Listen Up Geeky Mothers! This One’s for You

by Amy Marcott on May 25, 2011 · 7 comments

in Arts, Campus Culture, Modern Geekhood, Remember When..., Tech Reunions

A reproduction of the cover for the musical score of the 1954 production, Suspended in Air. Tom Doherty ’56, Jack Bacon ’56, and Arnold Levine ’53 wrote the lyrics, and John Hsia ’53 and Norman Telles ’51 composed the music. About 150 people helped with the production. Three of the four women in the cast were undergraduates at Emerson College. The fourth was an MIT secretary.

A reproduction of the cover for the musical score of the 1954 production Suspended in Air. Tom Doherty ’56, Jack Bacon ’56, and Arnold Levine ’53 wrote the lyrics, and John Hsia ’53 and Norman Telles ’51 composed the music. About 150 people helped with the production. Three of the four women in the cast were undergrads at Emerson College. The fourth was an MIT secretary.

As Tech Reunions approach, we start to get nostalgic here in the Alumni Association. So I was delighted to learn of the ditty known as “My Mother Was a Tech Coed,” first sung at the 1954 Tech Show, which was a staging of a musical comedy called Suspended in Air.

According to the Institute Archives, from 1899 to 1969 the annual Tech Show was quite a production. At first it was an operetta, minstrel show, or vaudeville revue. This morphed into elaborate and expensive original muscial comedy productions staged in Boston. In 1955, the show moved to the newly opened Kresge Auditorium until the final staging. In 1970, the Tech Show merged with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the MIT Classical Music Society to form the MIT Musical Theater Guild.

A reviewer for The Tech dubbed “My Mother Was a Tech Coed,” a song-and-dance routine performed by George Marcou ’53, MCP ’55; George Perry ’56; and David Rados ’55; the best number in the show, saying that while it was undoubtedly corny, “it was also tuneful, fast moving, and a delight to watch and listen to.”

So without further ado, I give you the lyrics, which I found on a website celebrating all things McCormick Hall. There are some other songs on there too.

My Mother Was a Tech Coed

She never held me on her knee
But she was all the world to me
That lady with the pointed head
My Mother was a Tech coed.

Couldn’t cook, she couldn’t sew,
But she could fix a radio
She used T-squares to make a bed
My Mother was a Tech coed.

She gave her fingernails a hue
By dipping them in Thymol Blue
Her lips were dyed with Cresol Red.
My Mother was a Tech coed.

She wasn’t lovely or even cute,
But she stayed in the Institute.
She wasn’t lovely or for real,
She had a dy-dx appeal.

When she went to a dress affair,
She pressed her jeans and combed her hair.
She thought a big fur coat would shed.
My Mother was a Tech coed.

Her cocktails were a potent brew
She learned the trick in 5.02
She always bought her cakes and bread.
My Mother was a Tech coed.

She hung her slide rule by the door,
Hung curtain rods with 2.04
At Christmas time we had a tree
She fixed the lights with 8.03.

Though Daddy was a Harvard guy,
He loved Ma and her formulae.
In Kresge Chapel they were wed
My Mother was a Tech coed.

As she approached maternity,
She also got her Ph.D.
And started working on pre-med
My Mother was a Tech coed.

Then followed many happy years
With fireside tales by Francis Sears
With calculus she was well bred
My Mother was a Tech coed.

And now that she is up in heaven
She fixed the streets with D11.
She was queen of the grey and red.
My Mother was a Tech coed.

“She couldn’t cook, she couldn’t sew
but she could fix the radio”
the lady with a pointed head,
my mother was a tech coed.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nadine Otterman May 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Very nice! I will have to share it with my children, they will appreciate it.

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Cyndi June 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Love it! My beautiful geeky mother (Martha Karpati) was MIT class of 1957 in chemistry. She and my MIT (1957) dad got married in the Kresge Chapel. She passed away in 1996.

On a quick search I see she was involved with the Dramashop, though as an usher. There’s even an article on the women (all 15 of them) in the class of 57 when they were frosh. http://tech.mit.edu/V73/PDF/N32.pdf

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Grayce Medici Hess June 30, 2011 at 8:38 am

Composer, John Hsia ’53, asked me to recruit Simmons girls to participate. Three to five agreed. We required special permission from Dean of Students to rehearse. We had tons of fun in the chorus.
John even gave the Simmons Dean a free ticket.

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Richard C. Levine July 2, 2011 at 2:32 am

Your piece “Listen Up, Geeky Mothers” posted on May 25, and some of the links in it, impelled me to send you more information about that era and the songs you quoted, and also to request your help.

1. First of all, I am NOT related to Arnold Levine ’53 who wrote the lyrics of “Mother Was a Tech Coed.”

2. I AM the Dick Levine cited by Franny Dyro. The citation is way down near the end of the file you get by clicking on the OTHER SONGS link in your article.

2.1 Professor Parry Moon, mentioned by Franny, was an iconoclastic MIT professor of electrical engineering. His “gypsy mistress” refers to Moon’s second wife, Domina Eberle Spencer. She was one of the first female recipients of an advanced degree in mathematics from MIT, approx 1942. She also was a co-author with Parry Moon of several engineering books. Her unusual fashion taste (babushka, floor length peasant dresses, etc.) gave rise to the “gypsy” nickname, which meant no disrespect. She was a professor at the University of Connecticut and invented a high efficiency grooved fluorescent lamp tube that is still widely used. You can find lots more about both of them by googling their names.

2.2 The historically accurate parody words for the song “Tell Me Why” are close to the several versions quoted by Franny Dyro. The original words, as written, are:

Nuclear Fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropisms make the ivy twine,
Rayleigh* scatt-ring makes skies so blue,
Glandular hormones are why I love you.

*footnote: Smoluchowski’s fluctuation scattering is now believed to be a more accurate description than Rayleigh’s formula to analyze color diffraction in the atmosphere.

The 5 authors of these parody words are Peter (’59) and his wife Vera ’61 (Mares) Dobson; Gordon (’60) and his wife Lynn (’61) (Rich) Mutchler; and myself. I’m sad to report that Gordon died in 2009. The song parody words have been incorrectly attributed to both Isaac Asimov, the science-fiction writer, and Pete Seeger, the folk singer. Asimov and Seeger knew about us and never claimed authorship.

3. Now that I have found you, an experienced historical researcher of MIT songs of the 1950s and 60s, perhaps you or some of your readers will help to find the hilarious parody words and identify the author to the song titled “The Three Belles,” first sung in the All-Tech Sing, a campus-wide amateur song contest performed in Kresge Auditorium about that era. The parody words were sung to the tune of the song known in English as “The Three Bells” (notice the difference in spelling)or “Jimmy Brown.” The song lyrics, originally written in French, were made very popular in the late 1940s by the French chanteuse (singer) Edith Piaf and her male backup close harmony chorus known as Les Compaignons des Chansons (the companions of song), and later had more years of popularity in the US as sung by several country and western singers.

Unfortunately I don’t remember all the words, but the original English song recounted the life of Jimmy Brown, with the chorus marking Jimmy’s birth, marriage and burial using these words:
“And the little congregation,
Prayed for guidance from above,
Lead us not into temptation,
May his soul find the salvation
Of thy great eternal love.”

I don’t remember all the parody words but the last two lines in the MIT parody supposedly sung by three tech coeds were:

Lead us not into temptation,
Help us solve this darned equation…

Thanks for any song searching help you can give.
Regards,
Richard Levine

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Richard C. Levine July 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Dear Amy,

Two corrections to my previous message:
1. I mis-stated and mis-spelled the name of the French male chorus that famously sang with Edith Piaf. Their correct name was:
Les Compagnons de la chanson
2. What makes the sky blue? Here is the link to a very well written explanation of this phenomenon and related facts (although it does not describe Smoluchowski’s further works):

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/BlueSky/blue_sky.html

Regards,
Richard Levine

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Fran Dyro June 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

I have been trying to think of the rest of the verse that contains the line “an integral life they must have led”. Our 50th reunion is this week and I will give the lyrics to Vickie Avakian Peterson who was trying to recall them and mixed them up with another song about being dropped on her head.
All Tech Sing was the best!!!
BTW we taught Pete Seegar the words to tell me why.

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John Fredericks April 11, 2016 at 8:38 am

I have a copy of the show’s score in my archives and play through it on the piano from time to time. Lots of fun.

John Fredericks Class of 1957

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