Alumna Demonstrates the Utility of Lifelong Scholarship


Half century after her graduation from Radcliffe, Rosalyn L. Hunneman '47 is still a student at heart.

Hunneman has made her education a lifelong endeavor. After graduating from Radcliffe, she continued to further her education. Hunneman received a master's in education and psychology, and to this day, she continues to take classes at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement.

"I've been learning all my life," she says.

While she has spent much of her lifetime expanding her education, Hunneman has not lost the opportunity to apply her knowledge. Throughout her life she has served in many diverse jobs: from a volunteer in the Peace Corps to a manager of nuclear waste.

She retired three years ago from her post as the chair of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority in Vermont.


In my view, an educated woman has a compelling obligation to use her education," she wrote in her 25th reunion profile, published in 1972.

Coming from an age in which women were urged to become only homemakers and not pursue a higher education, Hunneman's attitude is rare.

Despite being in a class in which 58 percent of the married women describe their current occupation as being "at home," Hunneman says she wants more from her education.

"We surely didn't put in all those years in college simply to prepare to mop floors, cook meals, buy food, drive a car, etc." she wrote in the class report. "I feel that our families both need and respect independent, self-sustaining women, especially the husbands."

Hunneman says she believes that women have come a long way since her College days.

"I think we've accomplished a lot, and we just have to keep pressing on," she said in a recent interview. "We should support women who are achieving and trying to achieving and trying to achieve."

Hunneman says she is particularly pleased with the recent appointment of Madeleine K. Albright as secretary of state.

"When I was in college, would I have ever dreamed that a woman could become the secretary of state? Never!" she says.

Hunneman says that the advances in equality between men and women in the past few decades have been beneficial because, she believes, most men prefer to have equality between the sexes.

"Few men, I suspect, like carrying the full support of the family, and it's hard for men to imagine that many women enjoy being dependent on someone else for their total sustenance," she says.

Hunneman believes that couples' marital problems and divorce stem from the lack of equality in relationships.

"In my opinion, some of the principal causes of the present high divorce rate and marital dissatisfaction are the resentments and feelings of dependency which are inevitably fostered by marriages in which the husbands bear the entire financial burden and the wives have no option outside the home," she wrote in the class report.

However, despite her liberal view on women's rights, Hunneman says she didn't feel that her views separated her from her peers.

"My ideas weren't very unconventional, but they were unconventional," she says. "I think many people just thought I was a little odd."

Hunneman describes her upbringing as traditional and says that in her first marriage, to James L. Oakes '45, a circuit court judge, she took a conventional role.

"I think I was pretty much a traditional wife," she says. "I wanted a job, but I wasn't sure that I should."

Hunneman says her husband took the "traditional" role in their marriage as well.

"And my husband was a product of his time too," she says. "He wasn't a father the same way my son is today...he didn't take 50 percent of the care. He was of his time, and I was of mine."

However, Hunneman adds that her husband's traditionalism does not mean that he did not love his children as much as she.

"He just adopted the traditional role of father," she says. "He was very interested and fond of them and still is."

Hunneman remarried in 1980. She met her second husband on a Harvard-associated trip to China. He passed away five years later.

Outside of the home, Hunneman has served in a variety of public and community-service posts throughout her life.

After receiving her master's degree in psychology, Hunneman went to work as a psychologist for Experiments in International Living--a program now known as World Learning that branched off of the Peace Corps and does community service around the world.

While studying at Radcliffe's Bunting Institute after she got her master's in psychology, Hunneman also audited courses at Harvard business School. Through her experience there, Hunneman says, she became interested in utilities, leading her to apply for a position as the public utilites commissioner for the state of Vermont.

"I hadn't much thought about it, but it seemed interesting, and I applied when I saw the notice on our social service board, and then the governor appointed me," she says.

Hunneman says her appreciation for nature and the outdoors has influenced her in her jobs, including the state office she held.

"Vermont is very environmentally focused and we have had a constant struggle between trying to improve the economy and preserving the wonderful environment that we are so fortunate too have," she says.

After serving for 13 years as commissioner, she resigned. Later, she took on a position as the chair of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority in Vermont.

Hunneman says the job is tough because it is difficult to please everyone, or even anyone, involved.

"It was very interesting, but you know it is a no-win proposition," she said. "Every segment of society is against what you are doing."

Hunneman says one of the main problems she faced was that people wanted nuclear waste to be abolished, but no one wanted to help get rid of it.

[People] are sure they don't want you to put [nuclear waste] near them," she says. "I worked with wonderful people, thank heavens, because every part of the public, from the anti-nuclear people to the companies...didn't like what we were doing."

Hunneman says she believes it is important, and that we also must strike a balance between economic factors and environmental ones, and try to achieve a reasonable compromise," she says.

In 1994, she completed the project to which she had been assigned as chair.

Since then, she has returned to her alma mater to further her studies at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement.

Looking back, she says she considers her years at Radcliffe as some of the best in her life.

"I had an [awfully] good time," she said. "It was during the war, and Harvard had all the Army and Navy trainees there, so we had quite an active social life."

Hunneman says she appreciates her undergraduate experience even more as time passes.

"I liked the atmosphere, and the more I have been away from it, the more I realize the importance of being in such a strong intellectual atmosphere," she says.

Having enjoyed the benefits that an education at Harvard and Radcliffe has given her, Hunneman says she is somewhat puzzled as to why the schools do not officially merge. Radcliffe maintains separate public-relations, fund-raising and alumni development functions from Harvard.

"Since my time, Harvard has really assumed control of Radcliffe, it runs everything, and I think that's fine. But I think that it's time that the situation was recognized ant Radcliffe became a college of Harvard University."

Hunneman adds that the two colleges have virtually merged in the minds of most students, in any case, so the merger should be made formal.

"If you ask any girl here where she goes to school, she's going to say Harvard," she says. "If you ask her parents, they'll say the same thing."