DOUGLASS ALUMNAE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Califon, New Jersey
May 29, 2008
SGM: = INTERVIEWER, Susan Gordan Marchand ’61
NPH: = INTERVIEWER, Nancy Punchatz Hines ’61
VDS: = INTERVIEWEE, Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42
SGM: What is your full name?
VDS: My name is Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt, class of 1942, Douglass and NJC
of which I am very proud.
SGM: Why did you want to go to college?
VDS: I thought I needed to learn a lot more, to have a broader background.
I was about the brightest person in my high school class. I thought I owed it
to myself, my family and my community to go to college.
SGM: How did you decide to go to NJC?
VDS: I was very interested in Latin, which is a course that I took in high school.
My Latin teacher, Janet Henry, whom I remember very fondly, took an interest in
me. She had seen that I was doing very well in class and wanted me to attend
Wilson College that she went to, in Pennsylvania. However, it was during the
Depression and most scholarship funds were diminished or no longer available. I
didn’t know about NJC because it was 1938 and the college was barely established.
She made sure that I would be able to continue my education. It wasn’t just she
who helped me. My minister, Dr. David Evans, also helped and made sure that I
got into NJC. I was happy to be able to go.
NPH: The Depression was a very hard time. What was it like starting NJC at that
VDS: For me it was very difficult, because I was poor… very poor, but it didn’t
matter to me that I was poor. My mother was a wonderful woman. She was a
single mother. My father was in and out of our home. If it weren’t for my sister, I
don’t know if I could have gone to college. She was three years older and she took
care of the family. Her first job was working at a YMCA at $ 9.00 a week. My
mother also had a job, too, part time.
I had to work hard to get scholarships. I didn’t borrow money, but there were
wonderful people who helped me. I received a State Scholarship that I won after
taking a competitive exam in Latin. I can’t remember what I paid in tuition, except
that as a captain in Cooper Hall I received all my meals worth $200 each term so all
my food was taken care of. That was helpful.
I had no spending money at school. I thought I was the one who was poor. I
didn’t realize until recently when meeting with some of my classmates at reunions
that many of them were as poor as I. We did the best we could.
SGM: What town did you live in when you came to college?
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VDS: I was living in Bridgewater, New Jersey, when I started at NJC.
NPH: Where did you live on campus?
VDS: I lived on each of the campuses. I started at Douglass, House P. Then I
went on to Jameson and Gibbons. Senior year I went back to Douglass. I liked
Douglass. It was my favorite.
SGM: Do you recall what the house was like?
VDS: I can see it very clearly. There was a nice little foyer and a small living room.
It was a delightful area. We could meet our guys there, but they couldn’t go any
further. I found out much later that young men could go further after that. I
remember living on the second floor in the back of the house. The room was very
spare… the two beds, the desks, a chair and a chest of drawers. That was all. It
was fine; great.
SGM: Were you into decorating your room at that time?
VDS: No, no. I just wanted to study and do what I should do and learn as much as
I was a waitress and then a captain in my senior year. I felt very honored to be
chosen for that responsibility and it helped pay the bills, of course. Oh, it was
SGM: Did you have a roommate then?
VDS: Yes, I had a roommate, Jane Lyman, for two years. She’s gone some time
ago. Gerry Knopf was my roommate for junior and senior year. She transferred
from a junior college.
SGM: Do you remember how many girls were in your house?
VDS: Oh, yes. I’m counting: two, four, six, eight, ten… I think twelve or thirteen.
I think there was one who had a single and the rest were all doubles. In my senior
year my roommate was the chairman of the house. We had a suite on the top floor.
There we did a little decorating, not much. I had no money, but Gerry came from a
fairly well-to- do family. We did quite well with what we had.
SGM: Who was the dean during your four years?
VDS: Dean Corwin.
SGM: Do you have any special memories of her?
VDS: I remember the luncheon that every senior would be invited to at the Dean’s
house. You had to get dressed, not formally, but very nicely. We all wore white
gloves when we went to the luncheon. Dean Corwin sat at the end of a long table
and about eight or ten of us were around it. Everyone was scared to death. No one
could say a word. That was the formal approach that she had. You felt she was
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more a grandmother or the great-grandmother. Most of us had the same reaction
to her. She was a grand lady, but she didn’t relate to the students. You didn’t feel
comfortable when you were with her.
Dean Boddie was a wonderful woman. I think she was the residential dean.
You could visit her any time and discuss your problems. She was really great. I
NPH: What was your major and how did you decide on it?
VDS: I majored in English and I minored in French.
SGM: Was the French House there at that time?
VDS: Yes, there was a French House, but I didn’t live there.
When I decided to go to NJC, I wanted to be involved in something that was very
current and related to the times. I started as a major in journalism, but when I got
to NJC I realized that I needed a broader background. I didn’t feel that my high
school education gave me all that I needed, so I enlarged my classical background.
I took as few English classes as I had to and every other course that I could to
acquire the knowledge I would need in the business world.
NPH: Was journalism a major then?
VDS: Yes, there was a journalism major. I can envision the women who went to
class across town at Rutgers. Actually, I wanted to stay on the NJC campus.
SGM: Did NJC give you that breadth that you were looking for?
VDS: Absolutely. In retrospect, I felt that when my daughter went into college she
had the background that I got at Douglass. She was very ahead of her times. I
made sure that she was exposed to as much as she could be, because I had not been
when I was her age.
SGM: And where did she go to school?
VDS: She started at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston for one year and then
she went on to Boston University. When she was a child, she wanted to go to
Douglass and then she changed her mind…she wanted a career in music.
NPH: What about professors? Do you have any professors in your mind?
VDS: Oh, yes. I remember Dr. Donald Dorian, my favorite English professor, his
classes were small…only about eight or nine of us.
Dr. Gerard was the chemistry professor. I wasn’t good at sciences. I got good
marks in chemistry, but it was just by rote.
