Today is the first day of the 47th Annual Meeting of the Oral History Association, an organization in which our Mom became interested and was very active after her youngest child (Maria) started grade school. She was OHA president in 1984-5, presiding over the annual meeting (held in Pensacola, Florida) that was famously disrupted by a hurricane. Linda Shopes has organized a roundtable discussion to honor Mom. It will be held Friday morning.
At the kind invitation of Cliff Kuhn, OHA executive director, several of us Ross children (Katy, David, Maria and I) will be traveling to Oklahoma City to attend this session and other parts of the meeting. We are all looking forward to meeting many of Mom’s oral history colleagues, some of whom we’ve met, but many of whom we’ve just heard Mom talk about.
Mom also helped create the regional group of oral historians in the greater Washington, D.C. area (and beyond) that came to be known as OHMAR (Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region). Part of OHMAR’s 25th Anniversary Conference was a session honoring her and reviewing her role in that organization and the profession of oral history. It was titled “Measuring Up to Martha: Setting Standards in Oral History“, a delightful play on Mom’s towering 4’11” physical stature. It was at the conference that the OHA announced that its biennial teaching award would be named for mom and Barry Lanman named the University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s oral history center after her as well.
Below is the transcript of that session, which I made by scanning/OCRing the transcript made by Don Ritchie, who is now Historian, Senate Historical Office, United States Senate.
It’s long — but it’s fun to read. It gives a thoroughly enjoyable look, from several perspectives, at how our mother’s curiosity, enthusiasm, integrity, inclusiveness and Southern charm/hospitality shaped her contributions to the emerging discipline of oral history.
(I have some graphics that I intend to include with this post — such as the program cover for the 25th OHMAR conference and Mom’s certificate of completion for the George Washington University’s “Developing New Horizons for Women” program for re-entry women — but I haven’t been able to locate them. I’ll add them when I do.)
Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Conference
Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts
6 April 2001
MEASURING UP TO MARTHA: Setting Standards in Oral History
“An Oral History of OHMAR”
Donald A. Ritchie
Associate Historian,Senate Historical Office, United States Senate
Sara Collins, retired librarian, Arlington County (VA) Public Library
Mary Jo Deering, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Benis Frank, retired Chief Historian, U. S. Marine Corps
Alice Hoffman, retired labor historian, Pennsylvania State University
Donald A. Ritchie
Martha J. Ross
AN ORAL HISTORY OF OHMAR
Panel Discussion, Friday, April 6, 2001, Annapolis, Maryland
DON RITCHIE: Our first speaker, today’s honoree, needs no introduction other than to say: “Stand up, Martha.”
MARTHA ROSS: Even if you can’t see me over the podium, I am standing here. [laughter] Can you hear me? I usually say with six children I don’t have to have a microphone. Those of you who got the newsletter and the announcement of this meeting know pretty much about how I got involved in oral history, through a New Horizons program I was involved in at George Washington University. At the end of that process, which was a group guidance and counseling series for women who had been out of the workforce for a while raising families, or women who were professionals and wanted to change professions. It involved a number of tests and analyses and presentations by women who had gone into professions that weren’t necessarily typically women’s professions. At the end of this course, we were all asked to write a paper dealing with some profession that was available to women and the qualifications, the salary, the working conditions, and so forth.
Having been an English and history major in college with an eye to going into journalism, until what I found what journalists earned and I realized that I couldn’t eat on the journalist’s salary that was offered to me. They assumed that you were going to stay at home, that your parents were going to house you and feed you and your salary was going to be spending money. So I was looking for something else — this was when I graduated from college – I was encouraged to submit an application to a government plant that was hiring like crazy up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Now, I had English and history majors, not attractive to the scientific side but they were hiring all kinds of people up there. I had taken shorthand, so I could take notes in interviews, so I submitted an application for a position in public relations. Now, if you’ve been listening to me, you know that this was a secret plant that was in fact separating uranium for the Hiroshima bomb. They didn’t have any public relations! [laughter] Public relations were the last thing they wanted. So they offered me a job as a stenographer. I said “I’m not a stenographer, I’m a writer!” Never mind, they offered me twice as much as the best newspaper job I had. I took the job, met my husband, and as we say, we were an atomic romance and we’ve been having fallout ever since. [laughter]
After producing the six children, as the newsletter said, when the Little Precious in the back of the room [Maria Ross-Lyons] went to first grade, I asked, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” Here I am, only forty years old and I’ve got all this time ahead. I took the course at GW and ended up interested in pursuing something that involved some type of journalism but in my roundtable — we were divided up into small groups — I was thinking really of public broadcasting but somebody who was sitting ahead of me said she was going to report on a career in public broadcasting. I thought, “Well, I can’t do that.” So I had to postpone my decision for a few days, during which time I came across an article in the Washington Post about the slave narratives that were in the Library of Congress. I’m not sure if they have ever been published, but they have been collected and preserved. People interviewed surviving slaves as, one of the federal projects during the Depression, and those narratives were recorded on whatever means they had at the time and preserved. You can still go to the Library of Congress today and hear them. This was the first time that I had encountered the term “oral history.” I thought, “That sounds good.” While the slaves were no longer around to be interviewed, this would combine my interest in journalism and my interest in history, so I thought, “I’ll look around and see what I can find.”
I’ve forgotten how I was put in touch with Peter Olch at the National Library of Medicine, but he was the first actual oral historian that I met. He invited me to come out and visit his office and we talked about oral history. I had just missed the [Oral History Association’s] Airlie House Colloquium , but set my sights on the Asilomar Colloquium the following year. My husband thought that since the previous year they had met at Airlie House, which is just down the road [in Virginia], this would be a cheap trip. And when came back the next year with airline tickets to California, he said, “What’s this? I thought they met at Airlie House?” Anyway, I got involved in oral history and eventually taught a non-credit course at George Washington University. Mary Jo [Deering] was one of my star pupils. Because I was just learning about oral history myself, I really couldn’t stand in front of a group of people and proclaim any expertise. But the Washington area was full of expert and experienced oral historians. Ben [Frank] has never forgiven me for not inviting him, but I didn’t know him at the time. If I had known how formidable he is, he would have been among my guest lecturers. But I had a man from Myer Emco talk about tape recording. I had a panel from the National Archives talk about interviewing — from the Kennedy Library, the Truman Library and the Johnson Library. Forrest Pogue came and talked. I had really a sterling group of guest lecturers. Now, at the end of this ten-week course, being the Southern girl that I am, I thought it would be nice to reward these people, who had gotten no remuneration or what’s the word?
MARTHA ROSS: Honorarium, that’s the word. My mental hard disk is full and doesn’t retrieve information quickly anymore. Anyway, I thought I would have a luncheon at the George Washington University Club and I would allow my students, who were fairly well-to-do people, after all, pay a little bit more for their own lunch, enough to fund complimentary lunches for the speakers. So, because George Washington didn’t pay me enough to underwrite this myself, we had a luncheon that was in fact student-supported. The first of these luncheons, I wrote to Knox Mellon [treasurer of the Oral History Association] in California, asking him for a list of Oral History Association members living in the Zip codes that surround our area. He wrote back and said that the OHA couldn’t afford to provide that for me, and in the same mail I got the list from Charlie Morrissey who sent out the newsletter and had the list. So I just made 3×5 cards pasting all these address labels on and sent out invitations to all the oral historians in the Washington area, who were members of OHA, to come to this luncheon. Those people all paid their own way. Ben, did you come to one of those luncheons? That’s when I met Ben first. I think Dr. Pogue spoke at the first one, but Bill Moss came and John Stewart from the Archives. Bernice Reagon who has the great a cappella singing group, Sweet Honey and the Rock, was another one. Someone from the Pentagon-a little guy, Walter somebody, he didn’t say a word, he lurked. [laughter]
It turned out that the oral historians in the Washington area, even though it was a wealthy group as far as oral history expertise is concerned, they had never gotten together. They all loved it. I remember Bill Moss had a Martini straight up, and everybody said, “You really ought to do this again.” I don’t know how long we did that, because then the course was transferred out to Bethesda, although still with GW, but in any case the seed had been planted. I had the mailing list and the potential was there, but I must say I rather languished. In one of the subsequent classes, Mary Jo Deering appeared. She was very interested and she was very energetic, and as you can see very attractive. When I migrated to the University of Maryland, to teach in the History Department there, she took over my class at GW. And before long she suggested that we assemble a group to see about having an on-going organization. I was completely supportive and enthusiastic. So the real inspiration for the founding of OHMAR, the actual assembling with the purpose of organizing a group of oral historians in the area really comes from Mary Jo. I had planted the seed but I cannot take credit for really getting the organization started.
People like Betty Key, Dr. Pogue, the presidential library people, the Archives people – oh, one of my guest lecturers was the woman who was organizing NUCMC [National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections], Arline Custer. She came and spoke. I was really dazzled, because she was not a great socialite or terribly articulate but she had this great expertise and was kind enough, at no honorarium, to come and speak to my students, which I really appreciated. The head of the Civil Rights Documentation Project at Howard University actually hosted my students in her offices at Howard. I think that project was supported by Ford and/or Rockefeller foundation grants, and they had the most up-to-date technology for transcribing and editing interviews: IBM MTST typewriters (no computers yet!), which could incorporate corrections and addition without retyping the entire document! Amazing at the time!
So really the inspiration for the founding of OHMAR was Mary Jo’s doing, and I acknowledge and appreciate it. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: I can tell you that from my perspective, Martha was literally on her tip-toes while she was giving that speech. It seems appropriate, now that Martha has made that confession that OHMAR really came from Mary Jo’s class — although it was always Martha and Mary Jo as a team in those days — that we turn the podium over to Mary Jo Deering. When I got started in oral history, the way you transcribed was Transcribing Without Tears, which was Mary Jo’s handbook for transcription. She has a doctorate from the University of Geneva — she was always bringing great Swiss wines back on her various trips — and she is now at the Department of Health and Human Services where she has kept several cabinet secretaries more articulate than they would be otherwise.
MARY JO DEERING: Thank you, and I don’t get to transcribe their remarks. When Don invited me to be part of this program I said that, speaking of hard drives, that my memory was certainly gone and I would take the liberty of fabricating as so many oral histories have done. But fortunately there are those wonderful, wonderful scrapbooks in the back and if you haven’t looked through them, I really urge you to. I was able to do a little bit of my research, because after all any good oral history is preceded by research, so I did my research while I stood in back and now I have at least the dates that I can fill in. A couple of other introductory points would be that the secret behind OHMAR and at least my role in it was at least two fold: despite my staid exterior I’m really a party animal as many OHMAR people will remember. So part of it was to promote professional socializing, and indeed conviviality has been an important part of OHMAR from the beginning, and I hope it will be in the future. The other purpose, which l’ll go into in a little more depth, was one of subversion.
Let me tell you first that I was looking for oral history before I knew that it existed and I knew that I needed it. I had the privilege in my early studies in Geneva, before I was a Ph.D. candidate, of studying under one of the pioneers of European unity, Dennis De Rougemont. He and a group of his friends, starting in the ’30s and throughout the war and then right after, had spent their own time and money to work in ways that could bring Europeans together despite the horrendous loss of life and animosities. Studying under this man and listening to him, I realized that he was a historical artifact. This was in the mid ’60s, and I thought, “How do you capture this?” I wanted to do a Ph.D. in modern history, but modern history ended in 1848 in Europe. [laughter] It was really quite unusual that one would even consider a living human being as a subject. So I was casting around for what I could do to capture this, and I really used that phrase without knowing that it existed. I stumbled upon the course announcement — because I live in Bethesda, so it was just delivered (I’m a firm believer in Divine intervention as well) to my doorstep. There, right in a church [St. Luke’s Episcopal, Old Georgetown Road at Grosvenor Lane] that was less than a mile from my home, was a class taught on oral history techniques of interviewing.
I took Martha’s course, and used oral history to interview Rougemont in depth and also many of his colleagues. My dissertation for the University of Geneva introduced oral history — and in fact, the history of living people — in Switzerland. And it subsequently won a great prize from the Jean Monet Foundation.
I can only say that I’m delighted that Martha didn’t then acknowledge to us how shallow her credentials were, because I have attributed all of my professional expertise to her ever since. In fact, I have to tell you that the last job for which I had professional training to do the job I was hired for was teaching oral history at GW. I have not had any training in anything that I’ve done since. I went from looking backward to looking forward. I went into international forecasting. Now I,m in e-health, where I look at the use of the Internet and wireless for consumers, patients and doctors. If any of you have a health problem and want to know how to look it up, I can tell you where to go.
The two things that I especially got from my training under Martha were, I’d say they were values more than skills. One is the value of listening to other people. The other is the importance of what other people have to say. I think anyone who is successful will tell you that those are probably the two greatest professional skills that you can bring to any field. I had not learned them until I learned them from Martha, so that’s one of my many debts to her.
Getting back to the founding of OHMAR, I’ve mentioned the party aspect of it. The subversive aspect of it is equally important. I had not seen the recent New York Times article, but it’s since been mentioned to me, so I understand that it’s the same old, same old about whether oral history is credible or not. It certainly wasn’t credible at GW. And getting OHMAR formed was one way of sort of subverting and persuading the American Studies and History departments to take us seriously, to elevate it on their radar screens. I think that worked. I see we have someone from GW here [David Anderson, GWU Archivist]. I don’t know what you do now, but I’m dying to connect with you a little bit later.
Inadvertently, I did not know that the word “subversion” would be applied to OHMAR. One of the other speakers this morning has already mentioned, maybe it was Barry [Lanman], that OHA looked at us very much askance. My very first OHA meeting was at Asheville [North Carolina]. Suddenly I was very popular. I remember, think it was Ron [Marcello] and Tom Charlton made a point of sitting next to me on the buses when we went anywhere because they wanted to figure out were we really subversive. What were we doing in trying to create this regional organization? We made good friends eventually because I think they were eventually persuaded, but it was a little more tense — never tense, oral historians are never tense.
The only other thing that I wanted to mention about the establishment of OHMAR, and it does get back to the conviviality, one of the high points for many of us in those early years were the mailing parties that we used to have. I don’t know how many of you have ever had in your volunteer careers or professional careers to master the intricacies of bulk mailing. Well, Bruce Wilson, bless his heart, was our master and we would have mailing parties and they were often at my house, because I was a single parent. We didn’t have designated drivers back then — we were drinking — but we had designated stuffers and organizers. Bruce would stay sober so that as we went through the OHMAR mailing list he would remember which Zip codes went where and how many numbers of which you had to put a rubber band around to get there, so we could get our bulk mailing. There are pictures in some of the scrapbooks back there of some of those times at my home.
Again, to bring up both the subversion, the professionalism, the conviviality of OHMAR, I certainly hope that fifty years from now it will be marked with the same qualities and possibly the indomitable and indestructible Martha will still be there. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: Mary Jo mentioned the mailing parties. What she didn’t mention was that the Post Office used to grade us afterwards as to how we met their standards. We invariably got a 73, which — considering how many Ph.D.s were involved in stuffing these envelopes — was a great insult to us collectively. [laughter] Fortunately, the association moved to a stage where it could afford first class mail so we no longer face that insult.
In my own experience, I came to oral history through Martha Ross because she recommended to me to go to Columbia University to do research when I was working on a doctoral dissertation in the early 1970s. When I came back, I was ecstatic because I had found a 700-page interview with the person I was writing a biographical dissertation about, his whole story in his own words, and I told Martha about this when she was teaching at the University, and she said, “Oh, well, we’re having a meeting up in Baltimore, wouldn’t you come and speak to the group?” I said, “I’m not really an oral historian. I’ve never done an interview, I’ve just read these transcripts.” Martha said, “Oh, we hear all the time from people who have done interviews. We never hear from people who use the interviews.” So I thought, okay, I’ll go up for this one meeting and that will take care of that. That was more than twenty-five years ago, but I can vividly remember sitting on the stage of the University of Baltimore, where I was introduced to these people whom I had never met before. On one side of me was Mrs. Francis Scott Key, better known as Betty Key, and on the other side was Ben Frank, the Marine Corps oral historian. I thought, “Well, now this is a wide-ranging organization [laughter] that can go from the Blue Blood of Maryland to the Marine Corps. This is an interesting group, I have to find out more about these oral historians.”
I’ve gotten to known Ben Frank very well over the years. He was the first president of OHMAR. He was the Marine Corps oral historian. Ben is part of the Marine Corps’ history, going back before World War II. As an oral historian he’s been brought in along with the troops to Grenada, to Beirut, wherever the Marines were going they sent Ben along to record interviews. The Marines always celebrate their birthday on the 10th of November and they have a tradition of cutting the cake and giving the first slices to the oldest and youngest Marine present. Ben has enjoyed a lot of cake over the year. [laughter] I’ll turn the floor over to Ben Frank.
BENIS FRANK: I joined the Marine Corps Historical Program in l96l and was immediately put on the task of writing volume 5 of the World War II history dealing with Okinawa, the occupation of North China the occupation of Japan and a review of all that had happened to the Marine Corps concerning logistics and tables of organization and so on. I had finished that manuscript and it was at GPO. Meanwhile, the senior historian who was a history MA from Columbia had received an alumni bulletin and in it was a story of Allen Nevins and the oral history program and he thought that was exciting and that we should do that. It took a couple of years to sell it to a couple of numbskulls up in G-3 office. Fortunately, I was available in between and I went up to Columbia for a week where I was hosted by Betty [Mason] and I guess Louis [Starr] was around then, although he may have been out of the office. But after a week’s tour I was the leading expert on oral history in the Marine Corps. It was interesting how I got the first interview. The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., his wife was a cousin of a famous Marine pioneer aviator, who lived down in the horse country of Virginia. That was my first interview. So I was set up to design the program. I pioneered the Marine Corps oral history program. We were going to follow the strictures that Columbia imposed upon the use of their interviews: closed; permission required; open; permission required to cite or quote; and in order to do that I had to have the authority of the Commandant. I went up and briefed the Commandant, Wallace Greene, who was a fan of the historical program, and he said, “Fine, that’s excellent. Write it up and I’ll sign it.” And he did. Then we began interviewing.
Also about that time the Vietnam war started and we decided to do field interviews. We set up a program requiring the field commanders as well as the commanders of the Marine Corps post and stations in the country here to set up oral history interviews. We didn’t give them any money. We gave them a direction of what they should do. That resulted in close to 8,000 field interviews that we have in our collection. I say “our,” once a Marine, always a Marine, and I’ll die a Marine. So it was our program, which has been used not only by our historians as they wrote the histories of Vietnam but by outside historians. Then I wound up interviewing about 500 or so retired Marine general officers. Also I interviewed a veteran of the Spanish-American War and I interviewed people that were in the Gulf War, so as Forrest Pogue once said, with all the interviews he did he felt that he served from the First World War until World War II. I feel I served from the Spanish-American War to the Gulf War. [laughter]
As soon as I was given the task of doing the oral history program I learned about the Oral History Association. I think I learned about it when I was up at Columbia. And so I went to the second meeting, which was at Arden House, [Averell] Harriman’s estate, which was absolutely fantastic. Gee, we held our organization meeting in the Arden House chapel. We didn’t have services there. So I was one of the charter members of the OHA. It was an interesting group. I remember I was rooming with a fellow who was a historian from Chicago, he was an African American, a sweet guy, we had a lot of fun. We had a lot of Scotch. There also was a reporter from the New York Times there, to whom we fed the Scotch, and as a result, we, plus John Stewart, got our names in a newspaper article that was published the next Monday in the Times. I remember telling this guy, “James, I don’t care what you say as long as you spell my name right.” You think he did? I was known as “Dennis.”
