I.I. Rabi, Lionel Trilling, and Virginia Gildersleeve

Several readers wrote to inquire about familiar faces they spied in photographs featured in the Summer 2001 “Living Legacies” installment. In particular, one photo mentioned in a number of letters—showing participants at the 1927 Solvay Conference—included figures worthy of special note. Among them were Nobel Prize recipients Irving Langmuir, a 1903 graduate of Columbia’s School of Mines, and Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize twice. For the record, all conference attendees are identified in the photograph below.

Front row: Irving Langmuir ’03E, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin, Charles Eugene Guys, Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, Owen Willans Richardson. Second row: Peter Joseph William Debye, M. Knudsen, William Lawrence Bragg, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, Paul Andrien Maurice Dirac, Arthur Holly Compton, Louis Victor de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr. Third row: Auguste Piccard, E. Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, E. Herzen, Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrodinger, E. Verschaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin.

I JUST FINISHED READING the Summer 2001 Columbia Magazine, and it was excellent. In the article about I.I. Rabi, there is a picture on page 49 of Professor Rabi’s last class. I believe the gentleman to the left of Rabi is Joel Klein ’67C. Joel recently retired as the attorney general for antitrust and was the attorney responsible for the prosecution of the Microsoft case in Washington. You might want to check with Joel to see if my recollection of what his face looked like in 1966 is accurate.

—Bruce Gillers, M.D. ’69C

Klein confirms his presence in the photograph (far left). He remembers the class and Rabi well: “He was a wonderful, warm, gentle, grandfatherly man with a powerful mind—and a great teacher: entertaining and exciting. He had a love of science and history of science and ideas in science that in his own impish way just filled the air.” Klein (below in a more recent photo) went on to become assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division at the U.S. Justice Department. (He retired from that post in 2000.)

I ENJOYED QUENTIN ANDERSON'S “Lionel Trilling at Columbia” in the Summer 2001 issue. Anderson mentioned how seriously Trilling approached his responsibilities as a teacher, that it was “an occasion . . . to see what powers the student had and how they were being employed. If they were being wasted or misapplied he made it his responsibility to try to help.” I was a beneficiary of Trilling’s generosity. When I was a student in his literary seminar in the fall of my senior year, he was impressed by my contributions in class and sorely disappointed in my writing, a complaint I often heard in college.

Lionel Trilling and Virginia Gildersleeve
The class came to an end in January, but during the second semester, he invited me to come by his office with a paragraph or two each week. It could be from a current paper I was working on or something I had just cooked up. He would then hunch over it, read it out loud, and point out all the clichés and unclear thoughts. Imagine having remedial writing with Lionel Trilling! Since graduation, I have, among other things, written and edited five books. I often think of Trilling’s willingness to intervene and wish he could have lived long enough for me to share a book or two of mine with him.

—Joshua Rubenstein ’71C

I WAS DELIGHTED BY your Summer 2001 issue, particularly the profile on Virginia Gildersleeve ’99BAR ’08GSAS [“Virginia Gildersleeve: Opening the Doors” by Rosalind Rosenberg].I met Gildersleeve in Tokyo and Kyoto in February 1946 when she was one of four women members of the U.S. Education Mission to Japan, another being Mildred McAfee Horton, president of Wellesley and former head of the WAVES. I was assigned as press officer to the mission to connect these distinguished Americans with the Japanese media.

In touring one of the great Buddhist temples in Kyoto, the monks and military attachés from MacArthur’s GHQ arranged for the male members of the mission to make a rest stop in a mossy glade but neglected to find comparable facilities for the ladies. “Young man,” Dean Gildersleeve said to me, “you will please see to it that the ladies of this mission are tended to at once.” The military hosts followed orders, and the entire caravan of, say, a dozen sedan cars was rerouted to take the entire delegation back to the hotel where the ladies were comforted.

En route to Kyoto by train from Tokyo, Dean Gildersleeve’s sleeping compartment was pierced by a bullet shot from the countryside near Lake Bako. She was unflappable and helped put down any speculation that she or the delegation were targets of a Japanese uprising against the Occupation.

—Wilton S. Dillon ’61GSAS

Solvay Conference: Benjamin Couperie, Bruxelles. Trilling: Cecil Beaton. Gildersleeve: Paul Parker/Barnard College Archives. Klein color: Corbis. Rabi last class: University Archives—Columbiana Library, Columbia University.