I’m trying to remember the name of the English professor…everyone who
majored in English wanted to take his course. The class was full in a step-up
lecture hall, holding about a hundred students. By the time the semester was over
there were only about ten who would still attend. The course was open only to
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seniors and there was no limit as to the number of classes you could cut All you
had to do to get credit for the course was to write a term papers. I admit I was one
of those who attended few classes.
Dr. Bennett, another English professor, was a dear person. We didn’t discuss
lifestyles openly back then as we do today…about the kind of person Dr. Bennett
may have been. Some called him Suzie Bennett. He taught a wonderful course in
Victorian literature, but to me it was a philosophy course. It was what literature
was about. He went into it in depth. I think I learned more in that course than I did
in any other. He was an outstanding professor. I really enjoyed his method of
The class was held in the Physics Building, the small building near the chapel.
At the end of the semester, Katie (she was a fun person) suggested, “It’s a beautiful
day, why don’t we have our lesson outside?” Not only was it beautiful, it was bright
and sunny…we went out and sat on the lawn. Dr. Bennett agreed and conducted
the course in his typical proper professorial manner as the sun came down in all its
strength. He wore a suit and tie, no hat and he had little hair left. We were
comfortable in our summer clothes as we watched him perspire, waiting for a
reaction from him. He didn’t say a word. He went through the entire lesson as
though we were in the classroom. Katie had a wonderful time enjoying what was
happening. We really loved him. In retrospect, it wasn’t a kind thing to do.
Dr. George Schmidt, a history professor…I loved him, too. I had him on
Saturday mornings. I remember getting back home to the dorm at 2:30 in the
morning after a dance and having to get up for his 8:00 o’clock class. It was
interesting because my husband-to- be (we didn’t get married until a year after we
graduated) was also Schmidt, Ralph Schmidt. When we went to dances we would
go down the reception line…where Dr. Schmidt would stand as a chaperone..at first,
he didn’t recognize me because of how different we all looked, formally dressed and
with makeup…so different from the casual look when we were in class.
SGM: What is your best memory of NJC?
VDS: As many people have said about what the best thing was that happened in
college, the most wonderful thing for me was that I met my husband there at
Freshman Reception. I was a very shy 17 year old. Ralph’s proctor came over to
me and said, “Do you want to meet a football player?” I said, “Oh!” and he
brought Ralph over, a large man and very handsome. The first thing I said to him
was, “I understand you’re a football player.” That didn’t mean too much to me at
the time. Then we met often after that…we went to most of the dances at NJC and
Rutgers. His major was chemistry and he was a member of the Alpha Chi Rho
fraternity. I have fond memories of meeting him at Freshman Reception. That
was about the best thing that happened to me at NJC.
SGM: Do you have any funny memories or naughty memories?
VDS: This is not necessarily funny, but it’s very interesting. There were about four
or five of us from the same high school. One of the girls, Helen Rabinowitz, and I
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would communicate often even though we lived in different places on campus.
There was another girl from our class who was very beautiful. In high school she
was a model-like person… blonde and tall and slender. Helen and I would see here
and noticed she was putting on weight. We agreed that “Maybe we should tell her
not to eat so much.” We didn’t do that and as time went by we learned that she
went to the infirmary. They didn’t find out until a few months later that she was
pregnant. I never went, but in high school some classmates would go down to the
shore senior year for a weekend and I guess that’s where it happened. But the
doctor in the infirmary did not know that she was seven months pregnant. Her
mother came to get her. She left school, had the baby and got married. How do
you like that?
SGM: Doesn’t give you a lot of confidence in the doctor.
VDS: I know. It was stunning. Anyway, that was one of the interesting items
during my freshman year.
NPH: I’m sure that was very unusual on campus.
VDS: At that point, oh! you didn’t do anything like that. That was scandalous.
Today times have changed and we accept a lot of things.
SGM: What are some of your other fond memories?
VDS: Cooper was great. I loved that. I think the kids today are missing something
by not having the dining room at Cooper like we had. Going to Cooper was to me
one of the joys of being there. Being able to see the whole class in one place, you
got to know everybody. Since then I don’t know that the students have the same
sense of community as we did.
It was so wonderful walking down Nichol Avenue. We were told in the begin-
ning, “Whenever you pass somebody, say hello.” We said hello to everyone.
It was such a wonderful feeling back them. I loved it. I don’t have that feeling
when I visit the campus today.
In my senior year, as each year, we had to take gym, but there was a minor
exception. I was a fairly good athlete and I took track the last term. The
instructor (I don’t remember her name) said that if you achieved a certain goal then
you would be finished with the course. I threw the javelin and the shot put and
reached my goals almost right away, long before the term was over. I didn’t have
to take gym the rest of the time. I enjoyed it. The gym, itself, was a wonderful
place, it really was. It’s too bad they had to take the building down.
I remember very well was that Campus Spa would deliver, free of charge and
at night. I had a few pennies here and there and everyone would order something.
A sandwich and a coke were 15¢.
SGM: Campus Spa? We don’t know what that was.
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VDS: Really? It was down George Street. It was an eating place. We’d go there
all the time for a Coke… 5¢ for a Coke. I didn’t go very often because I didn’t have
any spending money. It was a between classes hangout…students would gossip,
play bridge or do homework in the booths.
NPH: How about some of the traditions? I know there was a freshman costume.
VDS: Yes, we had a green pill box hat and a large name sign hanging from our
neck. And we had to have matches ready to light the cigarettes of the sophomores.
Campus News was the college newspaper. I served on the paper but in a
promotional way. Something happened and the Dean dissolved the paper. This is
a very long story. The writers and editors on the paper had a fund to distribute
scholarships to needy students. I applied but because I needed so much money I
didn’t get one. They gave it to others who didn’t need as much. I believe the Dean
disbanded the paper because the concept of students awarding scholarships was
VDS: Interestingly, the paper was reinstated as Caellian… but who could do
produce a paper? Nobody else could do it, so the same people came back and
prepared and published it.
Actually, I did the fashion show. That was the beginning of what my work was to
become. I was in touch with all the fashion stores in town. I encourage the owners
to contribute(loan) clothes and with student models, I put on the show. I wanted to
write, but I wasn’t a good writer at that time. So I produced fashion shows to help
promote the paper.