I went to the luncheon and was slowly absorbed into what became OHMAR. We had a hard time with the name. We thought the logo for OHMAR should be a camel in a tent, but it didn’t work out that way. The first thing I knew, I was dragooned into becoming the first president. I don’t know how it happened or why it happened. It wasn’t because of any brilliance on my part. I guess I was the one who had done the most oral history at the time. Am I right?
MARTHA ROSS: Correct, among other attributes.
BEN FRANK: I can’t credit myself, I can’t claim the credit for the success of OHMAR, because Mary Jo Deering and — what’s your name? [laughter] Martha. I tell you it’s awful when you reach your seventies. But Martha and Betty Key were the sparkplugs who got the organization going. And also we have to mention Theodora Poletis, who helped write the constitution, a very lovely Greek lady who was very busy doing interviews in the Greek community in Baltimore. And there was someone from the Baltimore junior college, and Jean Scarpaci up at Towson, so there were a lot of people who were involved in getting the association going. I think Mary Jo is quite right. there was kind of a snotty attitude on the part of the Oral History Association about these various chapters. I think the various chapters, the various local organizations were in away a lot stronger than maybe OHA. But OHA was fine in trying to find its own way, deciding on guidelines, deciding on what you can do or shouldn’t do. The first few meetings, I guess maybe the first half dozen OHA meetings, all the sessions were transcribed and they are fantastic reading.
Anyway. I was active in oral history until 1990 when I became chief historian of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep my eye on our program as much as I would like since I had so many other things I had to do. But we now have two people back there in the oral history program at the Marine Corps Historical Center, which is where all of the transcripts of all of the interviews that have been done with general officers have been deposited. We were in a way “elitist” in interviewing general officers, but it was easy because first of all they were the people who were the most prominent and also they were the people whose biographies were easily available. But then you’d get recommendations of who else we should interview, other senior Marines, other people who were involved.
So with that I end my presentation. I am glad to see that there are so many people here attending OHMAR. I don’t know how many members we have now but it looks like it’s a good going group. It’s been my pleasure to be here for the tribute to Martha Ross, who well deserves it, and I must say that I don’t generally brag, but it was I at Burlington [Vermont] who first said, “Stand up, Martha.” [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: We have been talking about OHMAR’s 25s anniversary and about the relation of the state and regional associations to the national. Some of you may get the impression that OHMAR was the first of the state and regional association. Not true. We were predated by New England’s Oral History Association, and their Martha Ross, their founder, was John Fox. I’d liketo ask John Fox now to stand up for the New England Oral History Association, [Applause] which I believe was founded in 1974. We were close on its heels. This morning we heard from Cliff Kuhn, who founded the most recent regional association, SOHO, the Southern Oral History Organization. We now have regional associations in the Northwest, Southwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic States and the South, and in between are Texas, Minnesota, and other state organizations.
MARTHA ROSS: Don, the “stairwell” meeting [of the early OHA State and Regional Committee] was at Durango [Colorado] and that was in fact the space assigned to regional associations. [laughter] That was the approval of OHA, we didn’t even get a room to meet in. Betty Key convened the group in a stairwell.
DON RITCHIE: Well, one of the other special things about oral history was that for those of us like myself who came up through academic institutions, and who went to professional historical meetings in which the only other people there were other academics, was when you came into an oral history association you met people who did all different types of things and they made you think differently about things. We in the 1970s were becoming more aware of the grassroots, history from the bottom up, and also of the fact that there was a lot of community-based oral history going on. The second president of OHMAR came not from a big government agency or university, but from a public library with a local history program, a program that is still actively collecting the history of Arlington County, Virginia. I’d like to turn the program now over to Sara Collins.
SARA COLLINS: Thank you, Don. I started in oral history when the U.S. Bicentennial came up and our library said we ought to get involved in this and do some oral history. Someone said, “Take your tape recorder out on the street and record people as they go by.” I couldn’t find anything anyplace except that I had seen some activity at the library by my predecessor, and I saw Forrest Pogue’s name, and that’s an Arlington name. I called Dr. Pogue and said, “Help, what do I do?” He said, “Oh, you call Martha Ross.” [laughter] So on a hot summer’s day I went into D.C. and visited Martha at the Labor Department and found out what oral history was. Now you can find it in the dictionary, but then you couldn’t even find it in the dictionary or the periodical indexes. But I learned.
The other day, just like the rest of you were trying to think back and search our memories for what we doing in oral history, I thought, “I have some material some place.” Well, I crawled into my storage area, over skis and ski poles, and a snow shovel, and Christmas ornaments, and boxes and suitcases and you know I found one archive box full of oral history things, both Oral History Association, it was my work on the nominating committee there, before I was in OHMAR, and then all of our OHMAR stuff. I was just so tickled. You know that tape that Barry mentioned a little while ago at our first workshop up in Baltimore. That’s in that box. A video tape. We’re going to see if we can get it restored somehow or another and see it. I didn’t know what it was until Barry mentioned it this morning. I did have a name on it. But I found something else in this box: a bunch of tapes from our second workshop, the one we did out at George Mason University. [Punching out the tabs on the tape] I’m a slow learner. Twenty-three years ago then we taped all the sessions — I think each of us took a different session to tape. Here’s one that says “Basic Interviewing, Martha Ross.” This one did get labeled, but I found some others that aren’t so good. [plays tape recording]
>> I’m Martha Ross from the Maryland Department of History and I’m delighted to provide you with what will be a very hurried discussion of basic interviewing techniques for oral history purposes. I do hope that you will pick up one of the abstracts in the room where we got together originally this morning, the abstracts of all of the sessions and it may facilitate the organization of your notes or it may let you see where I have digressed from what I intended to say.<< [end of played tape recording]
I hope Charlie Hardy — did you see my old-fashioned tape recorder? It’s an artifact, but it worked fine. But I hope the rest of those tapes are as clear as that. We listened to that last night. Pam [Henson], and Elly [Shodell] and I, and decided that everything in there is worth hearing over and over and over again. It’s a very good refresher course. It was marvelous.
I found papers. I found papers with letters written to Alice [Hoffman] about a workshop we were doing in Pennsylvania and some troubles we were having trying to get someone straightened out up here.
MARTHA ROSS: And we know who he was. [laughter]
SARA COLLINS: I’m not mentioned any names. And also the fact that we were so involved in that, getting this newsletter established and deciding how to mail it and to whom to mail it and that sort of thing. There was a lot in our minutes about that. At every session, Martha was mentioning: “We’ve got to get scrapbooks.” And thank goodness you did, Martha. We got scrapbooks and they’re a gem. We were working on the constitution and bylaws, etc.
