Faculty Spotlight: Mady & David Segal, PhDs (by Beverly M. Pratt & Meg Austin Smith)

We were putting the finishing touches on the previous edition of the newsletter late one Friday evening last semester when we realized we were not alone. Up there on what we thought to be a vacated-for-the-weekend 4th floor ASY, our occasional giggles and/or raucous laughter turned out to be audible to others. Or, one other. One Dr. Segal — Dr. David Segal who, in his usual kind spirits, encouraged our on-the-job fellowship, and even came to join the party. We got to talking, and by the by (read: we asked him) we began to talk about how he and Dr. Mady Segal met. It was a great story, one that he finished by saying, “But you ought to talk with Mady.” So we emailed her to request a date when the four of us might sit down and talk together. Here’s what she said: 

Bev and Meg,

I’m looking forward to talking to you about how we met.  David will tell his version and I’ll tell the truth.

Mady

And so in honor of love and partnership we are humbled and excited to share Drs. Segals’ stories. We share an excerpt of the transcript below.

9 April  2012, 3:30pm

ASY 2115 – Dr. Mady Segal, Dr. David Segal, Bev Pratt, Meg Austin Smith

Meg: Thank you for coming, Dr. Segal and Dr. Segal.

Mady: I’m Mady. He can be whatever he wants.

David: Your Excellency.

Meg: So who goes first?

Mady: I’ll start. He’ll interrupt. After 45 years… We’ve been married 45 years. We met when I was still an undergraduate…it was 1965, and I applied to many more schools than most people, my fellow students who were men, because they could predict where they would get in, but it was legal to discriminate against women, that was before the Equal Opportunity in Employment and Education. I was graduating from Queens College, and I had been a mathematics major and changed my major to Sociology the summer before my senior year, and my goal was to teach high school math or junior high school math.

David: You can still do that; you’re retired.

Mady: And in the NYC school system you had to earn a Master’s degree, but I found out it didn’t have to be in education or whatever your field was…I found out there was this field of mathematical sociology, so I went to the library and checked out all the books I could find, including those in mathematical psychology, started reading them, and decided to apply to schools that had programs in mathematical sociology…Turns out my mathematics actually got me in. I was choosing between three schools, the three that were most attractive to me were Chicago, Michigan and Stanford. And of course those were superb schools and I was just shocked that I had gotten in and had gotten funding… I was living at home as an undergraduate, the phone rang, and my mother answered it and came running up the stairs and said, ‘Mady, there’s a professor from the University of Chicago on the phone.’ Now, my father was the first in his extended family to go to college and he did it at night while working full time, I was three and my brother was six when he graduated. We did not have professors hanging out in our house a lot….It was Bob Crane [on the phone] who was the advisor at the time for the mathematical sociology fellows at the University of Chicago, and he said, ‘Have you gotten our letter yet?’ and I said no, and he said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what it says. We’re offering you a three-year fellowship through the National Defense Education Act in mathematical sociology. It was in the wake of Sputnik…

[Bob Crane] gave me his number and said “Call collect” – back then it was important because it was very expensive, and he said, ‘You might want to take a trip out here and if you do, we can’t pay your plane fare, but we can put you up in the Eleanor Club for Women…

David: Can I interrupt for just a minute?

Mady: No.

David: Well I will anyway. One of the interesting things is the difference in the admissions process between the University of Chicago and Maryland…At Chicago, decisions were made based on who had funding to support graduate students. Here we have a graduate committee and people talk about who is going to be supported and how, and a lot of people are supported through teaching assistantships, and at Chicago we didn’t have that. Graduate students could not teach undergraduate students…The people who controlled the research assistantships and the training grants made the decisions. So they had a stake from the get-go in who were the incoming students. Once they made their decisions about who they wanted, they worked very hard to get who they wanted…

Mady: I actually wasn’t intending to get a PhD. I was still intending to become a teacher. But that’s not what you can say in these applications….they were all PhD programs. You had to say you wanted a PhD. So by the time I finished writing them all, I had basically socialized myself that I was going to get a PhD. But I also, when I was taking preliminary exams, I said if I pass them at the Master’s level, then I’m taking it and leaving. Because I wasn’t going through that again. It’s like comps but earlier…

David: It is a comprehensive exam. It covered the 14 fields that Chicago felt it was strong in. You could take courses in them or not, but there was a reading list…

Mady: So I talked to my parents, and because they did not want me going as far as Stanford…I was 19 at the beginning of my senior year…so I wasn’t going to take a trip to Stanford. I had a boyfriend there….