NPH: What about your education prepared you to go on and do the kinds of things you
VDS: I’ve been asked that before and my feeling is today it seems to be different.
What Mary Hartman is doing as director of the Institute Of Women’s Leadership
is wonderful to help women to become leaders. We didn’t have that atmosphere
at NJC when I was there. I feel that it was I who took the most I could from my
college. The college was there but it wasn’t reaching out to help me. The elements
were there and if you wanted to take advantage of them you did; it was up to you.
It was because I tried and I’m an overachiever, as my daughter would say. My
mother was, too. That’s the way we were. Because I was able to take as much as I
could from what was offered, then I could go on and do the things I did thereafter.
SGM: What national or world events took place during your years at NJC and how
did those events affect your educational experience?
VDS: I remember distinctly December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day. I was sitting
in our little living room studying and I heard about it on a little radio. I was
overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it. It was shocking.
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The next morning all the waitresses and captains assembled on the stairway going
up to Mrs. Jobbins’ area, where we listened to President Roosevelt address us by
radio. I remember the speech very well, about the day of “infamy”.
I think it was the same day that Dean Corwin had a meeting in the chapel. All
I remember of her talk was, “Don’t rush out and get married.” I thought I’m not
going to go out and get married. Sure, I knew who was to be my husband at that
point, because we had met at Freshman Reception. We’d been going together off
and on, mostly on, but we had no thought of rushing out to get married. I thought
…what is she trying to tell me?
After Pearl Harbor NJC geared up for the War. That was in December, of
course, and we graduated the following June. Things changed and we had
commercial courses. We had typing courses. I had taken typing at the suggestion
of my high school teacher, Janet Henry…one of the best things she recommended.
The administration also offered shorthand courses which I started but soon
dropped. I did not want to be a secretary.
SGM: You mean at the college?
VDS: At NJC during my senior year…the tenor of the school was changed. There
was a tenseness and an understanding that everyone wanting to participate. My
husband and I would write every day. We would say, “What can we do to help?”
Nothing like that goes on today. We really wanted to make a contribution.
SGM: This is amazing to me. He was across town at Rutgers and you wrote every day?
VDS: Yes, we wrote every day.
SGM: And just used the college post office box?
VDS: No, we used regular mail. There was no intra-college (with Rutgers) mail. We
believed we should dedicate ourselves to our school work. We didn’t talk on the
phone. We wrote every day. That reminds me about getting mail. The post office
was in College Hall. Oh! this is a fun thing. The students who would get up after
breakfast because they had late classes would ask some of us to take a bacon in a
biscuit from Cooper and put it in their mailbox so they wouldn’t go hungry.
SGM: We’ve never heard that story before.
VDS: And then there was rationing. I don’t know whether you…
SGM: Yes, I remember rationing.
NPH: We still have our books. My mother saved them.
VDS: Really? You should give them to a historical society.
SGM: Have you kept in touch with any classmates?
VDS: Off and on. I kept in touch with my roommate Gerry for some time. My
husband introduced Gerry to her future husband, Charlie Petrie who was killed in
WW II. As time passed, we lost touch. My two best friends were Genie Jorel
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Doyle and Shirley Friedlander Weiss. Genie and I kept in touch till she died in the
early 60’s. Ralph and I met with Shirley and husband Charlie(both brilliant Phd’s)
off and on through the years. Last July I visited them at Chapel Hill, NC where
they have retired with Emeritus status from the University of North Carolina in an
expansive, uniquely designed community.
NPH: It was wartime when you graduated in ’42, so what did you do after that?
VDS: All the men were going to war and there were jobs open for women. I wanted
to work in promotion. At that time, department stores were the place to learn
merchandising and that’s where everyone shopped. Getting on-the- job training was
a plum. I was disappointed that I didn’t get one of those assignments.
I took a position at Guaranty Trust Company in New York. I commuted by
train into the downtown financial district. There were no computers, so we made
entries in trusts and other accounts by hand. That was not the work I should have
been doing and it affected my eyesight. My eyes were telling me that bank work was
not my destined field.
I left Guaranty Trust and I went to Calco Chemical Company/American
Cyanamid, which is in Bound Brook nearer my home. It was a better commute and
we had a drive pool…necessary during the war. I was in a statistical department,
which also was not right for me but I enjoyed the environment. A woman in her
60’s worked for and helped me, so that was wonderful. I got to know some great
people who were friends for some years thereafter.
SGM: Now, you got married somewhere right after that.
VDS: I was still working there when I was married in June of ’43. It was a lovely
wedding in the Dutch Reformed Church in Somerville that I went to for many
years. The church is now a part of Somerville’s government complex. I lived in
Bridgewater and my husband and I moved to a small apartment in Meadowbrook
Village in Plainfield. It was one of the first garden apartments. It had a swimming
pool which we used a couple of times the first year, the second year once and not
again after that.
I remember that two gentlemen who were working for New York Life
Insurance Company convinced me to be a sales person. The opportunity was
tremendous and I did a great job. I called on people, cold, at their offices. In fact,
some of the other agents thought the company was giving me leads, but they never
did, I was too new. Only seasoned agents received them. However, I was too young
to know what it meant to sell life insurance. Who thinks when you’re in your 20’s
that you’re going to die? Trying to convince someone to buy life insurance just
wasn’t right for me.
I was still trying to find my career path.
Since several friends told me I was fairly attractive and had a good figure I
took a course at the Barbizon School of Modeling in New York. I landed a couple
of modeling jobs on Seventh Avenue. I tried to become a photography model, but I
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didn’t feel I had what it took though people in the industry told me I did. I just
didn’t have the necessary self confidence. I worked at it a while, then I gave that up.
Having been a model, I became interested in fashion. There was an opening at
Bamberger’s in Newark and I applied for the job of teen fashion coordinator. Nan
Findlow, the director of advertising, hired me though I had little experience. She
was a wonderful woman. I think the store was in a rush to replace the person
before me. I don’t say I was qualified, but I guess I had the proper appearance. I
didn’t realize it at the time, but this position put me on my career path.