How I got to be vice president, I don’t know. Ben says he doesn’t know how he got to be president, but I think I was aware of that. It was a meeting over at the Navy Yard. This might have been a board, if we had a board, or some interested members. We’d had lunch and we came back to your office, and that’s when I learned not to have wine for lunch. [laughter] Because I nodded off and I remember opening my eyes and someone was saying, “And Ben is president and Sara is vice president.” Maybe you fell asleep, too, Ben. [laughter] But that’s how we got started.
Pretty soon the next year when I was president it seems to me I was doing the newsletter and planning the workshop and doing a lot of things at once. At that planning session at the University of Maryland at that time, I said, “I need help with the workshop.” And up came Pam Henson. Don came up and said, “What can I do to help?” And Karen Wickre, and Martha, and I thought it was wonderful. Then I knew that oral historians are the best people in the world. They’re not afraid to offer to help but to give of themselves, and that has stayed true for all these twenty-three years and it will probably be true in the next twenty-three and on and on. It’s been a great trip. Thank you. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: When Sara was president she put on a terrific meeting at George Mason University, way back in the old days of George Mason University. We met on a Saturday and we didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to park in a certain part of the parking lot, and when everyone left the meeting it tumed out that all of their cars had been towed away.
SARA COLLINS: Just the out-of-state ones.
DON RITCHIE: There was quite a ruckus about that, but it worked out very well for the association. Our finances were always very precarious — I was treasurer that year — and George Mason as sort of an apology for having towed away all those cars, never sent us the bill for the meals. We still, twenty-three or so years later have never paid that bill. [laughter]
I came to oral history, as I said, through the back door. I wasn’t even smart enough to take Martha’s course when she was teaching at the University of Maryland, but I did get lots of advice from her, and I did start to do my own interviews at the time. And when the U.S. Senate decided to hire a historian, they advertised that they wanted somebody to do oral history among other things. When I was hired on in 1976, having done an occasional interview, I had to learn how to set up a formal program. One of the things that it seemed to me and to Dick Baker who had set up the office was that I should go to the national Oral History Association meeting. I had heard about these meetings Martha was always going off to interesting places like Asheville, North Carolina, and coming back and telling the rest of us how wonderful those meetings were. But on a graduate student’s budget that was usually beyond my means. So here in 1976 I was going to my very first Oral History Association meeting. Where was it? Well, it started in Ottawa and it moved [to] the Chateau Montebello in Quebec. I thought this was pretty neat, that the goverrnment was going to pay my way to this exotic location. I went and had the best time. I made some of the best friends I have. I still keep contact with people that I met at that very first meeting in 1976. I thought it was terrific.
The president of the association that year was Alice Hoffman, and years later Alice and I and a group of others at an oral history meeting were reminiscing about our first meetings. And I said, “My first meeting was the Chateau Montebello and it was the most wonderful meeting I’ve ever been to.” Alice slapped her forehead and said, “Oh, you don’t know all the disasters!” [iaughter] She said you don’t know about the bus that drove away and left everybody’s luggage on the street. You don’t know about the local arrangements chairman who fainted in the lobby. You don’t know about how the hotel double booked the rooms so that Martha Ross and Betty Key were assigned to the same room as Ron Marcello and John Neuenschwander, and that Ben Frank had to give up his room for the featured speaker, Daniel Schorr.” [laughter]
RON MARCELLO FROM THE AUDIENCE: And they billed Waddy Moore for an “activity fee,” and he didn’t know what that was [laughter] except that he came down with ptomaine poisoning. And the hotel manager wouldn’t talk to a woman!
DON RITCHIE: That’s right, he was a Frenchman who wouldn’t do business with a woman, and we had the first woman president of the association that year. It just goes to show that you can be involved in an event and have no clue as to what’s going on. [laughter] That’s why you need to do oral histories with a cross-section of those who where there.
Alice Hoffman was president of the Oral History Association in 1976. She was on the faculty at Penn State University. She has been doing labor oral histories over the years. And she is the author — the coauthor — of one of the most provocative books about oral history. It’s about “archival memory” and oral history. She wrote Archives of Memory with her husband, Howard, about his World War II experiences and tested his memories over various periods of time. It is in many ways the best and most provocative study of memory and oral history. So I’ll turn the program over now to Alice Hoffman. [applause]
ALICE HOFFMAN: Thanks, Don. Yes, Ron, ever since then, Waddy Moore had called it the “Chateau Montegypo” [laughter] because he said that the only activity he engaged in was the “Aztec Two-Step.”
I think one of the important things about oral history is the collaboration that it sometimes provides. Mary Jo and several others have talked about the fact that the Oral History Association was a little leery about the development of all of these regional oral history associations. The first time that I met Mary Jo and Martha Ross, I think, was at George Washington University where there was this meeting in which they talked about the possibility of forming some kind of organization. I sensed from Mary Jo a little hesitancy, didn’t know what it was about, but this was before Asheville, and she didn’t quite know where I was coming from. And then John Fox said, at Asheville, I think, “Why is the Oral History Association hostile to regional meetings?” I thought “Are we hostile to regional meetings?” Recently, Charlie Hardy did an interview with me as the first woman president of the Oral History Association, and I remembered that at the conclusion or of my year I said that I may have been the first woman president of the Oral History Association, bur I will certainly not have been the last. That has been wonderfully attested to, and no place has it been better carried out than with my good friend, Martha Ross.
When Charlie did that interview with me, he asked me what were some of the things that I had as goals for being the president, and I thought you’d be interested in part of my answer. I said, quote, “I also thought that we should stop being concerned about local, regional oral history groups and stop seeing them as potential competition, but to recognize that oral history was a very democratic movement, and that as such there were all kinds of oral history projects going on all over having to do with the — you know — ladies’ aid and all that, and that these regional organizations were in a much better position to give guidance to them, and to help them, in the same way that you and I talked to the Chadds Ford Historical Society recently. ” (Charlie and I had done a gig for the Chadds Ford Historical Society prior to his talking to me.)
I do remember attending that meeting at George Washington, in a lounge of some sort, weren’t we, Mary Jo? Faculty lounge, yes, and I certainly remember the meeting where Ben Frank was installed as the first president. With regard to my memories of Martha, who was of course integral to the founding of OHMAR, her interest in oral history first came to my attention because I was doing interviews with people who were involved in the creation of the Steelworkers Union. And in that connection I attempted to do an interview with Robert Donahue, who was the regional director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. And he explained to me that mediators are very loathe to participate in a project in which the object of it was for them to tell about who struck John in labor negotiations, and that the only reason he was willing to talk to me was that he had occasion to meet the oral historian who was doing a project on the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and that he had been sufficiently impressed with her that he might perhaps be willing to talk to me.
MARTHA ROSS: I didn’t know that.
