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Elaine Shapiro Finkel


Elaine Finkel

Elaine Finkel fondly recalls her days as a student at TC in the 1940s.

The zoot suit was at the height of fashion and glamorous Rita Hayworth made the sweater look popular.  Smooth crooners like Frank Sinatra led the hit parade while Rosie the Riveter let women everywhere know "We Can Do It!"  The average salary of a U.S. teacher was $1,441--not bad considering that minimum wage was $.43 per hour.  These were the 1940s, and alumna Elaine Shapiro Finkel was making her mark her at TC.

Elaine's story begins in 1942 at the University of Pittsburgh where she was a freshman studying speech education; however, the department soon closed because "World War II was in effect, and all of the able-bodied men were called into the service," she remembers.  Determined to pursue her education, she enrolled at The Pennsylvania State University the following summer, but its speech department also closed once the chairman was drafted into service.  Knowing that she needed to carefully plan her future, Elaine applied to the University of Michigan and was accepted, finding it necessary to ride her bicycle to and from classes from an off-campus residence about 10 miles away because soldiers and engineering students occupied most of the on-campus housing.  She secured housing near the University's speech clinic during her second term, and it was her work there with stutterers and aphasics that helped her realize that she wanted to be a clinician in the field.  She received her B.A. in speech education in October 1945 and was offered the chance to continue working at the clinic while receiving tuition exemption to complete her M.A., but Elaine's father had other ideas.  He encouraged her to broaden her horizons and to see what programs of graduate study other institutions offered.  Her mentors at U-M recommended [Teachers College] Columbia University, and upon arriving in New York, she says, "It just seemed to be the way things worked out."

A native of Pittsburgh, Elaine had visited the City as child for summer programs and the World's Fair, but this would be her first time living here.  "New York is complex, and all of its different neighborhoods make it a fascinating place."  Upon acceptance into the College's speech program, she teamed with a fellow U-M alumna and rented a room at a brownstone on 101st Street and West End Avenue for which they each paid $5 per week.  She remained in New York during the summer of 1946 when a friend suggested that she take over her job with a fashion publicist.  While working part-time on behalf of publications like Vogue and Mademoiselle, Elaine received an invitation from the College's speech program to assist Professor Magdalene Kramer and Associate Professor Jane Dorsey Zimmerman (also TC alumnae) with the operation of TC's four speech clinics that served adults and children in the community.  She was contracted to work for approximately 6 hours per week with the pay of $500 per term, but the Dean informed her after a few weeks that her salary had been re-negotiated for the rate of $1,500 per term, a significant increase.  Her responsibilities included heading a program at Bellevue Hospital under the direction of Dr. Howard Rusk, founder of The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, to help elderly aphasia patients who had suffered strokes.  Elaine also oversaw the testing of students who sought certification to teach in New York City schools to make certain that they would be intelligible and audibly understood in their classrooms.

Elaine began her doctoral studies once she completed her M.A., but needed to return home just 12 credits and a dissertation shy of receiving her Ph.D. because her family needed her.  No universities in Pittsburg were interested in the type of clinical work she hoped to continue studying, and area K-12 schools made it clear to her that they had set and filled a quota for the number of Jewish women they intended to hire.  Although Elaine was able to apply her education only as a consultant to doctors when such opportunities arose, she has no regrets about how her life unfolded.  "My life's been fine," she expresses.  "I have a lovely family," she says, which extends as far west as California.

Elaine recalls with fondness her years at the College, including when theater was a mandatory course for students and noteworthy persons like Warner Brothers scouts and actress Helen Hayes visited to see them perform scenes.  She also remembers when Dwight Eisenhower became president of Columbia and visited her program at TC and asked her, "And my dear, what do you do here?"  "I think I started to stutter!" she laughs.  And, she says, "I remember our connection with the community," including her work with Broadway directors to provide speech coaching for their performers.  "We were known, and therefore, we were popular.  We had a drawing power.  Our reputation was such that they sought us out."  Having recently visited the College as part of her 80th birthday celebration, Elaine met with President Levine and Professors Jo Ann Nicholas and John Saxman of the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences which houses the program in speech language pathology and audiology.  "TC has really changed.  It's part of the times; part of 2004.  The library is exceptional," she admires.  Thinking back to that visit, Elaine remembers how she described again walking the College's halls to her son who accompanied her: "'I'm back home,' and that's just how I felt."


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