Interviewee: Rachel Emmel
Interviewer: Connie Bieber
Date: March 14, 1991
This interview is part of a series of interviews conducted by Connie Bieber on the
history of the Junior Welfare League in Gainesville. Rachel Emmel was invited to join
the league in 1954 and has remained a sustaining member after her active membership
term was over.
Rachel Emmel was born July 8, 1922, in Naugatuck, Connecticut. She aspired
to become a medical technician, and she attended Bradford College in Bradford,
Massachussetts, and then Yale. After school she and a friend went to New York "to
get a job and see all the plays and all the symphonies and all the opera we could take."
They shared an apartment with a third roommate for a number of years. It was there
that she met Leonard Emmel, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania in
Philadelphia. They were married in 1947, right after he graduated from medical school.
After finishing his residency in internal medicine and serving in the army during the
Korean Conflict, the Emmels settled in Gainesville in 1953. Dr. Emmel joined practice
with Drs. Edwin Andrews and A. C. Cobb.
Rachel Emmel briefly describes Gainesville in the early 1950s. She was invited
to join the Junior Welfare League in 1954, an organization that she describes was active
in charitable activities but also that functioned as a support group. She lauds the group
for the education she received in volunteerism, a skill that she and others put to use in
the founding of Oak Hall School. She notes that some of her best friends were league
members. They worked closely together toward common goals. She recalls that
members had to be at least twenty-one years of age (although most of the members
were slightly older than that) and serve for seven years. They were able to take a
year's leave of absence. She notes that some of the rules did change when the group
joined the national organization. Roughly 75 percent of the women were local women
and 25 percent were newcomers, especially after the opening of the medical school.
Nearly all of the members were wives of University professors. In the 1960s there
were about 50 to 60 members. Today there are about 150 active and 300 sustaining
members. Being a league member was the "most fulfilling experience I ever had, and it
was a privilege to be a member."
B: This is Connie Lazenby Bieber interviewing Rachel Emmel at her home in
Gainesville, Florida, on March 14, 1991. We will be talking about the Junior
Welfare League of Gainesville. Good evening, Mrs. Emmel.
E: How are you?
B: I am fine. And you?
E: Just fine. Thank you.
B: Good. I would like to start today by getting some biographical information from
you. Where were you born?
E: I was born in Naugatuck, Connecticut.
B: And who were your parents?
E: My parents were Ruth Bushnell and Charles Rodenbach, Ruth Bushnell
Rodenbach and Charles Phinney Rodenbach of Connecticut.
B: Both were from Naugatuck?
E: Well, my mother was from a small town, Plantsville, Connecticut.
B: And what was your full name when you were born?
E: Rachel Bushnell Rodenbach was my maiden name.
B: What year were you born?
E: July 8, 1922.
B: How did you come to live in Gainesville?
E: Well, that is a wonderful story. I met my husband in New York City. It really is
a long story; I do not know whether you want me to go into the whole thing or not,
but it is fun.
B: Well, you can tell me as much of it as you would like to.
E: I knew when I went to college that I wanted to be a medical technician. Yet my
mother and my two sisters had both gone to Mount Holyoke [in South Hadley,
MA], and I knew that I did not want to spend four years going through college
before I could be a medical technician. So they had me tested at Princeton;
there was an institute at Princeton. I believe it is the same one that does all the
SATs and that type of thing now. I went down there, and they said, "Yes, this is
definitely what she should do." They recommended that I go to a junior college,
so I went to Bradford College in [Bradford] Massachusetts. I loved it, and the
whole time I took every science course I could there.
From there I went to Yale and was with the first-year medical students at Yale.
During that time I learned how to be a medical technician. In those days there
was not any certification or anything. You just came out of school knowing a
little bit about medicine but knowing your part in the laboratory.
A friend of mine whom I had grown up with, Dorothy McCollum, whom I had
known ever since kindergarten, had always said that when we finished school we
were going to New York City and get a job and see all the plays and all the
symphonies and all the opera we could take. This is exactly what we did.
Well, we got there, and it was wartime. We found an apartment, but it was sixty
dollars a month, a little over our budgets [laughter]. So we decided it was just
a one-bedroom apartment that in order to afford this we needed to get a third
person. Dot had gone to Katharine Gibbs [School in New York City] and had
finished school the year before, and she told me she knew somebody that was
coming up to New York to work who had gone to Katharine Gibbs with her, and
she would get in touch with her, which she did. It was a girl from Gainesville,
Florida. Mary Ann Ham moved in with us in our apartment. Dot moved out six
months later to get married. Mary Ann and I were there for over two years,
about two and a half years, with about twelve different roommates, each one
moving out to get married [laughter]. But Mary Ann introduced me to Leonard
Emmel, who was in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in
This is another tangent of the story, but Mary Ann had been introduced to a
group of boys at Cornell Medical School, where I was working. It turned out that
Dave Cofrin was a blind date for me one night, and she had a date with
somebody else, and we all were together. After that, Mary Ann and Dave
became very good friends and eventually married. But Mary Ann introduced me
to Leonard, who had come up to see her. He had never been to New York City,
and he went up to see her after we had lived there about a year. Leonard and I
hit it off, so we both, Mary Ann and I, were married at the same time, in 1947.
We were married at the end of March, and they were married the first of April.
We have been dear friends for all these many, many years.
B: Well, you are right. That is quite a story [laughter].
E: Yes, it is quite a story. People always ask me how I ever got to Gainesville,
Florida. Well, Leonard grew up here, with Mary Ann. They were close friends.
Gainesville was a little town then, so even though Leonard was a year older than
Mary Ann, he knew all three Ham girls very well. When you are that far away
from home, I guess if you know somebody near you, why, you are going to go
see them. So that is how it happened.
I had met a number of Gainesville people before I ever came to Gainesville, just
because they came to and through New York visiting. I can name a number of
people that I met, because Gainesville, of course, then was a little bitty town.
But that is how I happened to come to Gainesville.
We married right after Leonard finished medical school. He graduated in March
1947, and we were married two weeks later.
He did his internship and two years of his residency at the University of
Pennsylvania, and we lived right there in Philadelphia, four blocks from the
university. From the hospital, actually. I worked at the Pennsylvania Hospital.
Then we moved to Vanderbilt [University Hospital] in Nashville where he took the
third year of his medical residency.
Then the Korean War came, and he was in the army. He was sent to Fort Sam
Houston [San Antonio, TX] but got orders to go to Fort Smith, Arkansas. There
he was stationed for two years under a board-certified specialist in internal
medicine. So here he had all his five years, [which are required for qualification
in the American College of Internal Medicine,] and he decided that he really
wanted to come back to Gainesville to practice medicine.
This is how it developed. In those days you had to get permission from Dr.
[William C.] Thomas to practice here, more or less. I mean, you had get his OK.
Well, we came down here with trepidation. We really did not know what was
going to happen. [laughter] Leonard made an appointment with Dr. Thomas,
and Dr. Thomas said: "Yes. OK, Leonard. You can come," because there were
only about ten doctors here then. This was in 1953. I remember Dr. Thomas's
telling Leonard: "You are awfully young. You are just too young." He was
young; he was twenty-nine, and he was the first board-certified internal medicine
specialist here in Gainesville. It turned out very well. Dr. [Edwin] Andrews and
Dr. [A. C.] Cobb let him have an examining room and a little office in their
building right on University Avenue.
B: Now, where is that on University Avenue?
E: The 1000 block. Right now I believe it is the Security building on the south side
of University Avenue. The building itself has been renovated more or less. You
can almost recognize it from the back. I want to say it was at 1008, but I am not
sure that that is the address.
B: I am trying to place what it is next to now.
E: Well, at 10th Street and University Avenue there is a gas station, a BP station. It
used to be Gulf. Just to the west of that is 10th Street going south toward
Alachua General [Hospital]. Then probably just two or three doors down from
there there was, as I remember, an old house that had been renovated. It had a
nice front porch to it on the south side of the street. Dr. Andrews had one side
[of the house], and Dr. Cobb had the other. They had a little community lab, and
they gave Leonard a spot, one examining room and a little nook where his
secretary could be. And there was a reception room. That is how it turned out
that he started practicing.
He stayed I guess until the building was sold or [when] Sam Wall built a building
on 4th Avenue right behind Alachua General. Dr. Andrews, Dr. Cobb, and Dr.
Emmel all went over to this little, I-shaped, small building, which is now just a
parking lot. At that time I think it had about six or seven offices there. Old Dr.
Walter Murphree was there, Winston Summerlin was there, and right next door
were a lot of roosters [laughter]. [There was] a trailer park in the back on 2d
Avenue. Those were great days. Wonderful days.
B: OK. When you were talking, I was thinking that you were talking about south of
the hospital, but you were talking about north of the hospital, were you not? So I
was on the wrong side.
E: On University Avenue, right on University. Dr. Pinkoson's office was down the
street a ways, sort of where Taco Bell is now. In fact, it was his family's home,
but he had an office there in the family home. That was on the north side of the
street. Of course, University Avenue was the main thoroughfare then, and
Alachua General was just a very small hospital on [SW] 10th Street; it faced 10th
Street, about in the 300 block. It was a three-story building there.
B: Now, that was the only hospital in town at that time. Is that correct?
E: Yes. Right.
B: I guess it was the county hospital.
E: Yes. Alachua County Hospital. Right. It was not air conditioned or anything.
I also remember when our third child was born, and they torn down that hospital.
After he was born they tore down that hospital. Of course, it enlarged and
enlarged and took in lots. Today, of course, it faces [SW] 2nd Avenue. But I
remember David's saying to me, "Mom, what is going to happen when I become
president of the United States and they say, 'This is where David Emmel was
born'?" [laughter] There is no building there. But that was a nice, old building,
beautifully built. It served its day.
B: Well, tell me a little more about what Gainesville was like when you moved here.
E: I can remember coming to Gainesville, at Christmastime in 1946, before Leonard
and I were married. It was a very small town, maybe 14,000 then. Everything
was right around the [downtown] square. You could just walk right around the
square. [There were] a couple little tangents. Piggly-Wiggly was up sort of, as I
remember, where now Dell Graham's law offices are now. I remember going
downtown and walking around the square, going into several [places of business]
Baird Hardware, for instance and coming out and realizing that I had lost
Leonard's fraternity pin. I was frantic. I was with his mother, and I finally had
courage enough, because I had just met her the day before [laughter], to say
something. I said, "I just have to go back where we had been." We retraced
my footsteps, and there it was lying on the sidewalk. So that was very fortunate.
But Gainesville was really very small. Cox Furniture was on the south side, and
Sears-Roebuck was on the east side of the square. The old, beautiful, brick
courthouse was in the middle. It was just a typical, nice, little [downtown
square]. [There were] lots of beautiful, old homes up 1st Street.
B: North of University Avenue?
E: Yes. I remember going to a beautiful big party about where Purvis, Gray &
Power's building is now, just a lovely home there. But it just is no more. [The
CPA firm of Purvis, Gray & Company is located at 222 NE 1st Street.]
B: That is true. A lot of that is gone.
E: A lot of it is.
B: Well, now, 1946 was just after the war, so there must have been a huge influx of
students coming to the University.
E: All boys. Yes.
B: Right, because it was an all-male at that time.
B: I am sure Gainesville was beginning to see some changes.
E: Definitely. After that we came back just very briefly maybe once a year. We
did not have that much free time at all. In fact, the first couple years of our
marriage of course, we did not have a car or anything we were in
Philadelphia. Gainesville just grew. Going west past the University I remember
things seemed to be busier that direction.
When we moved here in 1953, there was no University Avenue past the
president's house. It was just a dirt path. The road that went was Newberry
Road, which went out toward the golf course, the old Gainesville Golf and
Country Club on Newberry Road. There were beautiful old trees.
B: Now, is that where the University Golf [Course] is now?
E: Where the University Golf Course is now. We bought a house in Hibiscus Park,
which is just north of that. It was one of the few subdivisions. There was Palm
Terrace, which was a subdivision just east, and then Hibiscus was a small
subdivision, and we bought a little house in there. The way we got to the
University [was] we went south about five blocks to Newberry Road. But if we
wanted to ride bicycles, why, we rode along this little dirt path that became
Turning on 22d Street, actually where we live now, 22d Street was paved up to
5th Avenue. Then from 5th Avenue up there was a little dirt path. A car could
go on it to about 8th Avenue. Then there was a little trail, sort of a driveway,
down to [UF track coach] Percy Beard's home. Then eventually it was all
opened up farther. I remember walking with Barney Colson, whose father had a
lot of land in this area north of 8th Avenue. We came walking through the
woods from ... I cannot remember where we started out, but it was probably
close to 8th Avenue and maybe 18th Street, something like that. [We went]
walking through this whole section here, and I remember] Barney's saying,
"Leonard, now you can have a couple acres for $2,000." Well, Leonard had
never earned a penny in his life! [laughter] "Barney, I cannot have that." But
we lived in that house for I guess about seven or eight years. Then we bought
this, which was on some of the property that we had walked over back eight
years before. That is how quickly things began to develop west of town. The
whole town started opening up completely.
George A. and Charles Dell lived with their parents off of 22nd Street.
George A. still lives in the old family home. When Leonard was a small boy, it
would take him all day long to ride his bicycle out to visit George A. and Charles,
who had horses. So Leonard would go on his bike from the east side of town
and spend the day with them. He lived over near the Duck Pond; that is where
his family lived. But now we are how many miles west do you go?
B: Forever, it seems.
E: Forever is right.
B: It sounds like Gainesville was in a period of growth when you came.
E: Very, very much so, and rapid growth.
B: In what years were your children born?
E: Nineteen forty-nine, 1951, and 1957.
B: So David is the only one who was born in Gainesville.
E: David is the only one born in Gainesville. Right. The other two were born in
B: Are the others boys or girls?
E: A boy and then a girl.
B: Two boys and a girl.
When were you invited to join the Junior Welfare League?
E: I think it was about 1954 or 1955, right soon after [we moved here]. There was
a requirement that you had to live in Gainesville three years, but if you were the
wife of somebody who had grown up in Gainesville, then that was automatically
dispensed with. You could be automatically accepted. Of course, Leonard had
grown up here. I believe it was 1954 or 1955, not too long after I came here,
that I was invited to join. It was a real privilege, I can tell you.
B: Did you know anything about the league before you received your invitation?
E: Yes, because the year just before I received the invitation was a Follies year, and
some of our friends were in the Follies or had lots to do with it. So I knew a
good bit about it. Rainer Pinkoson was a good friend, and I knew about the
league from her.
B: And the Follies was a fund-raising event that the club sponsored.
B: How would you say that the club was perceived by the town at that time?
E: It was one of the big women's organizations, I think, and I believe that it has
always been well accepted because of the charitable things that they did.
B: In 1946 Gainesville was about 18,000.
B: Then we had the influx of the after-World War II students and their families, and
the University hospital, so Gainesville must have grown considerably. [The
Health Center opened in 1956.]
E: Well, then the University accepted females, see, so the school itself grew
tremendously. [The University became coeducational in 1947.] Then the
medical school came, and the town just mushroomed, just absolutely
mushroomed. It was a very busy time. There were a lot of us working.
Alachua General, for instance, was outgrowing its site and was looking for more
properties, and there were a lot of us involved in that. I think this happened after
I got out of the league.
One thing I did want to say is that I remember a really hollow place in my tummy
after I became a sustaining [member]. I felt lost for a few months. I was
involved in lots of other things, of course, but I did miss the league tremendously.
But I think then is when I began to get contacted in trying to find a new site for
the hospital. This took a lot of work, not only on the doctors' [part], but [also] on
their wives' part to help out in many different ways. Then it went on from there.
I did lots of things.
Our youngest son was, I believe, in fifth grade or sixth grade during the racial
crisis. It was really a hard time for children to learn very much, because I think
the teachers were having to police rather than teach. Four or five couples got
together one evening I do not remember exactly when this was, maybe late
1960s or very early 1970s to talk about getting a private day school here in
town. The University had started then, and possibly we could get enough
children to go to this new school where the children could be taught. We would
get good teachers. Well, we started it, and I think we had twenty-three children.
This was Oak Hall School that we started. It grew, and now, of course, it is way
up to 250, which is the limit. They will never have more than 250. I was very
involved with that for a number of years raising the bonds and this type of thing.
The league gave its members an education in volunteerism that I have always
been able to use throughout all my many years in helping other things get going.
B: Well, that sounds very good. I was interested in what you said about missing
the league. Earlier in the interview you talked about the friendships, that some
of your very best friends to this day [were fellow league members]. Would you
characterize the league, in addition to an organization that does charitable things
in the community, as you said, as a support group also?
B: How would you respond to that?
E: Well, it is supporting in the way that you work very closely with people. You
form these friendships. You are working together toward a goal. You are doing
something for somebody, and you are doing the work with somebody that you
love and like and work well with. Consequently it is a snowball effect. It just
starts going. I do not really know how [else to describe it] other than to say what
I did, except that the friendships that you form along the way are very lasting
friendships, very lasting. Of course, now I have fond memories of all that, as all
of us do.
B: Talking about working so closely with these people, tell me a little bit about what
the membership profile of the league was in the early 1960s when you were
about to leave. What were the women like? What was the age range? Were
they mostly from Gainesville? Just give me some general ideas.
