Born in New York, Marjorie Jackson (B.E. ’41, M.A. ’48) moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. With her parents seeking better job opportunities in California, Marjorie embarked with her mother and two siblings on a week-long journey by boat down the eastern seaboard and through the Panama Canal to Southern California. The family settled in Los Feliz, where Marjorie attended Franklin Avenue Elementary School and graduated from John Marshall High School in 1937.
“I came from a middle class family where the understanding was that you finished school and then went straight into the workplace,” Marjorie explains. “Going to college was a privilege.”
Enrolling the following fall at UCLA, Marjorie continued to live at home and commuted to campus via the Wilshire bus. While she rushed for a number of sororities, she ultimately did not pledge, as the regular tuition and student fees were a significant enough expense for the time – at $25 per semester.
Marjorie majored in education and chose elementary education as her focus, “probably because I was afraid of dealing with high schoolers,” she reflects. “I was a shy child.” Marjorie’s shyness didn’t stop her from minoring in theater arts. Her closest friends were not education majors but were in the theater and literature departments, and her active involvement in campus theater productions helped her to “come out of [her] shell,” she says. “I wasn’t exactly a budding thespian. I was much too timid. Ralph Freud was a towering figure in the theater department and was a real joy to learn from. He pointed to me one day in class and said, ‘If you are producing a play, you may have someone like Marjorie who poses problems.’ He said it with great affection and humor, and he was right.”
Instead of performing, Marjorie helped to build sets and was active in the crew and behind the scenes. Before graduating, however, she did insist on appearing in one production. “I told Ralph one day that ‘Before I finish with this institution I would like to appear on stage.’” Professor Freud cast her in the role of the scrub woman in the play Of Thee I Sing. She was given one line and recited it well in the first performance. “By the second [performance], I was so relaxed that my scene came and I completely forgot my line!” she laughs. Nevertheless, she remembers the production and her experience with the theater department with great fondness. She attests that her theater arts minor encouraged her confidence and gave her wonderful friendships. Among her classmates and close friends were Leo Penn, father of actor Sean Penn, and Art Friedman, one of UCLA’s most beloved professors.
Reflecting on her courses in education, the making of the famous Corinne Seeds’ box remains a vivid memory for Marjorie. Named after legendary Professor and Director of the Elementary Education program, Corinne Seeds, the Seeds Box project was a requirement of the Elementary Education Curriculum. Students were instructed to create a file-size box of lesson plans and other classroom artifacts that were designed around a certain theme. “They were so unlike anything we’d ever done in other classes,” she says. “My box [had the theme of] the history of records. In the course of preparing the box, I was dating a wild young man from Israel and was telling him about how papyrus was an important part of the history of records, as an early form of paper. In the dark of night [we] slipped out of his Beverly Hills apartment and cut a papyrus plant from the landscaping growing on the property of a real estate firm nearby. That piece of smelly papyrus was one of the highlights of my box, although no one knew how I had attained it.”
Corinne Seeds became a mentor for Marjorie, along with May Seagoe, another professor in the education department, whom Marjorie got to know during her graduate work at UCLA years later. “[The two of them] laid the groundwork for everything I did in education,” Marjorie affirms. “Corinne was an interesting character. She was a fierce adversary to the U.S.’ internment of the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was always advocating on behalf [of the interned]. I saw her once guiding an FBI or CIA agent across the Elementary School grounds and expect she was inquiring into the internment of one of the UES staff members who had been sent off to Manzanar.”
In addition to admiring Ms. Seeds’ advocacy, Marjorie appreciated the personal attention and support that her teacher gave her at the start of her career. “I was never a great student,” Marjorie admits, “But Ms. Seeds spotted me and mentored me and was responsible for much of my career. When I graduated she asked me to work with her at UES [as an Assistant Training Teacher] under Jane Stryker.” Marjorie took the position after her graduation in the spring of 1941 and worked at the elementary school for the following school year.
In the spring of 1942, the President of Mills College, Aurelia Reinhardt, contacted Ms. Seeds about a position that was opening up at the college in child development. Ms. Seeds recommended Marjorie for the position, and by the following fall, at the age of 21, Marjorie had moved to Oakland and was teaching at the college level. The other faculty members and department heads being much older than she, Marjorie befriended a few of her students, who were closer to her own age.
The United States had entered World War II by then and many young men and women were contributing in some way or another to the war effort. Marjorie recalls a lecture that Ms. Reinhardt gave at an assembly about the importance of preserving a woman’s role during war time. According to Marjorie, Ms. Reinhardt stressed the need for women to stay at home and preserve American culture rather than working in war industries. Disturbed by this message, one of Marjorie’s closest friends convinced her to join her in enlisting in the Marine Corps in protest. While her friend ultimately backed out due to resistance from her parents, Marjorie left Mills College after a year and joined the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Marine Corps, serving from 1943 to the War’s end in 1945.
Reflecting on her decision to enlist, Marjorie says, “I am a devout coward and was not interested in facing guns. But I went and did this reckless thing.”
