Reflections from Rosemary Murante Class of 1971
From Watkinson Library-Shibboleth Trinity on February 27th, 2020
I entered Trinity in 1969 as a Junior transfer from the College of New Rochelle. The years at Trinity were certainly eventful in terms of changes on campus as well as the nationwide tumult of that era. However, instead of trying to recount everything, I would like to talk about one aspect of my experience that meant a lot to me then and has stood the “test of time” of what I remember and still appreciate 50 years later. Specifically, this was how I was welcomed and inspired by the History Department and especially by three members of its faculty.
In spring 1969, I registered for my Junior Seminar which was Renaissance and Reformation with Dr. Borden Painter. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from him. He personally welcomed me to Trinity and the Department - and noted that I was the only woman in the class. Once the class began, I vaguely recall some awkward moments on the part of the men but nothing negative. Instead, I remember the seminar as being a challenging and interesting experience taught by a wonderful professor who later went on to lead the college.
During 1969-70, I also took two African History courses with Dr. H. McKim Steele. I was the only woman at least for fall semester. I remember several of the men being quite welcoming during those first few weeks. One small, somewhat amusing thing was an unusual amount of interest in the grades I received on the first few papers we wrote. However, even that quickly faded.
Dr. Steele’s classes opened up a whole new and very different area of historical learning. He was passionate about the topics we discussed and the books we read. I kept one of them, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, and occasionally reread parts. Recently, I saw a newer edition displayed in a bookstore, read about the book in a movie review, and saw Fanon quoted just a few weeks ago in the New York Times. It certainly makes one appreciate how words and ideas that we encountered 50 years ago can endure.
During the fall of 1970, I took The Slave Trade as my Senior Seminar with Dr. Steele. Again, I was the only woman in the class. I would say that most of the men were more used to women by this point and as History majors, our paths may have already crossed.
The seminar itself was a terrific experience that brought my skills in doing historical research to a whole new level. I chose to do my paper on Rhode Island and the slave trade. Dr. Steele inspired me to go deeper and deeper into the topics and questions I was investigating. After hours in the Watkinson Library and trips to Newport and Providence, I understood, more thoroughly than ever before, how to do primary source research and use the results to develop and document an historical thesis.
During first semester Senior year, I took another great course, Civil War and Reconstruction with J. Ronald Spencer. It was a graduate course that several of us took for undergraduate credit.
In spring 1971, I had the pleasure of working with Ron Spencer again when I was asked to present my paper on the slave trade at the annual Pi Gamma Mu symposium. By then, I had almost completed my studies as one of the first Trinity women. Yet I still felt somewhat intimidated about presenting a paper to a large group (probably mostly men) and having a guest professor comment on it. However, I recall the assistance Ron Spencer provided as I prepared a version to read. I also recall the encouragement and enthusiasm he so generously shared with me before the symposium.
I am not one to save many things, but I was able to find a congratulatory letter he sent the day after the event. So glad that it was still tucked into a small box, along with Dr. Painter’s letter, that holds some “mementoes” from both high school and college years.
After Trinity, I received a Master’s in Library Science from URI and later my Sixth Year in School Administration. I had a 39-year career in the Windsor Schools as Library Media Specialist at Windsor High and the district’s Supervisor for Technology and Libraries. I have also had the opportunity to fulfill multiple roles in politics and now in local government. I truly believe that my academic experience at Trinity has continued to influence the ways in which I approach and conceptualize almost any issue whether in my professional career or political endeavors.
I am also happy to report that as part of a local historical society, I have rediscovered the love for historical research that my Trinity experience instilled. In November 2018, I wrote an article on Plainville and World War I for publication in local media. Then in March 2019, I did my first historical presentation since 1971! The program “Plainville Women Leading the Way” was part of our Sesquicentennial series. On March 21st, I will present another program celebrating the Centennial of women’s suffrage from a Connecticut perspective. In a positive and very rewarding way, it all seems a bit like coming full circle.
Rosemary Morante ‘71
Submitted February 23, 2020