially elite. I would say a lot of diplomats lived in Georgetown. Georgetown was the place to live if you had social connections, when we moved here in 1961. It still is to a certain extent, although there’s – it’s diversified a lot, as the whole world has diversified. But I’m sure that when the Blisses’ entertained personally, a great part of their – a great many of their friends would have served in diplomatic posts, not just as ambassadors, but as chiefs of mission. Many would be ambassadors coming to this country from countries where Mr. Bliss had – where Ambassador Bliss had served. I’m sure he kept up his connections abroad. He would have welcomed new ambassadors. I can’t remember now where he served. But there had to be Latin American ones because that is where he developed his interest in the pre-Columbian part. I didn’t do my homework on the Blisses. But oh yes, I mean it would have been a center for entertaining in the diplomatic community. You could probably check that out just looking at the social pages of the Washington Post during the Bliss years. I’m sure those pages – those parties were covered, probably with guest lists, at least of the most important guests

VKM: Did they still have parties and stuff in the ‘70s when it was just a Harvard institution?

LF: Well, the parties would be in conjunction with the colloquia. I can’t tell you about the Byzantine and the pre-Columbian. Have you spoken with Betty Benson?

VKM: I’m mostly doing garden and landscape. But, I believe someone has.

LF: That’s good. I’m sure that they had parties. As I say, there was the whole entertaining in conjunction with the concerts. I think the director entertained. I would not be surprised if the director entertained Harvard graduates. And I’m sure it was – you know you entertain to raise money, let’s face it. Dumbarton Oaks was, as I understood it – if it couldn’t raise its own, enough money to run it, it was going to revert entirely to Harvard and folded into Harvard. The collections would be folded into the Harvard collections. For all I know, the building would be sold, the building and gardens. I don’t know that. I have not read the documents. But it was always my understanding that Dumbarton Oaks had to stand on its own two feet in terms of budget.

VKM: Yes, I mean –

LF: And believe me, maintaining these gardens costs a lot of money. And the endowment in those days – and it’s even like the Phillips today. I’m sure when Mr. Phillips left his money to the Phillips Collection, he thought that that would ground it in perpetuity. But inflation has been such that those early endowments just do not cover, and I am sure that Giles Constable had to raise money for Dumbarton Oaks, and there would have been parties entertaining people who wanted to support the house and gardens, in those years. And once Mrs. Bliss was dead and Harvard owned the collection – Harvard administered, they didn’t own but they administered Dumbarton Oaks. I would guess that the guest list would change considerably.

VKM: Did you – I don’t know the exact financial details of how Harvard related to Dumbarton Oaks, but did you get a sense of how people here felt about the threat of Harvard maybe taking –

LF: They were all aware of it, because that is where I heard about it – I would have no reason. You know, they paid me; I think the biggest job was $5,000, and mostly it was considerably less than that. Of course, when I was told that they were letting me go or that they couldn’t employ me anymore, they didn’t fire me, they just said next year we’re not going to have an editor, and as far as I knew, they didn’t. It was made clear to me that that was because they were strapped financially. I mean, not strapped – that’s probably much too strong a word. But, they were having to watch their expenditures more than they had in previous years. Whether – I don’t think that Betty MacDougall ever felt that she would lose her job. It may have affected her travel budget. That I don’t know. She never spoke to me about that. She did travel. By the time – well we kept up our relationship until she died. But in the ‘80s, ‘90s she was on a number of UNESCO panels and international panels, and I’m sure that paid for much of her travel in those years. If she was still at Dumbarton Oaks when that happened, they were probably thrilled that somebody else was picking up the tab. But I don’t know. She never spoke to me about feeling that she’d lose her job. But I know that there was a consciousness among the department heads, at least. And it may have happened that they may have had to have fewer and fewer fellows. There was entertaining incidentally for the fellows. Fellows all got free lunches. I don’t know if they still do. The fellows – there were parties for the fellows. It was a very congenial situation, almost like a small college at Oxford, and Tyler was, I’m sure, very eager to keep it that way, which was great because they would all go from here out to colleges and universities all around the country and they’d still know each other from their fellows days. And I’m sure that it was instrumental in making the history of landscape architecture a true profession and in spreading it from east coast schools to universities all around the country. That kind of collegiality is another of the contributions of Dumbarton Oaks.

VKM: So, I have a list of the people who were on the Senior Fellows Committee. I don’t know if you would have known any of them – but, Joseph Alsop, David Coffin, Howard Adams –

LF: Howard, I knew. Alsop, I knew to shake his hand. My husband knew him better because he was involved with the Portrait Gallery. Howard, Adams I knew. Howard was at that point at the National Gallery, I think. I think he was assistant director under Carter, but I – he may have just been heading the education department. I don’t remember exactly. Howard Adams was an Adams of the Adams family. He was a descendant. I can’t tell you exactly how, but his genealogy went way back in American history, and he was very proud of that. He was a really nice guy, and maybe he was the first director of the – no I can’t think what it’s called – Mr. Millon’s program at the National Gallery that brings in fellows and professors, distinguished professors, and it’s got an acronym –


LF: CASVA, CASVA. Howard may have been involved, if not as first director, in helping to set that up. But I’m not sure. But he would certainly have been – he was a good friend of Betty’s. They were buddies. And I think he’s still alive. You might talk to him about Betty.

VKM: He’s still alive. That was the first interview I read.

LF: Oh, you did.

VKM: That’s how I knew to get in touch with you.