My first assignment was to organize and comentate a fashion show for teenage
Girl Scouts. At that point I had a small wardrobe. So, when the person I was
working for (not Nan Findlow, but one of her subordinates) said, “You should wear
the Girl Scout uniform” I could not have been happier. After that I put on fashion
shows at high schools in the area. I brought clothes from the store and the school
kids would wear them. They had a I had a good time and so did I. And I began to
build my own wardrobe.
Then the Korean War came along. The economy was changing and
Bamberger’s eliminated that department. Toward the end of my time there, Nan
Findlow gave me my final assignment, “You’re good at doing this kind of work.
We’re going to have a new fashion show in the fabric department. Would you
I did and I remember vividly one instance that took place during the 7-day
program. There were several fashion shows of different clothes in different places
with different models for each show. I would never know which model was wearing
which outfit till she appeared on the runway. I had to adapt myself quickly. During
one of the last shows, I watched as a fashion model come out in a black dress that
was far too big for her. It was awful. Of course, I couldn’t say how bad it looked so
I said, “Now, for that little black dress everyone should have!” Most of the audience
came up to me afterwards to learn which pattern and fabric they should buy. The
power of positive advertising! I was stunned.
For my next position, I returned to New York. I was hired by Mrs. Margaret
Parker Gary, Fashion Editor of Woman’s Day Magazine. Mrs. Gary, called “The
Witch of Seventh Avenue,” was a brilliant, no nonsense, hard driving woman. She
wore a little pillbox hat, typical of the time, and she would fly in and out of
showrooms with a black silk cape billowing out behind her.
SGM: The Meryl Streep character in the film.
NPH: The Devil Wears Prada.
VDS. Yes. Right. That film was terrific. Oh! incidentally, Meryl Streep was my
daughter’s baby sitter. When we were married and lived in Bernardsville, her
mother worked for me.
SGM: Meryl Streep’s mother?
Yes. Later, when I had my public relations agency, Mary Streep, Meryl Streep’s
mother…she was the wife of someone my husband worked with at Merck. Mary
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did art work for my business in the beginning. She didn’t continue, because she
couldn’t handle all the things that I needed.
I met her children. One was Meryl and one of the boys was Third. His father
was Harry 2 nd and so they called him Third. The other boy was Dana. I remember
visiting Mary at her home. She would leave the children, including Meryl, in front
of the television set with their supper…canned corned beef hash and peas. Then she
would leave them to go with me to my office.
A couple of years went by and Meryl grew up. She often came to baby sit our
daughter, Lisa. She was very casual and offhand. As I remember, she would come
walking in our house with dirty shoes…she was sort of kooky, not an ordinary child.
She was taking singing lessons. I thought she’d go on to be a singer, but she turned
out to be an actress rather than a singer. She has a beautiful voice and I wish that
she would use it more. That was my experience with her. We got to know each
other very well and I would see her over the years…but not recently.
Anyway, at Woman’s Day I worked under much stress and pressure. I became
Mrs. Gary’s surrogate and had to carry out her instructions…demands… in her
manner, not mine. She was a difficult woman, but I learned so much from her. I
found I learned more from something that was negative than from successes. After
a while I began to take on her character as I tried to do her job as she expected. I
became very uncomfortable and I chose to leave.
Then I took a job at Owens-Corning Fiberglas, also in New York. That was
another wonderful experience. I set up a Department for Consumer Affairs and I
conducted promotions for fiberglass curtain fabric. The vice president of the
company who was manager of the New York division saw my potential and had me
establish a special department to sell and promote a glass fiber in shoes and
accessories. Marketing included ads in fashion magazines, displays and fashion
shows. After a long period of testing we found the fiber was not a viable use for
Then I got pregnant. I went into see the vice president one day and he said,
“Well, you’re putting on weight.” I told him why… and I was fired.
SGM: Just like that.
VDS: Just like that. But I felt I had gotten away with something, because I was far
more along than I looked. I made sure that I saved enough money so I could be out
of work for a while. Ralph and I were both working, but times were tough, we
needed two incomes. We weren’t making a lot of money. Within three months
after Lisa was born, I felt I should, and I wanted to go back to work. I managed to
get a baby nurse from Germany. We helped her a great deal because she was new
to our ways in the US.
I found a job in an advertising agency in Newark, which didn’t work out for it
wasn’t very well run.
I thought I’d better go back to New York and Ifound a job at Roy Bernard
Company, an International Public Relations firm. I had four or five people
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working for me and I managed a fashion account… superhose. They are stockings
that support your legs.
VDS: That’s right.
NPH: I’m wearing them right now.
VDS: I got to know Roy Blumenthal, who was one of the partners. That was
another very important learning experience, because Roy Blumenthal suggested
that with my background, my knowledge and my overachiever attitude I should set
up my own business in New Jersey.
I said, “Really?” Back then New Jersey was really the boondocks. He
suggested the type of accounts I should try to handle…and he was right. We talked
about the clients…banks, automobile dealerships, nurseries. I was amazed. The
strange thing was I knew I should work his agency for some reason…the reason was
that I found someone, Roy, who would point out the next step in my career path.
SGM: He was very important to you.
VDS: Very important. He was a visionary.
I set my business up in Newark. It was called Communications Council, Inc.
Because of the sexism at the times, I made my husband the president of the
company. I was vice president. However, he wasn’t involved in the operation.
They were trying times. I remember getting up in the morning, looking at
myself in the mirror and saying, “Well, what am I doing today? Who am I going to
call on today?” It wasn’t easy, particularly being a woman at that time. It was
very difficult hiring people, meeting a payroll and setting up my office. I started in
one place; and then I moved to another and another as the years went by.
I had many clients over the years. Banks, a mortgage companies, a real estate
firm, savings and loans…I had several organizations: the Dairy Council of New
Jersey, the American Interior Designers and Retail Jewelers of America. We also
SGM: Was this marketing and advertising in combination?
