Oral History Interview with MaryLee Hartzell

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Title: Oral History Interview with MaryLee Hartzell

Creator: MaryLee Hartzell

Date: April 25, 2013, 6:00 PM;2013-04-25T18:00:00-05:00

Description: An interview with MaryLee Hartzell, Vassar Class of 1953, on April 25th, 2013 about the dress she wore for her wedding on July 31st, 1954 in Forest Hills, as well as her life since with her husband of 59 years.

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Oral History Interview with MaryLee Hartzell


An interview with MaryLee Hartzell, Vassar Class of 1953, on April 25th, 2013 about the dress she wore for her wedding on July 31st, 1954 in Forest Hills, as well as her life since with her husband of 59 years.


April 25, 2013, 6:00 PM;2013-04-25T18:00:00-05:00


For Better and For Worse


21 minutes, 44 seconds





Oral History Item Type Metadata




Vogelstein Center for Drama & Film, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, via Skype


[0:00:07.1 Beginning of interview]
MaryLee: Emily!
Emily: Hello!
MaryLee: Well hello. Nice to meet you!
Emily: It's nice to meet you too!
MaryLee: I told my husband who's in the other room if I holler come on in so Emily can meet you too.
Emily: That would be so exciting.
MaryLee: I'm ready. I'm ready for all of your questions.
Emily: My name is Emily Goddard I'm interviewing Mary Lee Hartzell. This is for the Vassar College costume collection wedding dress exhibit. It is 5:53 PM on April 25th, 2013 and we are doing this interview via skype. So I guess just to start, could you just tell me about your wedding?
MaryLee: Well, first I'm excited to tell you how I met my husband at Vassar, because in my year there were only women at Vassar except for very few WWII veterans--I think there were 5 or 6 of them. They were the only men students. But anyway, a whole bunch of us friends lived in Main, which is where they put the seniors in those days. And we had the greatest time, it was fabulous. Across the hall, I think you could call her the social director of our class, but she arranged a lot of events. Christie Gordon was her name. She's no longer alive. And she was organizing a dance between Yale Law School seniors and the Vassar seniors and she was looking for women to come to the dance and she came over and she said ‘You gotta come, I don't have enough women,’ and I said ‘I hate those things, I just don't wanna go.’ She said ‘Well you gotta go, you might meet the man you're gonna marry.’And I said ‘Uhhh...’ I was very reluctant to go, but I went because she was a good friend. And up to that point I'd had a lot of blind dates--that's what people did in those days. We all had blind dates with Princeton and West Point guys...all kinds of guys. And anyway, I went to the dance and there was a pre-cocktail thing at Alumnae House. And we were mingling around and I was with a group of guys and I excused myself and said I'm going to get a drink although I'd already had one and I went up to the bar, which was in the foyer of Alumnae House, and I think her name is Mrs. Gernzy. She was a big director of Alumni Affairs or something, but she was a Vassar lady and she was the bartender. (0:02:52.0) And there was Andy and he said ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ and I put my drink behind my back and said ‘Sure’ was the meeting (laughing) and we just clicked and started to date. He was still finishing law school and so he went back. We dated back and forth till I graduated. He graduated and I went to law school in that fall. I went to Fordham law school and he clercked for a federal judge called Irving Kaufman who was the one who prosecuted the Rosenbergs. I don't know if you know the history of all that.
Emily: Yeah I do know a little bit of the history.
MaryLee: Yeah and actually he'd done that before Andy started to work for him. So all that year I was at Fordham law school and he was working down in the federal court for the judge. And we used to meet for lunch at a delicatessen and have cream cheese and jelly on toast (laughing) We can still remember that. And toasted short bread with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. That was all we could afford. We had that every time we met, which wasn't everyday but frequent. Anyway, we got married in 1954 and I wore that dress on a very hot day--July 31st was like 98 degrees, people are still talking about how hot it was because there wasn't any air conditioning at the Forest Hills Inn where we had the reception. And we went on a long honeymoon because he was taking a job with a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio and it was great we had a month long honeymoon--went to Canada, did all kinds of things as we worked our way out West. And we lived there in Cleveland and we had four children there. He always wanted to come back to New York and he did--he came. He worked for Thompson, Hine, and Flory, which was a law firm there. And then he came back to New York as a partner in a law firm Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons, and Gates it was called then. Now it's called Debevoise Plimpton. And we moved to Scarsedale, New York. We had two more children and I have family in the East. His family was in Baltimore, so we were all kind of Eastern people. And actually we've lived in this house for 50 years (laughing) and that's sort of the story. We have fourteen living grandchildren. One died in an accident about seventeen or eighteen years ago.
Emily: I'm sorry
MaryLee: A little boy, my daughter's little boy, four years old, which if you interview her, you know, she may tell you about that.
Emily: Yeah.
MaryLee: I can't think of...that's my story.
