The Oberlin Stories Project

On the emergence of political awareness

Ruth Adler Rosensweig ’68

“Before coming to Oberlin, I had never seen a demonstration or sit-in or even considered challenging government or college administration policy.”

Ruth Adler Rosensweig. Black & white yearbook photo.

I arrived at Oberlin in the fall of 1964 from a small steel town on the Ohio River, with only a vague idea that there was a war in Vietnam.

Before coming to Oberlin, I had never seen a demonstration or sit-in or even considered challenging government or college administration policy. I was such a political neophyte that I did not know the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans.

It didn’t take me long to realize that many students had very strong feelings against the Vietnam war. When an ROTC recruiter arrived on campus to recruit for the Army, Oberlin students imprisoned him in his car. I agreed with the protests, but I was not ready to take part in actively trying to influence government or the college, and such expressions of student anger and power frightened me.

I remember being in my dorm room in March 1968, listening to President LBJ speak on the radio about the upcoming election. He said something like: “I will not seek, nor will I accept the nomination [to be the Democratic nominee for president].” I listened in amazement and then remembered the mock political convention that was scheduled to take place soon. Although the campus was overwhelmingly Democratic, we had decided to hold a Republican convention, thinking the Democratic alternative would be boring because LBJ would surely be nominated. Our hearts were definitely not with a Republican convention, but despite the update from LBJ, it was too late to change.

Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968; then RFK in June 1968. The year we graduated was a year we would never forget.

I clearly remember the shock of leaving Oberlin and being thrust into the rest of the world. It was 1970, after we finished grad school and moved to a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, when I found that my antiwar views were not popular. It was then that I realized how much I had in common with my fellow students, partly just because we’d chosen Oberlin, and in what a rarefied atmosphere we had lived during those tumultuous years.

As a result of my years at Oberlin, I became a political junkie and a liberal, although being a liberal doesn’t take much courage in Massachusetts. My husband Donn likes to say that I never met a tax that I didn’t like. You still won’t see me at a demonstration, but you might see me working behind the scenes for a social or political cause. I work at a non-profit, partly because of my Oberlin education.

At our dinner table, I constantly railed against some social or political injustice to our two sons. Occasionally if someone questions my stand on an issue, I tell them that I was at Oberlin during the 60’s. That’s all I need to say.