1948: A Co-op
Emily Baruch Kirby ’52 is a psychologist and author of Yes You Can – The Working Woman’s Guide to Her Legal Rights, Fair Employment and Equal Pay, as well as many professional articles. Her career includes research in sociology and educational psychology, teaching, and community college administration. She has traveled to 50 countries, doing volunteer work in seven, and serves on several boards of community organizations.
In the summer of 1948, among the 300,000 American
college students going to Europe were four of my older,
wiser Antioch College friends. They said I had to go, too.
My boyfriend was encouraging (he had been to Czechoslovakia
the previous year on a co-op job). It was simple:
just write to American Youth for European Youth (sponsored
by the United Nations, American Friends Service
Committee and Unitarian Service Committee), then fill
out the application, arrange with the Co-op Department,
and work in Europe.
It turned out, however, not to be quite that simple.
There was unvarnished red tape. My parents were an
obstacle (since they did not want me going to Germany).
They held on to my birth certificate, which delayed my
passport, which finally arrived via diplomatic pouch. Miraculously, all arrangements got made: acceptance
forms, tickets, packing—with about five minutes to
spare, I set off for Wolfe’s Cove, Quebec, from where the
The learning experience had begun. Having heard
that Europe lacked both amenities and necessities, my
huge cardboard suitcase (no wheels back then) contained
lots of soap and toilet paper. Furthermore, I could
not lift it!
Once aboard the Kota Inten, a real tub (used to sail the
Malay Straits) with the passengers as ballast, sleeping
on triple-decker seamen’s bunks, I learned to say “No”
to the American Military Government (AMG). Word
somehow got out about my being a native German
speaker so I was hounded: Wouldn’t I like to be truly
patriotic? Be a courier riding German trains, delivering
messages for the American Military Government ? It sounded dangerous, boring, and after all, I had promised
my parents not to step inside Germany.
The AMG persisted for 13 days, until we landed.
Then, with five other American women, I was assigned
to work in Belgian orphanages. But before that we had
a day in Rotterdam.
The Dutch have college student volunteers who
guide foreign college students. Two of us were with
Peter Abbing seeing the city. He asked whether we
would like some sweets and then took us to a candy shop
to buy each of us a small bagful. A few days later, I was
filled with guilt realizing that treating us had used about
half a year’s worth of his sugar ration. (I tried unsuccessfully
for years after to contact him with a proper “Dank
Then our whole group of 70 went to Sevres for
orientation. When we arrived in Paris, following the
long train ride, it was about 6 AM. Everywhere we
looked couples were kissing and embracing. Four of us
elected to ride atop a truck full of our luggage. Along the
way to Sevres, bystanders booed us. They must have
thought we were very rich Americans.
Our home for ten days was in the Chateau at Sevres
built by Louis XV, which now houses a pioneer school.
They were giving us a bang-up course on how to teach
singing correctly, because they wished to increase the
amount of music in France in order to make it an integral
part of French life. There was no piano, yet we had done
swell singing. The position of each person in the group
was visible to the teacher, and there was none of the
screaming stuff that American children sometimes call
singing. We also spent considerable time constructing
kites from twigs and brown paper. (Mine didn’t fly.) In
lectures we learned about politics, class structure, civil
service, economics, and history.
Since many of us were headed for camps, much time
was devoted to them. Though I was going to Belgian
orphanages, the material was useful. Since the war the
camps were a fair cross-section of French economic life.
The job of counselor is an all day affair, and, on weekly
days off, one had to leave camp property. The aim was
to have progressive camps which would influence the
child’s schooling and make city schools more progressive,
In Belgium, a child with one parent was classified an
orphan and was eligible for institutions like Brusselles
Cite Joyeuse. Children were often sent there because
they would be well fed and clothed, or because they had
handicaps better cared for by trained personnel. I
worked with a group of pre-teen boys. Mostly, I walked
and sang and played with them. A walk usually lasted
two or three hours, with constant harmonious singing
(not too disrupted by my congenital sliding key scale),
time out for a snack, a ball game, then return. There
always was a staff member assigned to the group. I
became friends with her and with the kids. Festivals,
graduations and the like involved all of Cite Joyeuse,
250 of us, marching to field or school, applauding teams
or celebrants, listening to the presentations in Walloon
(French) or Flemish.
The second month we were on the coast at Adingkerk,
outside of Ostende, at a health home for boys. Fear of
TB was great. The health regime consisted of sleep, sea
air, very, very long walks (but heck, we were in training)
and, on the beach, slabs of white bread spread with a
substance that later turned out to be molasses. We
roamed the Atlantic Wall (Nazi defenses), climbing in
the tunnels, over the gun mounts, amid sea grass, and ran
down the dunes. We watched crevette fishers whose
sailboats, with horsepower, pulled nets along the wet
shore accumulating their shellfish catch. We visited
countless cemeteries. And we sang.
We had about ten days free before journeying back
to the States. Two of us made a list: see oranges growing
on trees, climb an Alp, drink wine in Italy, see Queen
Wilhelmina on her birthday before she retires, fly the
Channel, visit Canterbury. We did them all, more
besides. Near the voyage’s end, at Ambrose Lightship,
we watched contraband copies of censored Henry Miller
and D.H. Lawrence heaved over the side. In New York
harbor minutes later, a fire tug spraying streams of water
welcomed us back Stateside.
I really did not want to come home.
Back on Campus
In the autumn of 1948, I felt like a different person.
More of a student, a bit more mature, a little less
judgmental, and slightly cosmopolitan. I was looking
outward, and ready to saturate myself in another culture.
I signed up for a massive tutorial with Herman Schnurer
to read the classics of French literature. I worked hard
at it. My French improved markedly.
The summer had positive effects on my self-confidence.
A bad experience in high school physics had
soured me on hard science so geology at Antioch was a
revelation, a delight, and writing the best description of
a geyser provided ego inflation for days. The course
material was so interesting I volunteered to help grade
quizzes, thus reviewed while learning more. I even
forgave the instructor who tricked us with a telescope
during a night time lab in the parking lot. “See that
planet!” he exclaimed. We “oohed” and “aahed” at the
I became a traveler, which for me is a state of mind
not necessarily a matter of location. It concerns what
one absorbs wherever one is, how one reacts to it, what
one does with it. Persons are fascinating, but not more
so than plants, birds, fossils, plays, movies, textiles, for
instance. And the more “languages” one knows, the
better an Antiochian one can be.
Special thanks to Pete Blos ’52 from Emily for
lending her the camera!