Emily: That's a great story. So just getting even a little bit more focused, could you tell me a little bit more of what your wedding was like? You mention it was in July, it was warm. What do you remember from it?
MaryLee: Let's see. What did I have. I didn't think to get it. It's downstairs. A picture, of...I had four or five bridesmaids and when we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary most everybody who was in the wedding came. Although one of my roommates had since died, but they all wore blue bridemaids dresses. Both our parents were alive at that time, so we had our parents and I had had two brothers and a sister. One of my brothers has died. And Andy had a brother and a sister, both of whom are still alive. In fact his brother just celebrated his 80th birthday and we all went up to Rochester and had a big family celebration for that.
Emily: That's great.
MaryLee: Um...Let's see.
Emily: Well, you were dating for how long before you got married exactly? A couple years?
MaryLee: We met in the Spring of my senior year and were married the following Summer. So about a year, a little over a year. Would you like to meet to groom?
Emily: Oh, if he's around I'd love to.
MaryLee: ANDY! Could you come and say hello to Emily? He studies French.
Emily: Oh wow, that's so interesting.
MaryLee: In his very little spare time.
Emily: What made you want to get married? What made you choose the date and the time and all that?
MaryLee: Because he finished law school and then he didn't have to be in Clevelend, Ohio until September I believe. So we knew we'd have...This is Emily. He doesn't have a groom outfit on.
Emily: Oh no!
MaryLee: Can you see him? Here, get in front of the camera which is there.
Andy: Oh yeah. Hi!
Emily: Hello. So nice to see you.
Andy: Nice to see you too.
MaryLee: She wants to know why we got married when we did.
Andy: I was finishing a courtship with a judge.
MaryLee: I told her.
Andy: In New York and starting a job at a law firm in Cleveland.
MaryLee: Yeah, I told her that.
Andy: And so, that's why. That was the time. I finished the one job and we had a month, six weeks, before I had to start another.
Emily: Sounds like perfect timing.
Andy: We--yeah--made it then.
Emily: Oh that's so great. So I guess I have a couple of other specific questions specifically about your dress. So how old were both of you when you got married?
MaryLee: 22 I would say.
Andy: Yes you were 23.
MaryLee: I was 23, yeah.
Andy: And I was 26, I think.
MaryLee: Yeah he's four years older than I am.
a: So I was 26. Yes.
Emily: Great. And obviously you're still married today, so how long has it been? If you can remember.
Andy: I worked out. It'll be 59 years this July 31st.
Emily: Aw, congrats.
(breaks up a bit)
MaryLee:...graduated in 2011 and another granddaughter just got accepted to go there. So we'll see.
Emily: That's so exciting. You have the most fantastic family of Vassar.
MaryLee: We do have a legacy.
Andy: That's all because I happened to go up there that one time.
Emily: All thanks to that one fantastic story. That is really an amazing story.
MaryLee: Those things don't happen anymore because I guess they don't import men from elsewhere.
Emily: No, we've got them right here.
MaryLee: Do you have anymore questions? It's hard to remember the wedding that much.
Emily: Yeah, I understand. I just...a couple specifically about the dress, do you remember where you bought it? And why you decided that that was the right dress for you?
MaryLee: I wanted something simple. DIdn't want to spend a whole lot of money. We must've, my mother and I, we must've gone into New York somewhere and bought it.
Emily: Mmhmm. It's really beautiful.
MaryLee: Well thanks, I don't fit into it anymore! But it's just plain silk dress. (to Andy) Could you bring the picture from our room with me in the wedding dress?
a: Yeah.
MaryLee: I didn't know if you wanted photographs of it.
Emily: No, actually. I have. We've taken some photographs of it since it's in the collection.
MaryLee: Of me in it.
Emily: Not of you in it, just of the dress.
MaryLee: Okay, Andy's bringing the photograph that we have in the bedroom.
Emily: Oh wow.
MaryLee: So just to show you what we looked like. We didn't have gray hair then. (laughing)
Emily: Would you say that you identified yourself with any sort of like popular culture or like fashion of the time?
MaryLee: No. I wore my brothers clothes a lot when I was in college. Sort of looked kind of grungy. Because we didn't care what we looked like because there were only women around! No just...That's me in the dress. Can you see?
Emily: Oh I can, that's so beautiful!
MaryLee: Yeah. It was such a hot day, that we remember.
Emily: Yeah. It's lovely.
MaryLee: Here, we have kids pictures on the bottom here. But there is Andy and I.
Emily: Oh, that's so fantastic. You both look so happy.
MaryLee: I think this is a great idea.
Emily: I'm excited about it. Just a couple of last questions. Why did you choose to donate the dress?
MaryLee: Well my sister was cleaning out the family home in which she and her husband have lived after my mother died in Jackson Heights in Queens. Or maybe I had the dress in my attic here. And my sister was very involved in the Alumni Association. She was head of the nominating committee for many years. So she was up at Vassar a lot. Plus she used to see our granddaughter who graduated in 2011. She must have been talking to people, because she decided...she donated some furniture which actually is in the Alumnae House..that she would donate my mother's dress and some other shoes and funny looking dresses because my mother was a flapper. She got married in 1929. So the dress was a flapper dress. So she gave my mother's dress and that at some point we all said: ‘Why don’t we give our dresses? We're not gonna wear them again.’ So I guess that's what we did.
