The Last Page

Coping with Change

By Babette G. L. Levin '60

Monique (Nicky) Censor Katz ’60 trained as a surgeon after graduating from Vassar 45 years ago. She worked every other night and every other weekend. When she married a few months after beginning her six-year surgical residency, her new husband asked whether another medical field might be less taxing. Knowing that she would face serious hurdles finding work in general surgery as a female and, more important, wanting to build a strong marriage, Nicky switched from surgery to radiology. She has worked happily for more than 40 years as a radiologist, bearing four children during that time.

“I never felt I was as good a radiologist or as good a wife and mother as I might have been,” Katz says, “and I never had adequate time to make friends.” Nevertheless, she is thrilled with the way her family turned out, and says if she had her life to do over again, she would do nothing different. (Katz’ story is one of many brought to light during a class-initiated survey of the class of 1960.)

Although Win Parks Friedman ’60 earned a master’s degree and was a social worker for 10 years, she devoted the rest of her life to raising her son, helping her husband with his medical practice, maintaining their home, and playing jazz piano on the side. “I felt I could not do a good job as both social worker and housewife unless I wanted no time for cultural or intellectual interests and for meeting the needs of my husband and his demanding career.” Looking back, Friedman, too, says she would do nothing different.

Marilyn Dubin Kaplan’s ’60 career has been varied. Over the years she has worked as a high-school social studies teacher, a full-time mother and homemaker for nine years, a university administrator and fundraiser. She’s earned three master’s degrees as well. Kaplan says frequent change of focus and geographic moves for her husband’s jobs limited her opportunities for career advancement and development. If she had it to do over again, she says, she would place more emphasis on having a career outside the home.

“For many years,” Kaplan says, “I regretted not completing my Ph.D. and pursuing a college teaching career or returning to school to become a lawyer. However, with the satisfactions and love I have found in recent years from my family [including her supportive husband of 43 years], those regrets have faded. I think that I am happier as a 65-year-old grandmother than I have ever been in my life.”

In their experiences and attitudes these women represent three rough subgroups of the classmates who responded to the Class of 1960 survey about their work experiences in the years since graduation: lifelong “straight-line career” women; women who identified themselves primarily as mothers and homemakers; and women who mixed or shifted their life’s work between at-home motherhood and employment outside the home. The third group is by far the largest.

Respondents represent one-third of the class (114 out of 330 living classmates for whom AAVC has addresses)—a strong response to a mailed survey, but one that leaves us wondering about the life experiences of the two-thirds who chose not to respond. Here are some highlights of the findings: (Some category totals were adjusted to reflect “other” responses, which appropriately belonged to one of the categories.) Emblematic of our times, 36 percent of the respondents stayed home with their children for more than 10 years, and 78 percent stayed home three years or more. On the other hand, well over half—63 women—earned graduate degrees. More than half made significant changes in their life’s work (defined as including motherhood as well as professional, business, artistic, and volunteer work), and 78 percent are very pleased with the changes they made. Three-quarters of respondents said their choice of career had been somewhat or greatly influenced by their Vassar experience.

What were their goals when they graduated from Vassar? Nearly a quarter said that when they graduated, they thought primarily in terms of a professional or business career. More than a quarter said they thought in terms of both marriage/family and career simultaneously; and less than half (45%) thought primarily in terms of marriage and family (either marriage/family only or marriage/family definitely and a career “down the road”). Looking at these results, we may wonder: were Vassar women motivated differently—either when they entered college or as a result of their college education—than average educated women of the 1950s? Or is our concept of 1950s expectations no more than a stereotype? When asked what would they do differently if they had it all to do over again, the 79 percent who replied to this question responded as such: about 38 percent would do nothing different; about 22 percent would emphasize career more; about 9 percent would place more emphasis on home and family.

Many who struggled in earlier decades have now made peace with their disappointments, in part because time and age have caused a shift in priorities. “Finally,” says Kaplan, “I have reached a point in my life when I have stopped struggling for recognition and approval, and am happy with myself and my life.”

The author would appreciate hearing about comparable work/family surveys conducted by other Vassar classes. Contact her at