ALICE HOFFMAN: So Martha had paved the way again. Another instance in which Martha and I got together was when the George Meany Labor Studies Center decided to have an oral history project on the merger and the background of the merger between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. We thought about how we would conduct this oral history project. I was of the opinion that there were academics who knew something about oral history, but they didn’t necessarily know anything about the labor movement. Folks in the labor movement were not exactly comfortable with academics either. I thought: how to untangle this problem as to who should be the interviewers? So we got younger people who had been present at the creation of the merger, who came out of the labor movement, who were not academics. But I thought: it’s going to be something of a task to teach them to do oral history, how shall I do that? Bingo, I’ll ask Martha. So Martha and I conducted a course for a week at the Meany Center for these folks who came out of the labor movement to conduct these oral history interviews. I can only tell you that this project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the project was picked as the exemplary humanities project of that year. So Martha’s instruction obviously had been extremely valuable, as it always is.
And now for the famous Pensacola Oral History Association meeting. Howard and I and the Proctors [Sam and Bessie Proctor] arrived in Atlanta to discover that all the planes were not flying and all of the staff of Eastern Airlines were all in Halloween costumes and they all were wearing masks. So that the efforts even of Sam Proctor to get information from them as to when or if there was going to be a plane going to Pensacola come to naught, and we sat around in Atlanta for some incredible amount of time, eventually having a sort of mini Oral History Association meeting with all the people stranded in Atlanta. Finally, we did arrive in Pensacola, but it is true, collaboration again, the main speaker [William Leuchtenburg] did not show up. One of the wonderful things about oral history folks was that instead of the main speaker, a whole bunch of veteran oral historians, like Chita Fry, said, “Oh, well, we’ll make the main speech. We’ll just take turns and we’ll tell war stories about doing oral histories.” I remember Chita’s story was how in the midst of the Watergate scandal she crossed the street in front of the White House and out of her bag rolled a tape. [laughter] And somebody said, “There they are!”
In any case, I thought that that presentation by those four people was one of the best presentations we ever had, and I must tell you that throughout the Pensacola meeting, our Martha was grace under pressure. She really was. One of the things that happened at that meeting was that Howard Hoffman composed an ode to Martha Ross, and we thought that we would conclude this program by having you all sing his revision. This is a revisionist history. Pam, will you help us pass out the words?
HOWARD HOFFMAN: I didn’t compose it, I only helped.
ALICE HOFFMAN: That’s true, Chita and others helped, Shirley Tanzer, and her husband Herschel.
MARTHA ROSS: And Howard was on guitar. Needless to say, I was once again taken aback with charm. Totally charmed.
ALICE HOFFMAN: There are instructions, please read the instructions. After the first line, you are to sing: “Aha, aha, aha-ha.” The tune is “Froggy Went a Courtin’ “’ I’ll sing the first phrase and then I’ll go away from the microphone because I have acquired a very gravelly voice in my old age and I don’t think you’ll want to hear it. But I’ll move over and Howard and I will try to belt it out and help you.
Let’s sing to honor Martha Ross, a-huh.
She’s our leader and she’s our boss, a-huh.
Now let’s go through the whole thing.
PAM HENSON FROM AUDIENCE: John Ross, lead us in song.
JOHN ROSS: At the mike?
PAM HENSON: At the mike.
DON RITCHIE: We have a professional here.
MARTHA ROSS: This is youngest son, John Ross.
JOHN ROSS: Not a tune that I’m used to singing. [laughter]
Let’s sing to honor Martha Ross, a-huh.
[Repeat] She’s our leader and she’s our boss, a-huh.
This mighty midget has achieved great fame, a-huh
And oral history is her game, aha.
When asked to be our president, a-huh
She said, “Not without Forrest Pogue’s consent,” a-huh.
Well Forrest Pogue said, “It’s fine with me,” a-huh
But you know you’ll never again be free, a-huh.
Well, Ross served well and we sing her praise, a-huh
Her many good works left us in a daze, a-huh
She taught how best to interview, a-huh
With ideas that were old and new, a-huh.
She said, “Check your batteries and your reels,” a-huh
“When you’re done there’s no appeals,” a-huh
She said, “Oral historians are always broke,” a-huh
“You should never do it if you can’t take a joke,” a-huh.
She said, “Oral historians should walk with pride,” a-huh
“With their tape recorder at their side,” a-huh.
Let’s all remember as we leave this floor, a-huh
With Martha Ross, less was more, a-huh. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: A-huh. We still have some time and we thought that we would conclude our session by asking those of you who have sat patiently in the audience to say something yourself, about OHMAR, about your coming to these meetings, about why OHMAR is important to you, or what you think OHMAR should be doing in its next twenty-five years. Now that we’ve gotten over the hump of the first twenty-five, we think it should be clear sailing from now on. We will now open the floor to you.
SUE ROSENFELD: Anyone who knows me before probably has heard this before, but OHMAR is in the files of the FBI.
ALICE HOFFMAN: Why am I not surprised? [laughter]
SUE ROSENFELD: One of the first professional meetings that I ever attended when I became the FBI historian was an OHMAR workshop led by Martha Ross. She was one of my first oral history teachers. But at subsequent meetings several years after that, in the fall of 1987, after I had separated from my first husband, I went to an oral history meeting where I had lunch with Fred Stielow, who did not deem to have a long conversation with me while I was still married to someone else. We sat and had a conversation about copyright. I wrote it up that I had gone to this conference, since the FBI had paid for it, and it was put in the historians’ files. So OHMAR is in the files at the FBI, and it also records our first conversation. At a later meeting, Fred asked me out, and as we say. the rest is history. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: It’s quite true, some of the best marriages come from oral history meetings. [laughter] Do we have any other comments? Yes, Don Ross.
DON ROSS: Goodness knows, I’ve always tried to lend my experience and advice to Martha and the year that she was president I wrote out what I considered to be the critical steps that an organization goes through. I figured that all organizations have a certain style and a certain way of moving from one place to another, and since I had been present at the birth of the Health Physics Society and Industrial Hygiene Association, I wrote about three pages of things that I thought would happen in due time with the Oral History Association. At the bottom I signed it “Don R” because I didn’t have to call myself “Ross” to my own wife. Well, as Martha was wont to do, she discussed my advice from my experience with the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists, with Betty Key. Betty Key, read the letter and was incensed: “Well, if this is what Don Ritchie thinks should be done, why doesn’t he suggest it?”
I have one question. Ben Frank, sometimes known as Big Ben, has had oral history and Marine experience, but many of the people in this area know him for the various Scottish activities in which he participates. I always wondered about this, since he’s not Scotch. But then he mentioned that Oral History meeting and the frequent use of Scotch, maybe that’s the connection. I don’t know if he knows that one of our children has given him the nickname of “The Dread Scot ”
BEN FRANK: I knew that. [laughter]
DON RITCHIE: Fred.
