Category Archives: A Moment in Time

A Moment in Time: Pharmacy Grad’s Letters to Professor Kleinsinger During World War II

Pharmacy Grad’s Letters to Professor Kleinsinger During WWII, by Lynnette Henshaw         

Image from Pharmalog Yearbook, January 1944. St. John's University Archives.

Image from Pharmalog Yearbook, January 1944. St. John’s University Archives. First Row: William Kist Ernest Manganelli ? Andrew Bartilucci Prof. Herbert Raubenheimer Harold Berlin ? ? ?. Second Row: ? Joseph Gelo Morton Greenberg ? ? Otto Richheimer ? Third Row: Lucian Barone Leonard Sirota Stephan Butera ?

“I haven’t heard from Sid Willig in a heck of a long time.  I hope he is OK, and I’ll knock off a few lines to his MRS…. correspondence with most of the others has ceased, and I earnestly hope they are OK” –Feb. 16, 1945, Letter written by Lenny S. to Professor Harold Kleinsinger.

From 1944 to 1945, Lenny, who graduated from the St. John’s University College of Pharmacy in January, 1944, wrote several letters to his old professor. These letters were typed and a few handwritten.  In the letters he asked Professor Kleinsinger how everything at school was going and he wondered about former peers of his who he lost contact with.  I can’t imagine the thought of just graduating from college with all your friends to be suddenly split apart and in some cases never hear from them again.  This was unfortunately common for young adults in college during World War II.  Kids went off to college thinking when they graduated in four years they would find a simple pharmacy job and start a family. Instead, St. John’s University opted to accelerate their pharmacy program because of the war and give the students opportunities to take summer sessions and graduate in just three years, which is only half the time it takes pharmacy students to graduate now.  Instead of two semesters, they would have a trimester.

Lenny and his classmates still found time to be a part of various organizations and clubs, such as A.Ph.A, (American Pharmaceutical Association) and the student council for the College of Pharmacy, where Lenny was secretary. He was vice president of his sophomore class as well.

It’s hard enough for me, as a first year full-time pharmacy student to try to keep a certain G.P.A. to graduate and also to try to make time for family and friends, but I can’t imagine the pressure that these young students had to face. Lenny, who wasn’t much older than I am now, says in his letter to Professor Kleinsinger “I think I told you that I am the sole Pharmacist Mate on this ship. We carry ca. 100 men, and most of them are permanent crew.” He had just graduated and his first job was being deployed on a ship where he was responsible for 100 crew members who were just about the same age as him. He says that he is not overworked, however, but he doesn’t learn too much either.

I can understand why he often wrote to his professor.  He was in search of guidance and he took comfort in reminiscing in his college days where he could focus on being a student and being with friends. As Lenny wrote in one of the other letters, “I wish I were back at good old St. John’s again. No kidding, you would be surprised how often I think of the old joint, and laugh to myself, when I think of all the things we fellows thought were so serious, and which in retrospect are really so unimportant.” It must have been a dramatic change for Lenny to go directly to military service after college, he wasn’t fortunate enough to have a choice in where he worked, he was away from his friends and family. This leaves me thinking of my years to come in the pharmacy program here at St. John’s and how much will change after I graduate as well. I hope I stay close with all my friends and still have time for my family when I start my career as a pharmacist.

Lynnette Henshaw is a first year student in the St. John’s University PharmD program from Hammonton, NJ.

This references the correspondence from a former St. John’s pharmacy student found in the Harold Kleinsinger Papers (1941-45). The collection includes letters from Lenny along with those from more than 70 other former students written to Dr. Kleinsinger during the World War II era.  Kleinsinger was a professor of analytical chemistry and physics in the School of Pharmacy, from 1931 (not long after the school’s founding in 1929) until 1973.  His impact on his students in the classroom and lab as well as a mentor and advisor for several pharmacy clubs and fraternities is clearly evident from the letters.  In particular, the Jewish students training to become pharmacists at St. John’s at the time, found in Professor Kleinsinger a supportive role model.


