I first became aware of the Mary Ellen Goodman Reading Room over a year ago when I found this photograph. I was, of course, rather scandalized to see people eating in the library so I started looking further to see what might have excused this behavior.
A little bit of research quickly turned up a lot more information, including an invitation to the opening of the room—an afternoon tea:
It wasn’t difficult from this point to find out more about the namesake of the room. Mary Ellen Goodman was an extraordinary person. A cultural anthropologist, she was the first woman tenured in what is today the School of Social Sciences at Rice and taught here from 1963 until her death in 1969. She was particularly interested in the development of racial awareness in young children and she wrote wrote an extremely interesting piece on Mexican-American life in Houston that appeared in Rice University Studies after her death. Besides her academic interests she wrote a Sunday column for the Post and worked actively with a variety of community organizations to improve conditions in the city, particularly for children. Here is a biography written by the then-chairman of the Department, Ed Norbeck, which I think gives a clear picture of the broad range of her interests and accomplishments.
When Professor Goodman died, she left her personal library as the nucleus of an anthropology collection in the library. It was this collection that was housed in Room 314 of Fondren Library in the Mary Ellen Goodman Reading Room.
Well, the only thing to do now was to go upstairs and see if the Reading Room was still there. It wasn’t, of course, nor did I really expect it to be. Anyone who has ever spent any time working at a university knows that space is easily the most valuable currency on any campus. Things churn and move and relocate at a constant and alarming rate. Most happily, though, it turns out that the Mary Ellen Goodman Reading Room still exists. After a series of labyrinthine moves, it wound up in exactly the place where it was intended to go in the first place: Sewall Hall. Last April the room was rededicated in a small ceremony in the Anthropology Department. A new plaque honoring Dr. Goodman hangs on the wall. I admit that I have a tendency to get emotional over things like this, but it seems to me a small but real triumph.