NPH: How did they react to you as a woman in this field?
VDS: It was interesting. Some of them were not very receptive. And I had many
advances made toward me.
SGM: Being attractive and in a field that obviously women were not in at the time.
VDS: There were a lot of women in the business, but they weren’t that well known.
When I was at Owens-Corning Fiberglas, I worked with McCann Erickson
Advertising Agency. I worked with a woman at McCann that turned out to be one
of the most famous advertising women in the business. Mary Wells – she was
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known as Bunny Wells - married Harding Lawrence, who was the President of
Continental Airlines, one of her clients at McCann. Through him, she had the
money and the wherewithal to set up her own business. She made a famous name
for herself at that particular time.
But you’re right, there weren’t many women setting up their own business.
It was interesting and fun, but very, very hard work. I had moderate success.
I finally decided to cut back and moved my business to an area in the far end of my
home. I had plenty of room that I could run my agency out of my home. I started
it in 1958 and I ended it in 1982. I finally closed my business, because I became
Director of Travel and Tourism in the State under Tom Kean.
When I started my business, I also, became involved in politics. I was a
committee woman for over twenty years and I ran for the Assembly. Someone who
I had working for me was a journalist and suggested that, yes, I should do it. I lost.
That brought me to the attention of Tom Kean who called me during the next
election. I happened to be visiting Europe at the time. My husband called and
said, “Tom called. Do you want to run again?” I didn’t want to. I thought about
it and I came back home…changed my mind and ran again. Again, I didn’t win.
I had worked for Tom in the beginning of his campaigns. I’d travel with him
to many areas where he wasn’t well received. It was pretty hard work. At the same
time I was running my business, but I enjoyed it.
Then, when he became governor, I applied for the job as Director of Travel and
Tourism. Tom appointed me and I helped create and manage the New Jersey and
You Perfect Together campaign.
I’ll go back to 1958, to tell you of another project that captured my interest
…when I was setting up my and running my business. I continued to read and
acquire books. I read constantly. I have a tremendous library. I might show you
my collection before you leave… I bought a book by Christopher Herrold called
Mistress to an Age about Madame Germaine De Staël…an inspiration for me. I had
been introduced to her in my French Literature course taught by Madame Alice
DeVisme. She was a wonderful lady, a grand lady. I admired her greatly.
It was in her class that I studied many of Madame De Staël’s works, but I
didn’t know the depth of what this woman had been involved in and what she
accomplished. I studied Herrold’s book and I was intrigued. I decided that I had to
write something about her, but I didn’t know what. I decided on a novel and
started in 1958 and it took me thirty-four years, writing off and on, before the book
NPH: I remember when your book came out.
VDS: Yes. 2002. I traveled with my husband every year. After our daughter was
born in 1958 I made a point of going out of the country twice a year, because I
thought that was the time we should travel. It was a good thing that we did,
because, later, Ralph, became ill and we were unable to take trips any longer. We
traveled throughout the world and visited Paris a many times.. I met Madame De
page 13 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
Staël’s descendants. I visited the places she lived and traveled the routes that she
traveled so I could give a sense of reality to my book. It took me a long time to feel
that I was the right person to write the book, because I never felt I was a great
writer. Times change, I have developed a style and found my voice…now, I consider
myself a good writer…at this time in my life. It was then, in 1958, that I began to
study and travel to learn as much as I could about Madame de Staël and I continued
for years thereafter.
Now I’ll take you back to the time when I closed my business. In 1982 I was
appointed Director of Travel and Tourism for New Jersey. I remember vividly
being approved by the Senate and then the formal acknowledgement ceremony in
the rotunda in the State House. I was really very excited to have the challenge. In
retrospect, I accomplished more, I think, for the State in that job than anyone has
done before or since. I’m not modest about it.
SGM: How long were you in that position?
VDS: Eight years. I was given another assignment in the final year of Tom Kean’s
second term…to set up a series of tourist/visitors bureaus throughout the State; and
I did that. Then, in 1990 Tom’s administration came to a close…he was out of
office and I was, too.
NPH: How did you come up with the New Jersey and You Perfect Together slogan?
VDS: It’s a very interesting story. Very few people are aware of what happened.
Some political intrigue took place. We, first, had to select an advertising agency. I
tried hard to hire the agency that I thought could serve us best and the slogan that
they would come up with later. The man through whom I had to work for Tom
Kean was the Commissioner of Commerce. He was trying to influence the
committee to select a different agency. That previous slogan was New Jersey’s Got
It, which was pretty bad and we all wanted a new one. The opposing one, which the
Commissioner wanted, was New Jersey Here and Wow. I thought that wasn’t very
dignified for the State of New Jersey, so I worked through political channels to get
to Tom Kean. I didn’t do it directly, but through someone I knew who was close to
Tom at the time. Tom agreed and we were able to institute New Jersey and You
Perfect Together. It was hard work. I remember I felt very gratified and I had a
glow of accomplishment.
NPH: It’s a fabulous slogan years later, it really is.
VDS: It is. But it’s more than just the slogan. I worked diligently to get it
accepted. I did everything I could because of my promotional experience and innate
ability to do it. And I did it.
I was in Virginia when the then governor tried to bring it back. Several of my
friends called me from New Jersey and told me, “They’re trying to do it again.”
They remembered that it takes more than just announcing a slogan. They realized
that it takes time, effort and promotion. I was pleased to know there are those who
remember what I had accomplished.
page 14 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
The only real regret I have is at the time, that the Commissioner and Tom took
all the credit for the success. ..as Tom still does even today. But that’s fine for that’s
politics. I’m happy to with the knowledge that with my staff we accomplished what
we set out to do. I enjoy the memory.
NPH: I understand that tourism really did take off in New Jersey during those years.
VDS: Oh, it did. Phenomenally! It’s still going on because of what New Jersey has
to offer, but you have to plan and promote it. You can’t stop.
