Patty Mansfield ’51 returns to the classroom, here and abroad
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 15:02
Six decades after graduation, Patty Mansfield ’51 remains active in the Wellesley classroom. In preparation for her trip to China in the spring, as an auditor, she joined my section of History 278: Reform and Revolution in China. “I’m anxious to expand my international horizons,” Mansfield said. Sitting down for an interview, she quickly apologized for being late to class due to traffic while driving from Weston. With knowledgeable eyes and a strong but soft voice, she reflected on her time at Wellesley.
Many alumnae choose to audit classes each semester, but I found Mansfield’s case particularly significant. Mansfield has spent quite a bit of time at Wellesley. After graduating from the College in 1951 with a bachelor’s in English, she went on to pursue a career in real estate. Since then, she has also returned to audit several courses in the art history, music and English departments. This is the first history class Mansfield has audited.
Some of the subjects raised in the history class connect to events that she personally encountered at Wellesley. “History brings the past to the present,” Mansfield said.
Mansfield and Mary Jane Soong, daughter T.V. Soong (a former Premier of China), and niece of Chiang Kai-Shek, were members of TZE together. “We didn’t think of her that way,” Mansfield explained, “we just called her MJ. She was just a good friend.” She further recalled when Soong moved in with trunks of clothing: “she was just like us: she wore penny loafers and plaid skirts.”
The history between Mansfield, Wellesley, and China extends beyond her years on campus. May-ling Soong, another TZE alumna, was a friend of Mansfield’s mother-in-law, who graduated in 1918, just a year after Soong graduated. Soong would go on to become Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the First Lady of the Republic of China from 1948-1975, as well as “the most powerful woman in the world,” in the words of Life magazine.
These connections helped Mansfield bring the classroom material out of the textbook. “I just feel myself energized by Wellesley’s history of interaction with its Chinese students and history. It makes things more immediate for the students,” said Professor Pat Giersch, who currently instructs the Chinese history course.
“I enjoy [the class] tremendously. The students are so engaged,” Mansfield added. When she took classes as an undergraduate, she explained, students were much more hesitant to participate in classroom discussion. Professor Giersch said that while auditors are not encouraged or discouraged to speak, the class is still primarily for current students. While quiet in discussion, Mansfield expressed in our interview her own views on a Chinese revolutionary we had just examined in class.
“The only obstacle is doing all the readings ahead of time,” she said. Although Mansfield had difficulty accessing the new online resources through Google Groups, she manages to keep up with discussions. Auditors are not required to write papers or complete exams.
In addition to the history course, Mansfield plans to learn basic Chinese vocabulary before her trip. “It’s for the purpose of educating myself on international and global affairs,” Mansfield said. Even 60 years later, she continues to embody the essence of Wellesley’s mission and dedication to lifelong learning.