A Moment in Time: Student Composition Book, 1870’s

Penmanship, Authorship, and the Certainty of Life By Dean Kritikos

Student Composition Book 1870'sThis blog post is brought to you by the digital age—an age which at least one author would like to think has its share of cons that come with its prose—and, therefore, you’re not reading neatly printed, double-justified lines on a soft, off-white page. Further, you’re certainly not reading the scrawled excuses for letters that come out of pens and pencils I use. This blog post is also brought to you by the 19th Century, however, by way of a book of hand-written “Compositions of [St. John’s College’s] Class of 1871-72.” This make-shift title, stylized in two highly ornate fonts—with the “of’s” in tiny scrolls—is somewhat misleading, firstly because St. John’s 1870 foundation makes a graduating class of ‘71 or ’72 unlikely. Secondly, several essays within it, composed by members of the college’s “Literary Association,” are dated as late as 1874. The book, which collects what may have been considered representative work of the school’s award-winning writers, is composed of a collaboratively written story, letters, and essays in series on miscellaneous topics—likely assignments—all of which immortalize the voices, but also the bodies, of some of St. John’s first students.

One of the most intriguing sections of the book is composed of three essays on “the (un)certainty of death,” by William Maguire, Thomas Ward, and Wilson Durack. Ward’s essay is dated February 7th, 1873, which suggests that all three essays may have been composed within the same (academic) year. These three authors held various positions on the St. John’s Literary Union from 1871-1873, and won various composition-related awards, according to the school’s annual bulletins. The papers are concerned with death, its circumstances and meaning(s), and, of course, our (un)certainty concerning these. “The Uncertainty of Death” and “Uncertainty of Death,” by Ward and Durack, both offer highly theological/religious responses to what was likely a prompt on death; both use similar language to say that (the Victorian singular) man cannot dispose of his time, unlike his other resources, since his time is lent him by the deity. While it is certain that man will die, that death “shall lay his clammy hand upon us” (Durack), it is uncertain when and how.

William Maguire’s essay, “The Certainty of Death,” takes a different approach to what was likely the same prompt to which Ward and Durack responded. While Maguire’s ideas are also theologically inflected—death is inevitable, after all, since “man brought this fate upon himself,” according to Catholic doctrine—he focuses on concrete evidence of (others’) death, rather than human uncertainty of its circumstances. Maguire, not completely differently from either Ward or Durack, defines death as “the irrevocable separation of soul and body.” Interestingly enough, however, he references relics of deceased peoples—“the works of their hands”—to talk about (the certainty of) their deaths. That is, although we “cannot see the sages themselves,” we can still see—with our eyes—the work their bodies produced. Death is certain, paradoxically, because of the artifacts the dead have left us. What’s also certain, though, through such artifacts, is the lives of the authors behind them. And what makes life certain is, indeed, the hands—the bodies—of these authors.


A sample of Ward’s handwriting, with Durack’s handwritten composition below it.

Artifacts such as St. John’s College’s early bulletins, which list the students enrolled for given years, point to the existence of a name—a word—at a given time. The penmanship of these students, however, points to the existence of a hand, a body, behind the voice of each essay. The highly ornate language of each author, complete with florid, subordinate-clause heavy sentences—almost always layered with three iterations of an idea—might translate into a word processor and/or an audio adapter without the conventional taxes of translation. Maguire’s long crosses on his t’s, Ward’s polished and picture-perfect penmanship, and Durack’s highly-pressured and heavily-slanted cursive, however, provide an exclusively embodied (visual)

Maguire's handwriting and signature.

Maguire’s handwriting and signature.

experience of an embodied artform—one that you’re not getting as you read this blog post. What you get of me, the artist, is a language that, with any luck, is distinguishable. You’re not reading something that’ll stand as a guarantor of my (embodied) existence some 150 years from now. The essays in the composition book, on the other hand, even when concerned with (un)certainty of or about death, point to the absolute certainty of the lives behind them—they immortalize the authors, in fact, in the curls and curves of their letters, even as the digital age comes closer and closer to exposing print culture to death’s “clammy hand.”