Comforted by the knowledge that as a woman she would not have to face combat, Marjorie enlisted and made the trek across country with the other recruits to Camp LeJeune in the swamps of North Carolina. “We traveled in an old WWI train that was hitched to a fast moving train and the whole trip took eleven days,” Marjorie recalls. There, she learned the many rules and regulations of boot camp, which she found to be “terrifying.” The swamps of Camp LeJeune were supposed to mimic the South Pacific climate and prepare the men for ground warfare. While Marjorie was undergoing basic training there, President Roosevelt visited and “paraded in front of them,” Marjorie says. It was exciting for her to see the President, despite the circumstances.
Marjorie completed boot camp as Private First Class and was sent to the Naval Air Station in Atlanta, Georgia, to a training school for Link Trainer Instructors. At the completion of this training, Marjorie’s rank was raised to Sergeant, and she was transferred to the Marine Corps Air Base in El Toro, California. There, she used a Link Trainer and radio beams for navigation, assisting pilots by simulating flight from the cockpit of planes. Marjorie then applied for Officer Training School and requested to be placed anywhere except for in California, as she wanted to see more of the country. She was sent back to LeJeune, where she completed OTS and became a commissioned officer, achieving the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
Despite her desire to serve far from home, Marjorie was commissioned back to Southern California and stationed at Camp Pendleton, where she served in the Woman’s Battalion as the Recreation Officer. In this role, Marjorie ran all of the sporting and entertainment events and managed the movie theater, bringing movie premiers to the Camp and coordinating visits and performances from Hollywood stars. It was what Marjorie describes as “Great, Big Fun.”
Marjorie remembers sitting in the officer’s club when she got news of the war’s end. “I had been wondering how many more bombs would have to be dropped when I heard. And all of a sudden, it was over.” Marjorie retired from the Marines and returned to Los Angeles, where she worked briefly at Saks Fifth Avenue before deciding to return to UCLA on the GI Bill as a graduate student in the School of Education.
According to Marjorie there was great academic turmoil on campus in the late 1940s. The McCarthy Era spurred student protests at Founder’s Rock and pressure mounted over who would sign loyalty oaths. In the School of Education, controversy surfaced over the rise of progressive education and John Dewey’s “learn by doing” model, which some argued deemphasized the importance of learning the essential skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.
“In those days, progressive education was a bête noir for many people, who associated it with liberals and radicals. It became a political subject,” Marjorie explains.
She conducted her Master’s research on progressive education and wrote her dissertation on the influence of lay groups on public education, responding to local media groups that were critical of UCLA’s method.
Marjorie took courses from Education faculty including Malcolm MacLean, Paul Sheats, and May Seagoe, who became Marjorie’s mentor and advisor. Marjorie found Seagoe to be a particularly brilliant member of the Education faculty and was disappointed when she was overlooked as a serious candidate for Dean of the School. Receiving her M.Ed. in 1948, Marjorie taught for just one year in the public school system before deciding that such a setting was not desirable for her, personally.
Instead, Marjorie accepted an offer from Seagoe to work as a guidance counselor at the newly formed Teacher Selection and Guidance Department within the School of Education under its director, Garth Sorenson. “This was a much better fit,” Marjorie explains. “I found it fascinating. There were four of us serving as guidance counselors and we were from all over the country – California, Brooklyn, South, and East. Our job, under Garth’s guidance, was to screen students within the department and select high potential students for teaching positions. We were also asked to identify students who would be less suited for the classroom.” The team used various tests and assessment methods to scaffold students, including the MMPI and speech tests for students in the teacher education program. They also developed an assessment called “leaderless group discussions,” where students would be grouped together randomly and assigned a topic or theme to discuss. Marjorie and the other counselors would observe the group and the methods each student used to converse and debate.
Marjorie worked for the Department of Teacher Selection and Guidance for nearly a decade until 1957, when she and her husband and three children decided to move to Mexico, where they lived happily until returning to Southern California in 1992. In Mexico City, Marjorie served briefly as a substitute teacher in a kindergarten class in the American School before enrolling in a Master’s program in Bilingual Education at the University of the Americas, which was located in Mexico City at the time. Studying bilingual education and linguistics, Marjorie found the program interesting and rigorous. While there, Marjorie also inherited a wonderful collection of Mexican folk garments, part of which she later donated to the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Chicago. Developing an interest in folk art and textiles, Marjorie wrote articles and gave lectures about them at the University. She also founded a small company for which she designed and produced hand loomed table linens sold in Mexico and the US. She served as a volunteer in the Paleontology Department at the National University in Mexico City, tutored an aide to the President of Mexico who wanted to perfect his English, and studied archaeology and volunteered at the archaeological site, Teotihuacan. “It was a great, exciting, and wonderful life in Mexico,” Marjorie says, looking back.
Now retired and living in La Jolla, California, Marjorie continues to tutor English and attends lectures regularly at UCSD. She serves on the Committee of the Friends of the International Center, which selects students who are given scholarships to study abroad, and is currently de-accessioning her collection of books, textiles, research documents, and folk art. Her daily one-mile walks at the beach keep her active and fit, and she enjoys preparing Mexican food and spending time with her friends and family.