[…]

Mady goes to Chicago to visit…

So I flew to Chicago…and the person who picked me up at the airport was the son of family friends. It was who my mother was trying to get me together with. And I had a boyfriend back at home.

Bev: And the one at Stanford?

Mady: Yes.

David: It’s the story of my life.

Mady: Back then we did not just date one person. Norms were very different…

David: Did that change when you married me?

Mady: Hmm. Most of the time…Bob Crane knew that I was interested in social psychology…so he suggested that I go to this evening seminar that they had…but it happened to be going on when I was there…they had an outside speaker, there was dinner served for $2, and then there was a question and answer session after dinner. That’s where I met David.

David: I was a social psychologist in my early life.

Mady: It was pretty funny because my mother’s response was, ‘You had to go all the way to Chicago to meet a nice Jewish boy from New York?’ We were actually born in the same hospital. …So David was in his third year…my first year was his last…First of all, the guest speaker was actually talking about neurotic kids’ backgrounds, and he was talking about growing up in New York, and I was slinking under the table…I was talking with people at the table after the talk…David’s roommate had gone to Stanford as an undergraduate, so he suggested that I come over to his place to meet [his roommate]…

David: I thought we went to Jimmy’s first.

Mady: First he took me out for a drink…On our first date, I wouldn’t really call it a date. I had a Coca-Cola.

David: We had good Coke in Illinois.

Before Mady left Chicago…

Mady: We went to breakfast at Gordon’s…I had taken a philosophy course at Queens, it went back to B.C., and Hannah Arendt was one of the people we read in there, so I associated her with Plato and Aristotle. So we walked in and there was a woman having breakfast with a student and David said hello to her, and I said, ‘Who was that?’ and David said, ‘That was Hannah Arendt.’ And I said That’ it! I’m coming to Chicago…

I did have a very expensive telephone call with my boyfriend at Stanford. I actually made a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of each of the schools.

Meg: Was David on the list?

Mady: No. I don’t think so. I actually can’t remember.

David: That’s probably the safest answer.

[…]

Mady: We did make up [a version] of the story to tell our daughter, because it doesn’t sound very romantic, “Where did you meet?” “At a social psychology seminar.” …Now it’s your turn.

David: Part of the story is that Bob Crane knew that Mady was going to the social psych seminar and he knew that I was going to be there, and he asked me to make sure that she came. So I married her.

Mady: That’s the version that he likes to tell.

David: The other version is that when she was a teenager, she was learning to knit and she made a sweater for one of her previous boyfriends, and it was a beautiful grey cable knit sweater, however since she was a brand new knitter and she was taking lessons from her cousin who didn’t teach her anything about gauge –

Mady: How many stitches to the inch.

David: … so the sweater didn’t fit him. So she went looking for somebody who could wear the sweater.

Mady: It was in my closet for a long time.

David: And it fit me. So she married me,

When Mady came to Chicago, it was the first time she’d lived on her own. She didn’t know how to cook

David: I’m glad your mother didn’t teach you to cook, because then you would have cooked like your mother.

Mady: I’m a better cook than she is.

David: What a disaster.

Mady: My mother was actually a pretty good cook, but he would say things like, ‘What is your mother drying out for dinner tonight?’

David: Well who eats baked liver?

Mady: So we had an eating arrangement, because we both lived alone…I had an efficiency. The kitchen was a sink, a refrigerator and a stove. There wasn’t even a counter… My mother doesn’t cook any more, but she is still alive. She’s 92. My mother didn’t think he was good enough for me….then it got to the point where she didn’t think I was good enough for him.

Mady and David were engaged May 16, 1966 and married December 25, 1966. [David: And every year people start putting up decorations for our anniversary!]

Bev is a fourth year PhD student.  Meg is a third year PhD student.

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