A fourth generation on campus


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Four Penn generations with Rita Kirshner, celebrating her 100th birthday, and (top, left to right) Sara Elizabeth Small Hodge, Betty Kirshner Small, and P. Blair Hodge.

Photo by Mark Garvin

Rita Kirshner (Ed'20,GEd'39) came to Penn during World War I.

Her daughter, Betty Kirshner Small (CW'46) came during World War II.

Granddaughter Sara Elizabeth Small Hodge (CW'72) came during the Vietnam War.

And now great-granddaughter P. Blair Hodge is in the freshman class. The country is at peace. "It's the Osama Bin Laden war," her mother quipped at a recent family gathering.

The Penn clan was uniting at the Small home in Haverford one Sunday in August to celebrate the 100th birthday of matriarch Kirshner.

"I think this is a very moving occasion for my mother," Betty Small said. Small's 73rd birthday coincided with her mother's 100th.

Also celebrating the occasion were Small's and Sara Hodge's husbands, both Penn men -- George W. "Bill" Small (W'46) and Ian Hodge (C'72). (Kirshner's husband Abraham, now deceased, also attended Penn, in Mechanical Engineering).

Then there were Blair's younger sister Julia, and Blair's Aunt Martha Small (CW'76,FA'77), who volunteered, "I'm not married to my Penn spouse anymore."

Blair, with a rich mix of red-and-blue blood pumping through her veins, was filled with excitement at starting her college career. "I love Philadelphia and I think it would be really neat to be on my own and be in the city and have really great professors and learn anything I want to, not just what I have to," she said.

According to her proud father, Blair is the true scholar of the family, admitted as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar -- one of a group of super-talented honors program students. She spent part of her formative years in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, where the family moved with Ian Hodge's banking career, but she now hails from Lancaster, where she was valedictorian of her class at Manheim Township High.

Blair did not feel pressure to attend Penn. "I've actually wanted to go to Penn since I was like 4 years old."

She was all ears when the family started reminiscing about Penn.

"You had a curfew?" she exclaimed, on hearing how dates worked for her grandmother.

"Oh, absolutely," said Betty Small.

"Geez," said Blair.

Blair's father suggested that curfews were not such a bad idea.

The demise of parietals were only some of the changes that had come to campus.

Kirshner remembered how the only schools open to women were the School of Education and the Dental School, then an undergraduate program.

Her classes -- and all the classes for women -- were in College Hall, along with a women's lounge, the only place on campus where they were allowed to hang out. "I remember a mantle with a mirror over it and a straw settee, and maybe a chair or two, and that's all we had." Even during Sara Hodge's time, divisions between the College for Women and the College existed. The Houston Hall Board opened to women and became the Penn Union Council. (Both Sara and Ian served on it.) The honor societies began accepting women. Sara was one of the first women in Friars. Ian said, "I was president of Sphinx, and that's still a sore point."

Blair has a strong sorority legacy. Kirshner was a founding member of Alpha Chi Omega; Betty was an Alpha Chi Omega, too. And Sara was a Kappa Kappa Gamma. Blair asked her mom for advice. "I didn't even know which sororities are there and what they're like," she said.

Did she expect to follow the family tradition of meeting her husband at Penn? It wasn't on her mind, but she allowed that she would hope so. "I'm not going to go out of my way but college is the best place to meet your future spouse. If I meet them at Penn I guess they'll be intelligent. I guess my family all made good choices."

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Originally published on September 17, 1998