After that, I did some interesting things. I’m of Polish heritage. My parents
both came from Poland. They met here and married here, but they never were part
of the Polish community, so I was never aware of it’s existence. Actually, Polish
people were not looked upon favorably when I was growing up. Things are quite
While I was Director of Travel and Tourism Tom suggested through his staff
that I become involved with the Polish community for political purposes. I did. I
joined the Polish Cultural Foundation, participated in its activities and learned
about the contributions Poland and its people have made to the world. It’s has been
a great, ongoing, learning, exciting experience.
However, I haven’t been involved in the organization for several years, though I
continue to make contributions and follow the progress American Poles are making.
Sometime after I left government, an opportunity came to me through a
member of the Foundation who had just returned from Poland. We discussed the
fact that Poles are influenced as most of Europeans are by the British in speaking
English. I decided that we should be involved in Poland in trying to have Poles
speak American English. I went to Poland and established a book selling company
in Warsaw. I traveled the country, got to know the people and began to appreciate
my heritage . I was amazed about the contributions the Poles have made to the
world. I became proud of my heritage…far more so than when Poles in the United
States were not accepted fifty years ago.
I worked with the Polish government and the television stations throughout
Poland. The stations were going to promote books from several American
publishing companies who had supplied me with ESL books. I also was in close
touch with members of the American Embassy in Warsaw.
Then a strange thing happened. For some reason the embassy people said,
“You can’t do that.” They would not promote what I‘d already set up. It was
ridiculous and heart braking. I came back home and met with Congressman Bob
Franks about it. He was surprised as well but could do nothing to help. He
concluded that the embassy’s lack of support was not a criminal act, just a lack of
business acumen and inefficiency or just laziness. Though I had to close my
company, it was a fascinating experience for me.
Having learned so much about the Polish people I decided on another project. I
would write a book on how the Poles viewed their way of life under Communism
compared to life after the fall. I returned to Poland and traveled the country
page 15 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
again… I interviewed more than seventy families and individuals. Again, it was
fascinating! Though I never wrote the book I planned, I transcribed about twenty
five of the interviews and placed several articles on the results in magazines,
including one in our Douglass Alumnae Bulletin.
SGM: Did you speak Polish?
VDS: No, I had an interpreter. Though I never wrote the book I went on to another
SGM: A future project.
VDS: Let’s see. I’ll go back a little bit to just before I was appointed as the Director
of Travel and Tourism. I attended an event, I think, it was at Douglass. Then
Acting Dean of Douglass Mary Hartman was on the stage talking with Tom Kean as
they looked at me as I sat in the front row. Later on when I talked with Mary she
told me that Tom mentioned to her (before I knew) that I was soon to be appointed
Director of Travel and Tourism. It was after that our relationship began and I
would meet with Mary from time to time. She invited me to the campus to address
groups about the work I was doing. We developed a wonderful friendship that
continues today. I’m very fond of her.
Getting back to when I left government and spent time in Poland. I’d been
writing for my work and for myself….including my book, Triumph in Exile, a novel
based on the life of Madame De Staël, the woman who challenged Napoleon. I spent
years researching her works and her life. Now, I am writing to be published, to be
acknowledged as a writer.
But my writing career was interrupted. My husband and I lived in
Bernardsville for many years in Bernardsville where we would take long walks.
He always was a vigorous man. He was a great football player and earned letters in
five different sports. One day, on one of our walk, I noticed he dragged his feet.
“Dad,” (that is what I called him) I said to him, “Why don’t you pick up your feet?”
“Oh, it’s my shoes,” he replied. That was the beginning of his illness.
One of the last trips we took together was in 1996 was to Ukraine for a cruise.
We had a wonderful time. One afternoon as we sat in the cabin together…I
remember this incident very well...I said, “You’re not walking as you used to. Let’s
face what may be happening..” He said, “I think I have Parkinson’s Disease.” I
was very worried. “When we are back home. You must go to the doctor.” I said.
He did. “Yes, I have Parkinson’s.” he told me. The doctor didn’t reveal how bad the
disease is, so I felt relieved. Though he began to decline, I was in complete denial.
We had a beautiful home in Bernardsville, but I thought it was time to move to
escape the changes around us. We looked in New Jersey and found nothing we
liked. I’d always wanted to live in Virginia and in 1997 we found a piece of
property in Haymarket. My daughter and her husband weren’t very happy about
our leaving because we’d be a long trip away. I said we’d be fine. More denial. So,
we went. We rented a place for a year and built a house on the side of Bull Run
page 16 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
Mountain. We moved into the house in 1998…an elegant property which we
enjoyed…all the time Ralph’s health declined.
Up to that point I’d been working on my book, “Triumph in Exile.”
I have to go back and tell you about the book, because to me that’s an important
part of my life. Before I was appointed to the job as Director of Travel and
Tourism, I had an agent who was interested in getting a publisher for me. She said,
“I will place it with a publisher, if you will make some changes.“ Well, I got the
job in government and I thought, I’d have time to work on the book. No way!! I
had no time outside my directorship for anything else. A few months later I received
a box in the mail …it was my manuscript from the agent. She included a note
saying “It’s been sitting here on my shelf for so long. You haven’t sent me the
changes so I can’t try to place it.”
I put the manuscript aside as I worked as Director and as we made the move to
Virginia. My husband continued to decline. Again I wasn’t acknowledging it. It
was evident, I mean, obvious. He got dementia as well as being physically impaired.
As I cared for him I ached physically from the tenseness, because I had to watch
him every moment. I didn’t know where he was going to go or what he would
do...because he didn’t know himself. This went on for five years.
I took care of him. That’s all I did. Then toward the end, I’d go to see him
every day at the nursing home and I’d look after our property and finances. I
never thought I’d take care of anyone in my life. I did take care of him…and,
strangely, I have to say this, I loved him more and more… (long pause).
Even though he was in the nursing home those last few weeks, I felt I had to
keep involved no matter what, so I continued our usual activities. We often attended
a community theater and related events. One Sunday I went to a meeting at the
theater alone (Ralph was in the nursing home.) It happened that I met Bob Snitzer
there. He is 29 years younger than I.