FRED STIELOW: I was reinformed today and I want this to go in the record that I have given Martha Ross the best introduction of anyone. When I was teaching at Maryland and doing an archives course, I told students to take her class, and join OHMAR, and my last comment was “And she’s a damn good kisser, too.” [laughter] Martha, the students were impressed.
MARTHA ROSS: They were aghast. [laughter] What kind of taste does this man have?
DON RITCHIE: Yes, Madelyn.
MADELYN CAMPBELL: First of all, I’m not an oral historian, perhaps the only one in the room that’s not. I’ve heard this afternoon so many themes about how people came to be part of the Oral History Association and I just wanted to comment that my mother was aging and I knew that I didn’t have much more time with her, and I wanted to get the stories but I just didn’t know how to get the stories from her. I tried once while my brother was there, but he just dominated the whole conversation. At any rate, after she died, I was going through a transition, and having worked full-time all of my life at Dickinson College, happened to log on to my computer and look at the job board. Why I did, I have no idea, because was very happy in financial aid, and I saw the Oral History Association was advertising for an executive secretary. It completely drew me in. I just thought, “I have to do this.” I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I’m going to do it. When I came to the first meeting at the Ritchies’ house, Don Ross came up to me and we chatted and in the course of the conversation I mentioned that I had grown up in Oak Ridge, and of course it turned out that Martha and Don had met there and were married there. I was able to sit down with Martha Ross, having never met her and being able to say to her, “It was a sad day when they closed the Park Hotel in Clinton.” She knew just what I meant, and immediately I felt so completely a part of the association. Martha just started talking and I knew at that moment that I had made a perfect decision in my life. She made me feel so much a part of things even though I was not an oral historian.
MARTHA ROSS: May I supplement Madelyn’s recollections. She said it was a sad day when they closed the Park hotel. It just happened that my first date with Don he took me to the Park Hotel for dinner. It was famous in Clinton, Tennessee, near Oak Ridge.
DON ROSS: It was cheap. [laughter]
MARTHA ROSS: That was going to be the punch line. It was an old country hotel, where you could pick the entrée — steak, chicken or ham — and everything else came family style, and it was “all you could eat.” They just brought food, food, food. I remember it as being S1.25.
DON ROSS: $1.75. [laughter]
MARTHA ROSS: That was with a previous girlfriend, before I got there. [laughter] Neither one of us had a car, it was January of ’46 right after the war and nobody had cars, but we had a friend Dick Fink from Chicago, and Lillard Clayton (I don’t know where he was from but he went on to become a theatrical agent in New York City and was never heard from since so he must be doing well). Lillard had a car and so Lillard Clayton, Dick Fink, Don and I tooled over to Clinton, Tennessee. This was my first date with this guy. Dick had “fixed me up” with Don Ross. I had never been “fixed up” with anybody before, but I had seen Dick with this guy, and this guy had a wonderful smile. Now, you all know that my face in repose looks glum, everything kind of goes down. People say, “Martha what’s the matter? You look so sad.” I say, “I’m not sad, this is just my normal look.” Don Ross, his smile just brightened the room. I asked Dick Fink who this guy was. He said, “That’s Don Ross, and his girlfriend has just left and married somebody else. He is down in the dumps and he needs somebody to pick him up. I’ll fix you up.” I said, “I don’t want to be fixed up, I just asked you who he was.” [laughter] So with this background we go to dinner, the three men and Martha Ross. Now, those of you who have eaten with me, particularly Sara — I like to attend meetings with Sara she’s always ready to stop and eat — and I’m always willing to stop and eat because I eat so little at any one sitting. Well, I ate little that evening, as was my wont, and I was excited and kind of on trial. I picked at what Don Ross was paying $1.25 for, and I did not clean my plate. He was so upset I thought I would never see him again. [laughter] You’ll have to ask him why he came back and he’s still worried that I don’t clean my plate.”
DON RITCHIE: Talking about food, OHMAR, like other oral history associations, always travels on its stomach, and when remember the meetings we sometimes remember the words of wisdom given to us by the speakers, but we always remember the meals that we had. I see Pam Whitehead in the back who put on definitely the sweetest meeting that OHMAR ever had at the Hershey hotel, where we had candy bars in our registration packets and bowls of kisses in each of the meeting rooms — I’m not sure if that was what Fred was referring to — but those are the kinds of meetings that the association has had over the years that people do remember. There is very much a sense of community. We have literally broken bread together at wonderful places up and down the East Coast. We’ve met as far north as New York City and as far south as-where?
MAME WARREN FROM THE AUDIENCE: Lexington [Virginia].
DON RITCHIE: Lexington, that’s right. Mame remembers the meeting in Lexington since she was in charge. That was a joint meeting with the SOHO organization to our south. But part of the pleasure of these meetings, in addition to the sessions, is sitting at lunch and talking with people whom you either know or you have just met. You ask them what they do and they are doing something really interesting with oral history. You go back the next day and say, “I could do that. I could incorporate some of that into what it is that I am doing.” At every meeting we always pick up and learn something more. Each of us who have been doing oral history, our projects are probably better. If you were charting it on a graph you would note that the improvements happened right after oral historians got together, either on the national level or on the local level. That we went back and remembered that we had to fill out the labels on our tapes [laughter], punch those little tabs out of the cassettes, that we needed to keep the tapes under better conditions, that we ought to be transcribing our interviews, and that we could do various things to make the interviews more available. It’s been a terrific learning curve. A comment in the back, yes.
GREG ROSS: Thanks, Don. You may know that this is my first OHMAR meeting, being one of the Ross family sons. Actually, most of this started after I had left for college, so I have never gotten a chance to meet most of you, but I’ve read about a lot of you. I really wanted to say thank you for the couple of decades that you’ve worked with my Mom and helped her kind of replace the family that all scattered around the country. She’s got a family that gets together a couple of times a year at least, and she thinks the most of each and every one of you, and I just want to say thank you for being part of that family. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: What I would like to do now is ask our panelists one final question. We’ll pass the microphone up and down. We’ve just looked back over twenty-five years of what this association has done. I’d like people to project a little bit now. What do you expect oral history, and OHMAR, and other oral history associations to be perhaps in the next twenty five years? What would you like to see oral history do as we progress? Martha, would you like to begin?
