Like Mother, Like Daughter

Two Bryn Mawr women reflect on lives filled with purpose.
Marian Scheuer Sofaer ’70

Marian Scheuer Sofaer ’70

My mother had smart, funny, intellectual and talented friends from Bryn Mawr, so I knew it was a good place to learn and to find a path to professional opportunities.

At Erdman, we had a birthday party for the building, and Louis Kahn came. We loved its dramatic lines and the way it opened into social spaces, and it was exciting to meet the architect who had designed it all.

After dinner, we used to talk for hours in the Erdman living room about classes, public affairs, and the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. People wanted to have an impact on policy. Many of us went to D.C. to protest, including to the March on Washington just before our final exams and graduation in 1970.

My first legal job was at DC37, the union of New York’s non-uniformed employees. Then I was a litigator at the State Attorney General’s Office and at the NYC Corporation Counsel. In 1985, my husband joined the U.S. State Department; in 1990 I started Holocaust restitution work, helping people recover property in East Germany post-unification. The Germans refused to publish Nazi-era records. To make a claim, you first had to find the confiscated property, records and heirs. I helped my clients get restitution of buildings the Nazis had seized.

Ten years ago, I organized an exhibition in southern India. When Prime Minister Modi visited the Israel Museum this July, I presented a book to him that I published on the 38 synagogues that still stand in India.

Joan Gross Scheuer ’42

I was in the first class to live in Rhoads. We had a lot of fun because they let us paint the “smoking-room” any way we wanted, and we had great murals going up the walls—they felt like a surge of Here I am.

I came to Bryn Mawr in the Depression. My family was doing well enough, but around us people were standing in breadlines. I thought, It’s not working. I wanted to try to get some answers.

Then the war broke out. With all the men drafted, lots of jobs were available for women. I worked as an economist in the War Production Board in D.C., allocating scarce materials for civilian use. We were 21-year-olds, telling the steel industry what they could and could not produce.

After the war, I met my husband, and we had a family. As an economist, I wanted to understand how the local schools were funded. I wanted to work on reforming what was a discriminatory system, so I did some politicking and got elected to the school board. When my children were older, I got my Ph.D. and then landed a job in the New York City School Board, where I helped identify how the funding formula, which was supposed to be equitable, disadvantaged people of color, how New York school kids got much less per pupil than others in the state.

I’m so impressed with people from Bryn Mawr.

In the retirement community where I live now, there’s another person from Bryn Mawr, and I always know she’s going to be interesting and caring. It’s a wonderful place, full of rigorous work and purpose.