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Interview with Jenijoy La Belle

La Belle, Jenijoy (2010) Interview with Jenijoy La Belle. [Oral History]

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Interview in eight sessions, February 2008-April 2009, with Jenijoy La Belle, professor of English, Caltech. La Belle talks about her childhood, education, and family influences growing up in Olympia, Washington, and her early love of literature and poetry. She recalls her undergraduate years at the University of Washington (B.A. 1965), including studying with poet Theodore Roethke, who became the subject of her doctoral thesis (Ph.D. 1968) at UC San Diego. She describes her early years (1969-1975) as Caltech's first female professor, her Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) colleagues, including division chair H. Smith and J. K. Clark, her friendship with physicist R. P. Feynman, her initial impressions of Caltech students, and her research on poet/artist William Blake. She discusses HSS's shift in emphasis toward the social sciences in the 1970s, the impact on the division, and the appointment of economic historian R. Huttenback as division chair in 1972. In 1975, La Belle's landmark Caltech tenure case begins when Huttenback overrules the English department's recommendation that she be granted tenure. She relates chronology and conduct of the case, detailing the involvement of HSS and other faculty, Caltech provost R. Christy, trustee L. Wasserman, numerous campus committees, and outside referees. She describes events leading to her decision to file an official complaint with the EEOC, the agency's investigation and subsequent citing of Caltech for gender discrimination in faculty hiring, Caltech's reaction, and her satisfactory resolution of the case with Caltech in 1977. (Verbatim excerpts of relevant letters, articles, memos, and other documents are included in this section.) She outlines Huttenback's subsequent career as chancellor of UC Santa Barbara and his Santa Barbara trial and conviction for embezzling university funds in 1988, and reflects on its significance for her own case. She discusses her literary research into Blake, 17th-century poetry, and Shakespeare's plays, and the importance of the Huntington Library (San Marino, California) humanities collections in her work. She comments on her involvement with Caltech faculty committees, and her role as chair of Caltech's convocations committee (1986-1989). Interview concludes with her perspectives on teaching Shakespeare to four decades of Caltech students, team-teaching/staging the Bard in tandem with Caltech theater arts director Shirley Marneus, and a brief assessment of Caltech's presidents.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:English literature, humanities
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_LaBelle_J
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:La Belle, Jenijoy. Interview by Heidi Aspaturian. Pasadena, California, February-May 2008, April 2009. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:All Records
Subjects > Humanities
ID Code:175
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:01 Dec 2010
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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