LF: Oh, okay, yes. They were maybe college friends. They went back.

VKM: Did you –

LF: Who else was on the list?

VKM: Peter Hornbeck, Judith Colton, Allen Tate, Wilhelmina Jashemski.

LF: Allen Tate, I knew, but not from this connection. I sailed to Europe with Allen Tate on the Liberte. In 1961 my husband and I – and oh he was fun. He was fun when he was drunk. Don’t – but that should not go in the record. But he loved his – was it a gin? – there was something. And his wife at that time was a niece of – I can’t think of the name. She has a – her house is a gallery in Boston, beside the museum. It’ll come to me in a minute.

VKM: The Gardner Museum?

LF: The Gardner Museum! Isabella Gardner. Thank you, thank you

VKM: It’s a beautiful museum.

LF: And his wife was a niece of Isabella’s.

VKM: Really?

LF: And it – oh they – wonderful stories to tell. But we – a seven day crossing, and we would sit around and drink on the crossing, and that – that was a joy. And he took us up to Forenza. He really knew Italy, and from Florence, he gave us a guided tour of Forenza, which was a day I’ll never forget. And he loved gardens, so I can understand why he was on that committee. But as I say, I had nothing to do with him here at Dumbarton Oaks. It was just a lucky accident.

VKM: It’s still nice to know.

LF: And, of course, I read his poetry. But, we all – in those days he was a really famous poet.

VKM: Did you ever get to meet Wilhelmina Jashemski? Because she –

LF: Yes, I mean I’ve heard –

VKM: – she died before we could – before the project started.

LF: She lived out in Silver Spring. And I was – when I was working on her essay, I had to go to the house once or twice to check things out with her. Very gracious lady! Lovely person. I know Betty was very fond of her. She, if I remember correctly – and now I’m trying to remember her paper, that was just about the time that the horticulturists were discovering that they could – as they were digging up seeds – that they could identify the seeds that were used in Roman gardens, and I think that appears in her paper.

VKM: She did, I think, the gardens of Pompeii.

LF: Yes, oh yes, of course. Those would have been very much buried, and she was able to, you know, tell us what was actually planted in those gardens. So, she had a certain scientific background as well. She was – she really – but, you know, I met her a few times. She was always lovely to me. I heard her deliver her paper. I’m glad you reminded me that that was in it. But, I can’t tell you much about her otherwise.

VKM: Well, I think that’s – do you have any memories of Dumbarton Oaks that are particularly prominent or that you think that we should know about?

LF: Two – well one being Betty – and I’ll talk about her in a minute. The other being – as I mentioned, the garden library was in this west wing, and the research part of the library, as opposed to the rare books, was down in the basement, and there was no elevator. Prominent on the landscape architecture scene in Washington was a man named Charlie McLaughlin. His widow is still living in Chevy Chase. Both Charlie and his wife Ann had been victims of polio, I guess in their teens, and Charlie was paralyzed from, I guess, the hip down. He had no use of his legs at all. Charlie was a great expert on Fredrick Law Olmsted and his gardens. Indeed Charlie was one of the team that was editing the Olmsted papers, which of course are scattered all over the country. And they were editing and publishing the Olmsted papers, and they were based here in Washington, and Charlie’s office was here in Washington, and from time to time he would come to use the library here at Dumbarton Oaks, which was down in the basement, and there was no elevator. And I would watch in horror as Charlie would get up and tighten the braces on his legs and then work himself backwards down the spiral staircase, hanging on to the armrest going arm by arm. It was like you’d go down a rope, if you were going down a fire escape. He would work his way down to the library, where Laura Byers by that time would have brought down his crutches and he could get around. So, that is one of my great visual recollections of Dumbarton Oaks. And the other of course is working with Betty, who was wonderful fun, and very learned, and always willing to share her knowledge, and a good-time-Charlie. She came from Texas. She was not an eastern socialite, although she had gone to Vassar, I think. I believe she’s a Vassar graduate, and then I guess she did her – I think I remember that she did her graduate work at Harvard. But she was a good Texas – I don’t know- she spoke her mind as you would in Texas. And then she was a lot of fun – she was good – lots of fun at parties. I always loved to – she came to dinner a lot. She had been coming to dinner before she hired me, and the Lowrys were good friends, and we used to have a good time together, and we visited her well after her retirement. Up in Vermont she had a country place. It was – we had a good time there. So, I have only fond recollections of Betty. She was a hard worker, and I think very highly respected in her profession. She must have been to get on all those UNESCO panels, and I think she did a lot of good things for Dumbarton Oaks, at least to my mind. She had one daughter down in Texas, and the daughter died before Betty did, which was rather sad. Betty had been divorced – never heard her speak about her husband. And she moved up to Cambridge, where she lived in the winter. She had an apartment. I don’t think I ever saw her apartment there. I knew the building it was in. Bates pointed it out, and she and Bates Lowry were good friends too. I think she died before he did. I can’t remember. That generation is pretty much gone. Not Betty Benson – she’s still around. But there aren’t a lot of people. I guess, if you had to come to me with my short years, there can’t be a lot of people who remember.

VKM: Well, you’ve been really really informative, so –

LF: I hope so. Talking to people, I know, gives you a kind of view that you can’t get from reading the record.

VKM: Yes.

LF: And if any other questions occur to you, feel free to call me.

VKM: Thank you so much!

LF: Are you going to transcribe this? Or does it –?

VKM: Yes.

LF: Well, if questions occur –

VKM: Okay. Thank you very much.