Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Pooh Corner
For nine members of the Class of '47, the characters of the A.A. Milne classic bring home Pomona memories.

Katie Ogier Alexander ’47 positions a large plush Pooh Bear on the pillow at the head of her bed. Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Owl and Christopher Robin have already staked claim to beds in other guest rooms of her Santa Barbara home. A.A. Milne’s characters signal a twice-yearly reunion that has taken place for the past 58 years, when members of “Pooh Corner” have convened to share memories of their beloved Harwood Court, to boast about their own accomplishments and, later, the many accomplishments of their children. It’s an occasion to bring out the best in one another as only longtime friends can do.

The founding year was 1944; the Allied forces of World War II had entered Paris and liberated Brussels from Nazi occupation. The Warsaw Uprising was soon to come to an end, as the Soviet Army reached the capital city of Poland by the end of September. And in Claremont, Pomona College was housing military units and special training programs for the armed forces. Like many American universities, Pomona had sent a number of its men to war, and the soldiers’ civilian counterparts—mostly female—were still enrolled in their Claremont courses. Despite the overwhelming sense of conflict, students continued moving into their dormitories. One particular group of women braved the steam pipes and windowless walls in order to be the first individuals to break in the renovated basement of Harwood Court.

They called themselves “Pooh Corner,” and each of them graduated in the notable Class of 1947. Katie Ogier Alexander—Pooh Bear; Marylee Armstrong Post—Eeyore; Barbara Frisbee Hart—Piglet; and Gina Conner Dunseth—Owl (a fitting name, as she was six months older than the others). The original seven was rounded out by Helen Heyden Anderson—Kanga; Lavon Johnson Duncan—Rabbit; and Lois Knight Lighthart—Tigger. Emilie Ford Frisbee and Mary Elms Dearden were welcomed to the group later in this inaugural year, heralding the titles of Pooh Bear II and Christopher Robin, respectively.

Dearden lived in Blaisdell Hall rather than Harwood Court, a living situation that likened her to Christopher Robin who himself made his home outside of 100 Aker Woods. Dearden and Frisbee would join their friends for frequent readings of the Winnie-the-Pooh books and poems created by Milne and E.H. Shepard. They studied the history of the book series and talked about the readings. In so doing, the women were setting the stage for what Dunseth describes as a “lifetime of enjoyment with special friends.”

“Especially during the war years,” says Dunseth, “the bonds of female companionship were extra strong on campus.” Former President E. Wilson Lyon would concur, noting in The History of Pomona College that the fluctuations in the enrollment numbers during the war years were drastic. In 1944, “…spring term included: seniors, 18 men and 67 women; juniors, 10 men and 83 women; sophomores, 12 men and 98 women; freshmen, 36 men and 134 women”—a startling ratio of 76 men to 382 women. Lyon also noted that, “The women kept alive many of the basic activities and traditions of the campus.” In particular, members of Pooh Corner planned engagement parties for classmates and helped arrange a number of other events at Pomona. Social life on campus during World War II centered on student union activities, composed mainly of formal, themed dances held in the ballroom, complete with decorations and attended by gowned women and suited civilian men (as well as the uniformed men from the military units training and studying on North Campus). The sense of community was impressive.

Perhaps it was second nature, then, or a sign of those times, that members of Pooh Corner have maintained such strong friendships and preserved a special tradition.

These days the women gather to catch up on the past year’s activities, to announce the births of grandchildren, to concoct new recipes together, to take walks on the beaches of Santa Barbara, or to make trips to the local botanical gardens. On occasion, the women will allow their husbands to tag along on their adventures, but for the most part it has remained a “girls’ week away.” Frank Hart ’47, a complimentary and supportive spouse, states: “Pooh Corner is a wonderful, interesting group of women ... you’ll find yourself pleased to have
met them.”
—Erika Gamst ’01

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