Ralph died the next Thursday night. My daughter and son-in- law came the
long distance, a 5½ hour drive, and helped with everything. I didn’t want to have
anything to do another man. My husband was the man in my life for years and
years. It was a very difficult time. I didn’t expect it, but Bob would come to see
me regularly a couple times a week.
Three or four months went by and I thought perhaps, I should look for
someone to be a companion. I found no one. And Bob would continue to visit
regularly. I hoped for someone my own age. I talked to my daughter every day.
I’d say, “You know, I think I’ll tell Bob not to bother to visit any longer”.
Six months went by. I felt all the other men I had met were not acceptable
companions. Finally Bob and I became friends.
I have to go back, again. When I was in government I met Dick Richards, a
film producer, who produced a commercial for us, for government. It was about
George Washington crossing the Delaware. I told him that I’d written a book, “It’s
still in manuscript. Would you be interested in doing a film on it?” He connected
me with film maker Jane Altschuler. She tried to produce a film and is still trying.
page 17 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
Jane and I became very good friends. Just recently, she and her husband, a
book publisher came here to visit me. After Ralph died Jane suggested that I edit
the book and I did. While Ralph was still alive he encouraged me to publish the
book. He’d say, “Stop rewriting. Have it published.” He helped me in many
ways…he’d take my manuscript to work and made copies for me as I needed them.
After he died, I did as he and Jane wished. I dedicated myself to updating the
manuscript, enhancing it and editing it. It was Jane’s husband who published it.
This is the book, Triumph in Exile.
SGM: It’s just taken 34 years.
NPH: That’s amazing!
VDS: Finally published it in 2002!
NPH: What was it like having a book published?
VDS: Phenomenal! All my work is here in this book. It was unbelievable
gratification and also, I fulfilled the wishes of my husband to whom I dedicate the
book. Jane and her husband had a book signing party for me in New York. I
traveled to New Jersey several times to make presentations on my book. I was
asked to have book signings throughout Virginia. I finally stopped promoting my
book after a year or so.
For several reasons I thought it was time for me to leave Virginia. One was
because my daughter was here in New Jersey, but mainly because of the changes in
the area I lived. Washington was moving out and the traffic was horrendous. Half
a mile from where we were living, huge Mc Mansions were being built on small
plots. I’d drive down the road a short distance…the traffic was terrible. I couldn’t
stand it. That was the main reason I decided to move.
As I mentioned before, it was after six months I finally acknowledged that Bob
was a good friend. He was around and doing wonderful things for me. He was
feeling strongly for me. I feel very fortunate and he feels very fortunate. We have a
SGM: The time you spend together is a bonus.
VDS: Yes. Just as an aside: When we met, he had a girlfriend the same age as he
in Colorado and he would go visit her. I told him, “Have fun. You have somebody
your own age. Stay with her. Enjoy her.” Though I encouraged him to continue
the relationship with her, he broke it of..
We get along very well. We have common interests and we’re very happy
together. Among his involvements was real estate. He made a big effort and sold
my house in Virginia; we came to New Jersey together and found this home.
Bob moved in with me in 2004. We went to France first. We thought we might
move to France. We looked at properties, but decided economically it was wrong,
One of the reasons was that we learned your entire assets are taxed every year.
Amazing. I thought we might rent…a gite…a villa on a chateau estate which we
page 18 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
lived in when we visited France. We still may consider doing that sometime …that
was lots of fun and relatively inexpensive.
It was in 2006 we moved here. We rented a town house for a couple months
and finally moved into this house that I love.
SGM: Now, your current project.
VDS: There are two projects…both books. The first one is a historical book. I
discussed it with Mary Hartman. It actually would be a series of three books. The
subject…women of passion, power and politics throughout the centuries. I have
selected the women I will include and I have prepared an outline. I may do it; I may
not. I don’t know. I’m concentrating on my other project.
SGM: Are these American women?
VDS: No. Global. what I’ve learned is fascinating…I’ve done a great deal of
research. That’s what I enjoy, but that’s not for me now…perhaps for someone else.
Lisa Hetfield and Mary have been here for lunch several times. During one of
their visits. Lisa remarked that the subject might be developed as a course at the
Institute of Women’s Leadership.” I made the proposal. I didn’t realize that
from a scholarly point of view history professors consider individuals as subordinate
to the eras. I couldn’t understand this when Mary came back to me and said it
wouldn’t be right as a course, but it would be a good book. History instructors view
history as periods not individual personalities But that’s aside; that’s future.
My current project is something I’ve wanted to do…since I lost my husband
and felt I could help other women. The title is: Solitary Contentment: Be Cool! Be
Hot! Live Smart! A Guide to the Woman Baby Boomer and…of any Age… She’s
Single Again or Just Neglected. I’ve completed eight chapters. An artist is going to
do silhouette illustrations for me and I’ll present it to an agent to find a publisher.
That’s what I’m working on now. I’ve learned a great deal and excited about it.
SGM: Are you almost finished with it?
VDS: Oh, no, eight chapters of about twenty five chapters. It will go to a publisher
and in the meantime I’ll be continuing to work on it. I have a chapter on handling
the grief and the shock… what you do and what you should do. That’s the longest
The rest is what you do to lift yourself and your spirit. I’m interviewing
women as well as and experts,…a dermatologist, a cosmetologist, a psychologist and
people in all different phases of life. The book will have chapters on how to raise
your self confidence, have a great new look, entertainment, getting a new job… all
the things you should do to help you achieve “Solitary Contentment.”
And you, Susanne, are one of those. Am I right?
VDS: Because you’re alone. It’s mostly for widows, but I do include the divorcée
page 19 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
and the separated and women who are neglected. I’ve learned a lot about those
who are neglected and betrayed. They often stay in their marriages and have
difficulty taking charge of their lives.
SGM: It’s an important work.
VDS: It’s something that is important. I’m pleased you agree. The book will help
women. That’s why I chose to write if before I undertake the book on political
women throughout the ages. Personally I enjoy working on historical projects.
When my current book is published, I might return to the other. I’m very happy
with what I’m doing and looking forward to completing it and going on to others
So, that’s about it
SGM: In what ways have you been involved with the Associate Alumnae?
VDS: I didn’t get back to Douglass until the late ’50s and early ’60s. I was on the
Board for a couple of years and served on the by-laws committee. Then I was
called on to be President of the Association. I declined for I had my business to
run. I said I would accept another year. Fran Riche…I must mention her for she
was my favorite person in the NJC administration…suggested the opportunity
might not present itself in the future. She encouraged me and convinced me to take
the job. Who knew what would happen over the next few years?
It was difficult to serve as President and run my own public relations/
Up to that time in the very early ‘60s the Associate Alumnae was run as a
garden club. I would walk into the office (it was small then) and everyone there
was very delightful. I would see cash and checks on the counter….and files pile
high. It was really very poorly run. The time that followed…while I was
president… was traumatic for the Association.
Fran Riche was wonderful. To me she epitomized what a college should be…
above and beyond. Without her, I don’t know how I would have felt about
Douglas(NJC), because the dean could not communicate with the students. Fran
was the most understanding person. She helped me a great deal and supported me
tremendously through that period when I had to turn the Associate Alumnae away
from a garden club/coffee klatch to a professional organization. Among my
accomplishments and most important was having Adelaide Zagoren appointed
Director…for she developed the Alumnae Association into what it is today.
SGM: Well, we thank you for that.
NPH: It became professional then under your watch.
VDS: It became professional, but the experience was a very trying time for me. It
was so trying that I had to resign. There were lots of women who supported me,
but there was a division between those who knew what I was trying to do and those
who would not accept change. They wanted the status quo.
Just to relate it to what’s happening today on how Douglass relates to the
university. I talk with a lot of alumnae who don’t understand. I’ve made a point of
page 20 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
learning as much as I can…I don’t support everything that’s been taking place, but
we have to move on .
Back then when I was President, there was great divisiveness. Interestingly, I
would get phone calls from members of the Board and others. They would keep me
on the phone hour after hour. I didn’t know it at the time, but my husband would
often pick up an extension phone and listen. Some of the ladies weren’t very
ladylike. He realized what a trying time I was experiencing.
Because the situation became critical, a meeting was held and all the alumnae
were called to attend. The night before my husband said, “Why don’t you resign?”
I said, “I’ll resign after this meeting.” He said, “Why wait?” I remember sitting
down with him as we talked… and I gave much thought to his advice. Finally I
agreed, “Very well,” I said, “You’re right.”
Anytime I have a meeting I thoroughly prepare what I’m going to say.
I have to confine myself to the program and not stray….so I had the topics
completely outlined with all pertinent information in writing. The next day the
officers were to meet briefly before the main meeting. I went and I made the
announcement. Their mouths dropped.
“Who will be in charge?” someone asked.
Adrienne Scotchbrook Anderson, the Vice President, would…she was startled.
“Adrienne,” I said as I gave her my prepared agenda, “Don’t worry. You have
everything right here.” The members tried to convince me not to resign. I said,
“No, this is it. Adelaide is going to take over the day to day operations and I don’t
want to create any further dissension within the organization.”
We were to assemble in a huge auditorium. I said to Adrienne, “I ask one
favor of you. You know and I know that I’m resigning. I’ll open the meeting, cover
a few items and then announce my resignation. Just wait before continuing...I’m
going to walk the long distance to the back of the auditorium and out the door.
Please wait till I leave before you take over.” That is what I did and what happened.
Several of the women followed me out and said, “Please don’t resign.” But I’d
done my job. I was pleased that I’d accomplished what I set out to do.
NPH: You certainly did. You certainly changed then the character of the Association.
VDS: Do you remember any of that? Were you involved?
NPH: I was class president of our class the first five years after graduation, but I really
don’t recall anything that was happening at the time.
VDS: It was really a critical time in the history of the Association. If it hadn’t
changed, I do believe it would have fallen apart. Change was really necessary.
SGM: They’re very strong now.
VDS: Rachel is doing a phenomenal job. I comment on it to her all the time. She
is a dear person. I really like her very much.
A question not asked during the interview: How many reunions have you attended?
page 21 (Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ’42)
VDS: I don’t remember how many…but I believe I missed only one or two. It has
been fascinating for me to see my classmates over the years…how they have
changed and how the numbers attending have dwindled. There were only eleven at
our last in June 2007. I have taken part in and conducted several of our reunion
programs which has been rewarding for me. There are so many memories and good
times to recall. I was pleased recently to learn that though so few attended our 2007
reunion we are over hundred strong today…compared to over two hundred when
we were under classmates.
Another question not asked: What mementos do you have of your four years at NJC?
Outside of photographs of those years, there is nothing that I have kept
…unfortunately. I believe, however, someone in our class still has the Freshman
costume we had to wear.
SGM: Is there anything else you would like to share?
VDS: You asked about my contributions to Douglass. My husband and I set up a
charitable trust some time ago. It’s called the “Victoria. Ralph and Lisa Schmidt
Fund.” I have money set aside now. When I go, there will be more. Whatever is
left when my daughter goes will go to the fund, which could amount to quite a bit.
A part in the trust goes to Johns Hopkins Hospital which treated my husband’s
Parkinson’s, but most of it goes to the Douglass Alumnae Association. There are
some specifications for the funds, but part of it goes to Douglass College and part
goes to the IWL, the Institute for Women’s Leadership.
I am happy to make these gifts and so is my daughter.
SGM: We’ve enjoyed hearing everything you’ve had to say. I could sit here and listen
to you for hours.
NPH: We want to thank you for taking the time and giving us this interview.
VDS: Thank you!
NPH: It’s fascinating listening to you.
NPH: Yes. Thank you.
SGM: Thank you.
VDS: Thank you.
Transcribed by Lois Ann Fink Kirby ’50 September 5, 2008