Emily: That's great. Can you tell me a little bit more about your mother and her dress and her wedding if you know anything about that.
MaryLee: Well my sister really is the one to talk to. She has...she remembers everything about everything. I just know my mother. Well my father was a good bit older than she, like seventeen or eighteen years older. My mother loved Vassar. She worked up at the bookstore after she graduated. She talked about Vassar all the time. She was, my sister will tell you, she was the one that bought the books for the bookstore. So all the time when we were growing up we always had books at Christmas time that she bought from the Vassar bookstore. Piles of them. Just piles of books wrapped in red paper. I remember that distinctly. Let's see. What else, of course we weren't around when my mother got married. I think I might have a picture of her up in the attic somewhere.
Emily: I actually think I'm hopefully going to talk to your sister sometime.
MaryLee: She'll know all the details about the little flowers that were on the dress or on the shoes.
Emily: Yeah. It's lovely.
MaryLee: Little wax flowers I think they're still there or something.
Emily: So I guess, my last question I just have one more thing is just to tell me a little bit more about yourself. Obviously you went to college at Vassar and you said you went to Fordham law school after that, but a little bit more about the jobs and careers that you've had.
MaryLee: Then we got married and I started to go to my second year of law school at Pace Western Reserve in Ohio. But I very much wanted to have a family and so I became pregnant with our oldest son Neil and it was very difficult to...I was the only one in the class and there I was pregnant. A lot of made fun of. It was...talk about discrimination. There definitely was discrimination. So I stopped going and then had all those children. And then when we came back here I didn't work because I had those children close together and was just a very busy stay at home mom. When we moved back to New York and I had two more children and my father was not in good shape and he died and went through all that family stuff. My mother was gone 20 years after he died. But when my youngest son was in highschool I decided that I should finish my education so I went back to school at Iona, which is a local college, and got a masters of science and family therapy, which took me about four years to do because I still had kids at home and busy working husband. I worked for a couple years doing family therapy, but most of the time that has to work at night because that's when the families come. And things started happening in the family where they needed me. People were having miscarriages, people were having babies, so I was needed and I thought you know this is crazy. So I stopped. But then I taught family parenting at our church for many many years I did that, so I carried on. And also, in the middle of all that, I started to take art lessons and I know, I guess you could call me an artist, but I still take art lessons and I do watercolors. I've sold things and I've been in shows. I'm not sensational or anything. I'm sort of a pedestrian watercolor artist, but I love it. Just had a class today, so that's what I do.
Emily: That's fantastic. Just, I'm sure you mentioned this but I'm terrible. How many children do you have?
MaryLee: 6.
Emily: 6--wow!
Emily: And how long were you married before you had your first child?
MaryLee: A year...soon. Well let's see. I started school and he was born 1955 and we were married 1954 so there it began. In fact, here they all are grown up.
Emily: No way!
MaryLee: That was just recently. They all came to the house without their spouses. That was special.
Emily: That's great.
MaryLee: So there's five sons and one daughter we have.
Emily: That's fantastic. Is there anything else that you would like to share with me about you, your husband, your wedding, your marriage, your life, anything?
MaryLee: Well, I would like to say it's been a glorious life. It really has. I'm 81 now, he's 85. And we still have a lot of fun together and we've taken fantastic trips with our kids, and they're all mountain climbers and hikers which I'm not, but I've always gone on all of them. We've done all the national parks out West. They've climbed mountains and we've been to Switzerland and Ireland and England and France and even Africa all the Matterhorn and Kilimanjaro. We had quite an adventure where I got deathly ill and his guide died on the mountain and he's written a book about it, but that was back in the 80s.
Emily: Wow.
MaryLee: So we don't to that anymore.
Emily: Yeah.
MaryLee: But lots of wonderful memories and just recently, the summer before last, we took twelve of us out West to one of the national parks. So we like to do that. I don't know how much longer we can continue doing that because it takes a lot of planning and effort but we have fun with the family so that's a great thing. And now that we have grandchildren who are older and teenagers, they like doing all that stuff too. So, that's it.
Emily: That's spectacular.
MaryLee: Very happy life, very happy that we met at Vassar. I feel very blessed. Hope the same happens to you, my dear.
Emily: Oh, thank you! It's been really wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your dress and just sharing the whole experience.




MaryLee Hartzell, “Oral History Interview with MaryLee Hartzell,” Vassar College Costume Collection, accessed July 13, 2024, http://vccc.vassarspaces.net/items/show/4211.

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