Brandeis at 75

When Ridgewood Was a Cottage

A pioneer alumna recalls life on Brandeis’ brand new campus.

Black and white photo of Diana in a cheerleading uniform
Diana as a Brandeis Cheerleader

By Diana Siegal ’52

Diana Siegel

In September 1949, nine Brandeis freshman and sophomore coeds moved into Ridgewood Cottage, which opened as a girls’ dorm our second year. This wasn’t the Ridgewood Dorm that was built later, but a single house on a one-block road named Ridgewood Terrace, which no longer exists.

There was a path at the end of Ridgewood Terrace leading to the campus, so we didn't have to walk on South Street. On a typical day, I walked all the way up to the dining hall in the Castle for breakfast, then down to Ford Hall for classes, back to the Castle for lunch, and then down to the library, which was in what had been the Middlesex barn stable, with a wishing well out front.

I lived in the girls dorm made from two Army surplus barracks during my freshman year, Ridgewood for my sophomore and junior years, and on the top floor of the Castle my senior year. That year I was in the castle, I thought nothing of running up the four flights if I forgot something.

We had no transportation on campus, so we walked everywhere. I probably walked three or more miles each day, plus whatever activity gym teacher Anna "Nickie" Nichols had us doing in phys ed class or in the Modern Dance Club, which I helped start.

There was only one store, down the street from Ridgewood, which sold an odd assortment of cigarettes, canned goods, some drug store supplies, and "external female products," as they were called then.

Our one television set was in the Commons Room in the Castle. Tuesday evening attracted the largest audience to watch "Uncle Miltie" Berle on NBC's Texaco Star Theatre show. If we didn't go off campus on Saturday night, we might watch Sid Caesar's “Show of Shows.”

One of my campus jobs was in the library writing the catalog numbers in white ink on the book spines. My other campus job was in the Castle kitchen, where I peeled potatoes in a rough-lined spinner and then plucked the potato eyes out with a knife. The food service director, Norman Grimm, would survey our opinions of the food by asking at each table, "Hits the spot?"

The Brandeis Women's Committee (now the Brandeis National Committee) undertook buying books for the library and students ate a lot of potatoes, so I had plenty of hours of work.

It’s nice to recall those early days on campus, and I enjoyed them all. There are now 30 living members of the 101 original 1952 graduates. We are all over the age of 90 -- a remarkable statistic! I like to think that all the walking contributed to our longevity.