Aunt Dorothy was eccentric. That is a word we used to describe her. One of the examples I have used to illustrate her eccentricity is that she was a vegetarian from, I heard, the age of 19. That would have been in 1928.
Now, I think, I would call her a woman born ahead of her time. Her brilliance, her intellectual fearlessness, her outspoken and informed expressions of her opinions, coming from a woman of her generation, were startling and, probably, off-putting to many. She could be infuriating, a know-it-all, even when she didn’t – although she usually did. But her senior yearbook ditty has it right: “Her bark’s really worse than her bite.”
And Aunt Dorothy could be loving, endearing, gentle, incredibly generous. When I was a little girl she would delight me on walks, identifying the trees and other flora as we strolled through a park. She thrilled me by telling me that I was smarter than some of her students (in college preparatory Latin), when I would pick up one of her textbooks and learn, “Agricola sum.”
My cousin, Johnny, told me recently that in the 1980s, after Dot had moved into a nursing home, herself, she kept her apartment and let Johnny live there for 18 months.
But her outspokenness could come across as mean. I remember her speaking derisively of people she thought were stupid, even people she knew and cared about. My sister proudly took Dorothy to her new townhouse and was hurt by Dorothy’s (probably meant as a humorous compliment), “It’s too good for you!”
It’s so hard to know where to start when writing about Aunt Dorothy. I suppose the best place is her brilliance. That’s something everyone would have to agree about.
Dorothy was 17 when she graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1926. WHHS, still one of the premier public high schools in the US, is a college preparatory school. According to Wikipedia, when WHHS was known as a “classical high school” “modeled on eastern college preparatory schools in general, and on Boston Latin School in particular.” In Dot’s senior year, according to her high school yearbook, she was:
Editor of the Yearbook
University of Cincinnati and Yale University
She attended UC (University of Cincinnati) and was an academic prize winner (source: The American Israelite, June 23, 1927). She graduated in 1930, and I have yet to discover which particular degree she won, but I assume it was a B.A. in the Classics.
In 1930 Dorothy apparently joined and her older brother, Mitchell, at Yale University. The American Israelite reported that Dorothy was recipient of a scholarship in classical languages, while Mitchell won a graduate fellowship in the classics (May 23, 1930, p.2).
Again in The American Israelite the following year (May 14, 1931, p. 2):
“Miss Dorothy Levensohn, who was graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1930, was among the eight Jewish students who were awarded fellowships at Yale University last week.”
The eight Jewish recipients were among 176 fellowship winners across the country. Three of the eight were women (The American Isrealite, May 28, 1931). Next year, (May 12, 1932) the Israelite reported that Dorothy had “been awarded a Susan Rhode Cutler fellowship to continue researches in the classics at the Yale University Graduate School” (p. 2).
I do not know if Dorothy completed her advanced degree at Yale. I remember hearing, as a child, that she had obtained a Library Sciences Master’s degree from Yale, but I have no evidence that my recollection is correct.
She was also B.A. 1937 from the University of Cincinnati. I know this only because I found a web link that showed a listing from the Cincinnatian Yearbook. It didn’t state her major.