Dean is a senior English major with minors in Creative Writing and Phiolosophy at St. John’s University, where he works in the Writing Center as well as the Office of Sustainability. Dean has recently performed original poetry with The Epic 12 and The Inspired Word, and has upcoming shows with Poetry Teachers NYC and The LouderARTS Project in 2014.

This ledger filled with handwritten essays from some of the young men who attended the school during the early years of St. John’s (founded in 1870), is one of the earliest and most precious artifacts from the institution’s history. Several of the authors of the essays in the book were founding members of the school’s first student society the “St. John’s Literary Union.”  The society’s motto was Veritas Semper Vincit (truth always prevails).

A Moment in Time: The First Issue of The Torch

The Spark: Looking at The Torch’s First Issue By Natalie Hallak

The Torch, First IssueSince its foundation in 1870, St. John’s University has grown exponentially—and ever since its first issue in September of 1925, The Torch has been there to capture every moment. The Torch’s first publication came about right in the heart of the Roaring Twenties, written by students in their twenties. Headlining stories include the St. John’s law school opening, a record freshman class of 175, a promising year for the Red Men, and a new University president. Now, almost a hundred years later, the news is not so different; St. John’s is on the hunt for a new president, there are high hopes for the Red Storm basketball team, and the freshman class now has several thousand members.

In this first issue, the Torch editors establish that they have been “assigned the task of putting into print student life at St. John’s.” They emphasize that “the support of the men of the college is necessary in order to make the publication a success.” The audience of this newspaper—the student body—is almost entirely male at the time, although the waves of change are beginning to ripple as the University continues to grow. When reporting on the record-breaking freshman class—and the reporters are never named—The Torch says, “Never before has St. John’s needed as much the zealous support of its student body” to not only help the University “in its uphill fight for recognition,” but to stay true to the University’s values. Because the editors say The Torch is an assignment, a duty, it makes sense that they would place upon the student body a call to action of sorts—“that with the whole-hearted support of every member of St. John’s College, a publication will be sent forth of which Alma Mater may well be proud.”

In this time of growth and prosperity, The Torch’s establishment could point to an effort to give the campus an even stronger identity—a paper that is attempting to unify an increasingly diverse student body, and perhaps combat secularism. These 1925 articles suspend telling the news objectively; a voice is telling you what to think about the news. Concerning the announcement of Rev. Cloonan as St. John’s new president, The Torch writes, “The servant of the Creator has risen to splendor and a noon-day prosperity… To this man, the students of St. John’s Colleges extend their heartiest congratulations and good wishes. We rejoice at [his] appointment.” This is a radically different approach to the news than what one sees now at The Torch, and the change, in my opinion, is for the better. Though we do not know exactly what caused the initial spark that began the flame of The Torch, one thing is for sure: It’s still burning as bright as ever.

Natalie Hallak is a Junior English major at St. John’s University. She has many roles on campus, such as being a Writing Center Consultant, working as Head Copy Editor at the Torch, jamming out with the Pep Band, editing for the Sequoya, and serving as a Discover New York Peer Leader.

The University Archives holds nearly the full run of The Torch student newspapers from its inaugural issue of September 25, 1925 until the present.  Its name was inspired by the Greek words in the university seal “a bright and shining light,” which refers to St. John the Evangelist’s description of St. John the Baptist (the university’s patron saint).   The Torch made its appearance during the transformative era in the University’s history of the 1920s.  While still officially named “St. John’s College,” the institution was well on its way to becoming a large university.  During this decade, four new schools were established, three of which are still in existence: School of Law (1925), School of Accounting, Commerce and Finance (1927; now Peter J. Tobin College of Business), School of Pharmacy (1929), and the Borough Hall Division of the College of Arts and Sciences (1927).  A second Brooklyn campus on Schermerhorn Street opened in the fall of 1929 to accommodate these new schools.  Student life also blossomed in the 1920s – new honor societies, student organizations, publications, and traditions appeared.

Recent issues of the Torch are available online, while early issues of the Torch and many other student publications are available for research in the Archives.