E: Yes, they were younger than we were, than I was. I will speak for myself.
[When] I came into the league I believe you had to be twenty-one, and you could
serve seven years. But there were not many that were that young, because, of
course, that is college age, so it became more an older group of [women in their],
say, late twenties. Then you served your seven years. We were more or less a
group that came in together and then went out together. And every year a little
younger group would come in and go out together. But [now] you can come in -
I cannot quote you the exact minimum age that you can come in, but you can
stay in until you are way past forty and do your seven years. But also [you can]
take a year's leave of absence, which was unheard of in my day. You just did
not take a year's leave of absence. You did not take a leave of absence at all,
unless it was, say, maybe for a month or so. Then you had to make it up at the
end or else do double duty, do your project work double duty the next month.
But all of the rules have changed since we went national lots of things. And
that is for the best, really. A girl having a family, for instance, should be allowed
to take a leave for six weeks, two months, three months, or whatever. Some
University people are sent overseas for a year, and the girl would like to come
back into the league when she comes back. It is wonderful that she wants to do
this, so she is able to take a year's leave of absence, which is wonderful, really.
[She does] not have to resign and get out. So it works favorably, I think, for
everyone now. I think it is a good rule.
B: In the 1960s did you find that most of the people in the club were Gainesville
E: Not necessarily. It may be wives of Gainesville people, like I was Leonard
Emmel's wife. I was never me [laughter]. I was Leonard Emmel's wife. Finally
after a number of years I became me. But yes, I would say [most of the
members were Gainesville women].
But then things changed in the mid 1960s. After the medical [school] started
there were some wonderful people that came, some who were members of
national leagues but wanted to be in our local league. So they gave up their
national membership and joined our league because they wanted to make
friendships outside of the medical school. I cannot say that was a great number
of people, but there were some that did this. But I would say it became where
maybe 75 percent were just local, and the other 25 percent were others coming
into town. [These newcomers] had to wait three years and live here three years
before they could even be considered for membership.
B: So it sounds like the group is becoming a little less homogeneous, then.
E: Yes, I think so. I think you could definitely say that. Also its being so large it
should become less homogeneous.
B: Right. Well, about what size was the league during this time, the 1960s?
E: Oh, I do not think we had more than fifty or sixty members at the very most.
B: Were a lot of these people who became a part of the league who were not from
Gainesville or married to Gainesville people from the medical center?
B: That was just one group that contributed.
E: Just one small group, very small.
B: So would you say that the women who were members, even though there was
maybe a quarter of them who did not have Gainesville connections, still had
similar backgrounds? How would you comment on that?
E: Yes, I would say that they did. Probably most of them were college graduates
or, if not graduates, [had] at least two or three years of some type of school. We
had others in the medical school, professors.
B: So a lot of the people who were not from Gainesville were connected with the
B: Of course, a lot of the employment in Gainesville was connected with the school,
so that might not necessarily be an overly large proportion.
E: No. That is right. Of course, if you were considered for the league, you had to
have the time to be able to give to the league, which was a big consideration for
some people. It also took a little wherewithal to do it. If you had young
children, you had to have somebody to take care of them, [somebody]
B: So that was sort of self-limiting in terms of how the membership would be
E: Yes. Right. Exactly. I think it is such a worthwhile thing, and girls who were
invited to join knew that it was such a worthwhile thing that they wanted to help
out, too. So they were perfectly willing to commit themselves.
B: Well, we have talked about a lot of different things about the Junior Welfare
League tonight. Is there anything that I have not asked you about or that we
have not already touched on that you would like to tell me about the Junior
Welfare League in Gainesville?
E: I really cannot think of anything. I just know that it has been such a marvelous
thing for [Gainesville], and I think the league for any town in the United States is
a marvelous helping hand, a second hand, in many respects, to a lot of different
things that need to be done in a town. Fortunately the league has grown along
with Gainesville in this town. It was small to begin with, and the town was small.
The league, and the town, have grown. I do not know the membership now,
but I would say the active membership is probably 150 anyway, and sustainers
are over 300, so we are a big organization now. There are a lot of us that wish
that the sustainers would do a little bit more, but, of course, we did so much back
then that everybody branches out into other things and does not have the time.
But I say to myself, I think I have more time now than I had when I had three little
children [laughter]. [The league was the most fulfilling experience I have ever
had, and it was a privilege to be a member.]
B: I can believe that. Well, thank you very much. I have enjoyed talking with you
E: I have enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for coming.