Eighty-One Years Later, Alumna Fondly Recalls Her CLA Experience
By: Nick Santangelo | Photography provided by J. Houston
More than a few things have changed at Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) since 1938. One thing that hasn’t, though, is that CLA is still producing graduates who show the world the incredible value of a liberal arts education. At 106 years old, Angeline Henry (née Castrucci), CLA ’38, and her former career as an educator are proof enough of that longstanding tradition.
A college education was rare for anyone in the 1930s, let alone a woman, let alone an immigrant woman. In fact, no one from either side of her family had ever attended college before. But that didn’t stop the Italian-born Henry from leaving her home of New Castle, Pa. near Pittsburgh to earn her degree in Philadelphia.
A New World
The opportunity was made possible by a senatorial scholarship she received thanks to a recommendation from a high school teacher based on her academic achievement. The scholarship covered $200 for each of Henry’s four years of schooling, leaving her family with just a $75/year bill for her education. But to take advantage of it, she’d have to leave home and go live with an aunt in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. With tears in his eyes, Henry’s father let her go.
“Everybody was kind of happy and sad at the same time because I was leaving for the first time without a family with me,” recalls Henry.
When she arrived, Henry discovered that Broad St. was no misnomer.
“The street was so wide you could put 10 of New Castle's on it,” she says. “The school was old on one side and on the other end, very modern, seven-storied new buildings. That was the teachers' building. All of this excited me because I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was five.”
Looking around on that first day Henry saw something else astonishing: houses she describes as “glued together.” Never before had she seen row homes. But while so much was so different, it was also all very exciting, and Henry immediately felt welcome in Philly and at Temple. She was one of the few females on campus at the time but was treated with respect by her professors and classmates.
And the dual challenges of adapting to big city life and the rigors of higher education excited Henry. Following through on her childhood dream, Henry took courses in teaching and foreign languages.
“I studied foreign language because when I was in ninth grade I loved Latin,” she explains, “and when I understood that Latin took me to French, Latin took me to Spanish, I was excited that maybe if I had time I could take all those languages that were related to Latin and be able to teach, and so it happened.”
Farm to Desk
But while learning new languages came easily to Henry—she even taught herself English after arriving in the U.S. from Italy—finding a teaching job didn’t. She settled for a job with the Department of Public Assistance after graduation, but opportunity eventually came knocking in 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II and men were drafted.
Henry ended up teaching in the agricultural community of Plain Grove, Pa. The commute was 37 miles, long enough that Henry once had to stay in one of her students’ homes during a bad snowstorm. Henry’s career was further strained by the fact that the school also had no substitute teachers. To Henry, though, it was all worth it, as she got to put her liberal arts education to good use while teaching five languages (Latin, French, Spanish, Italian and English).
Now 106 years old and living back in Western Pennsylvania, Henry credits her professors and the friends she made at Temple with helping her discover how much she could accomplish if she put her mind to it.
“At the end of my four years, the secretary to the College of Liberal Arts made a little talk about growing up. She said the most growing up she’d seen among all the girls in my sorority was done by me. I was just a farm girl from New Castle, and here I was graduating college and eventually going on to be a teacher in a farming community. That turned out to be my heaven.”