Hilda Hein

Professor of Philosophy; first tenured female faculty member at the College of the Holy Cross
I think that for the first few years, what people said about women was essentially true: that the A students and the F students were going to be men, and in between there would be a range of women, and that was true. I had a lot of B students – women – not a lot of A students, and I think it was largely because they were shy, they were overshadowed by the men, and it was hard work to get them to open up, raise their hand, talk, have opinions because they weren’t educated to do that, and it took a long time. And it took a kind of defiance of the norms, I mean, because you sort of had to almost violate them saying, “What do you think, Susan?” or “Miss so and so” or whatever it is I called them, [laughter] and that gradually changed over time, and I’m constantly aware of it even now. I mean, I thought about it when you called me, that women, young women now, more than older women my age, have a sense of entitlement. Of course the world is going to be there to provide their needs. That wasn’t true then. It simply didn’t enter into anyone’s consciousness.

Hilde Hein was born in 1932 in Cologne, Germany, and was the first tenured female faculty member at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, serving as professor of philosophy from 1970 until 1999. She was also part owner of Annapurna, an Indian restaurant in Worcester. Hein’s academic focus is the philosophy of museums and the philosophy of women, and one of her main achievements at Holy Cross was to teach a groundbreaking course on the philosophy of women. In this interview, Hein discusses her early life in Berkeley, CA, as a member of a Jewish immigrant family, closely related to Robert Oppenheimer; her part-ownership of Annapurna restaurant; her tenure at Holy Cross during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, with particular emphasis on Holy Cross’s transition to coeducational school; and her research on the philosophy of museums. The interview also includes interesting observations about Berkeley, CA, Reed College, and Cornell University, and the Exploratorium museum.

Interview Date: 
October 6, 2009
Interview Focus: