I’ve just read a thirty-page article called “Whitman Music: The Problem of Adaptation.” A critical analysis of musical settings of Whitman’s poetry, the article was published in the 1965 issue of Books at Brown, a journal devoted to materials in the Special Collections of Brown University’s library. The author is Peggy Z. Rosenthal.
I turn to the contributors list at the back of the journal to learn more about this author. I see that her article is “based on the honor thesis which Mrs. Rosenthal [this is so long ago that "Ms." hadn't yet been born] contributed to The American Civilization program. Mrs. Rosenthal graduated magna cum laude from Pembroke College in June 1964.”
What the contributors’ bio omits is that Mrs. Rosenthal, as Peggy Zierler, studied music composition all through elementary and high school, while writing poetry for the high school literary magazine. Hence her interest, for her college honors thesis, in musical settings of poetry. (It was her thesis advisor who suggested basing her thesis on the Brown library’s unusual collection of musical settings of Whitman.)
Nor does the bio mention that Peggy Zierler married Mr. Rosenthal just before her senior year of college, commuting to Brown from their apartment at MIT, where he was doing graduate work. In order to get married as a Pembroke student, she needed a permission letter from the Pembroke Dean. The letter also stipulated that Mrs. Rosenthal would not be allowed to spend the night in the Pembroke dorms; her experience as a married woman would not be a good influence on her (supposedly) virginal peers.
After Brown, Mrs. Rosenthal went on for a doctorate in literature, where parts of her dissertation on Whitman’s poetry were published in scholarly journals in the early 1970s, under the name of P. Z. Rosenthal. She chose the initialed name in order to disguise her gender. Women in academia were still few, and considered intellectually inferior by the male majority, so she strategized that a non-gendered name would be more likely to gain acceptance by journal editors. [Read more...]