MARTHA ROSS: I’ll be glad. I always have a few words. Actually, I think if we could continue in the way that we are going, which is highly interdisciplinary, which was actually reflected in the students in my class at Maryland. I had historians, secondary ed teachers, archivists, librarians, folklorists, journalists, history of sport people, history of music people, and it has always occurred to me that one of the charms of both OHA and OHMAR is the variety of disciplines, all using the same methodology for their own purposes, but engendering, as someone said earlier, the respect for theperson that you are interviewing, who has the information that you want, the respect for his information, the respect for his experience as he remembers, and the respect for the way he is willing to share it with it you. Each of those may be different things. What happened to him may be different than the way he remembers it, but he acts on the way he remembers it. If you have respect for this person and his experience, the way he remembers it, the way he is willing to share it with you, it is a mutual, affirmative, confirming, reinforcing experience, both for the interviewer and for the interviewee. Whatever basic discipline you are involved in, and trained in, and expert in, that you want to gather information by means of interviews, I think it’s wonderful for an organization such as OHMAR on a regional level and OHA on the national, and with contacts international, to promote these ideas of sharing information, and preserving information, and respecting those with the lived-through experience. I would just like to see that continue and spread and not get too caught up in the discipline, the methodology, the academia, but to allow this great human activity that oral history represents to continue and prosper. I salute all of you, even though I won’t see where this organization goes for very many more years.
ALICE HOFFMAN: I think this has been a wonderful meeting, inspired by our love for Martha and our desire to honor her. I was very much touched by Alferdteen Harrison’s keynote address. It reminded me of an experience that Howard and I had. Some years ago, Haverford College gave an honorary degree to Rosa Parks. We happened to sit with her at lunch. She said to me, “You know, everybody thinks that I just got tired and that my feet hurt and that that’s what began the whole events in the Montgomery bus boycott.” She said, “You know, I was secretary of the NAACP. I was very active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters with Mr. Nixon.” What she was saying was that she had lived a life prepared to make this statement. That is so important. I said to Alferdteen out in the hall, “That is the importance of your oral history.” Because if you look at what has been said about Rosa Parks in the newspapers, it’s all about how she got tired one day and just decided not to give up her seat in the bus, and that wasn’t it at all. The message for young people is that these people who we interview as a part of our oral history projects are people whohave been prepared to make the contributions that they made. They didn’t just suddenly appear.
I think that one of the things that has always been important to me about oral history is its democratic nature. While I know that it’s important for us to professionalize what we do, and to do the very best job that we can ,I hope — and I think meetings like this with camaraderie are a part of that — that we never lose that sense of the contributions that people have made. I think without oral history, we would not have women’s history, we would not have minority history, we would not have labor history. We have been a part of a revolution that has changed the very nature of history. I think we have done it because of that democratic spirit, which I hope we never lose. [Applause]
HOWARD HOFFMAN: I have just been on the fringes of oral history but I have one comment I wanted to make. I just regret that I have but one wife to give to the oral history movement. [Iaughter]
SARA COLLINS: I think oral historians don’t go into that field unless they like people a whole lot, and that’s what I’ve seen in our regional oral history association and the national Oral History Association. They are people-oriented people. I predict that they will continue that way. I had an opportunity — I was giving a slide-show as a kick-off for our bicentennial in Arlington, we’re celebrating our two hundredth anniversary, and I had given some of the early colonial, nineteenth and early twentieth century history and someone from the audience offered: “That’s all well and good, but what about the history of this important fifty years?” It’s because people don’t believe there is history unless they have been a part of it. They considered the history of the last fifty years, which is very, very important in Arlington, to be the only history and asked: “Are you keeping that?” I was able to say, “I am retired from the library, but fortunately, your local library in its community archives and its oral history program, has a wonderful documentation of the civil rights struggles, and the school struggles of the last fifty years.” I think, like you were saying Alice, that’s where we’re going to be able to give the most, in some of these more recent but otherwise undocumented struggles.
MARY JO DEERING: Well, as someone who has left oral history as a profession over fifteen years ago, I pick up on the remarks of the others and what said earlier that I would judge oral history not as a discipline or a sub-field but as a set of values and attitudes and approaches toward people. As such, I think for those of you who are teaching oral history at any level, and those of you who are organizing meetings about oral history, should remember that not all of those who come to you will be professional oral historians. But the skills and values and approaches and attitudes that you give to them can be extraordinarily valuable to them in their professional life in a variety of settings. So I guess my recommendation would be to continue to be open and flexible to new issues and receptive to serendipity and new opportunities for subversion. [laughter]
BEN FRANK: The way the stock market is going, I’m not about to predict anything. But I think we who have been involved in oral history and who have conducted a number of oral history interviews, ought to pat ourselves on the back, because we have left a legacy. One of the things I did on my last day at the Marine Corps Historical Center was go into the oral history office and look on the shelves at the transcripts of all the oral histories I conducted, and I felt pretty proud. I had left a legacy to the Marine Corps. Those of you who have conducted interviews that have gone into collections have also left a legacy and I think that’s quite important too.
DON RITCHIE: I think all of us can feel that we are contributing to the way that history will be written in the future. Right now, the people whom we’ve interviewed can be interviewed by others, and many of them may do multiple interviews. But in the future there will be situations in which the only testimony that some people will have left will be the interview that you recorded and that you put in a repository. That will be a deciding factor in the way future historians, scholars, film makers, and others interpret the history of the twentieth century and even the twenty-first century. They may interpret it in ways that we cannot predict, even those of us who were there. We may roll our eyes when we see what they do with some of it. But the fact is that oral history is going to be a major resource in the future, especially when historians discover that manuscript collections for the later twentieth century are nowhere near as rich as they were for previous periods. So all of us collectively have made a contribution, and OHMAR has enabled us to do that.
One of the things that has made OHMAR so successful as an organization is the fact that all of us who were its pioneers in 1976, who are up, aren’t running this organization any more. Throughout the audience I see people who were presidents in the 1980s and 1990s, who ran meetings at different times, who kept this association going. One of the great things about the pioneers is that they gracefully stepped aside and allowed for new oral historians to come in and take over. We have right now a terrific board for OHMAR. I sat in on a board meeting the other day for the first time in a decade and it was quite interesting to hear them discussing some new things, some old things; some issues that keep on coming around that we are still grappling with. But they are doing an outstanding job and I think that the best way for us to conclude this meeting on our twenty-fifth anniversary is ask all of the current officers of OHMAR, who are running the show right now, to stand and get some applause from the association. [Applause]
DONITA MORHUS: I would like to thank all of you for this inspiring meeting. You have laid out a path for us all to follow. Thank you all. [Applause]
DON RITCHIE: We are now going to do what oral historians like to do the most: we are going to eat and drink. I hope that all of you will be able to join us at India’s Restaurant. Just go outside to the left and walk down the street. You’ll see a crowd. Come join us and you can get to talk to all of our participants there as well. Thank you all for coming.
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