An Exquisite Journey: Krafchick ’54 Revisits ‘The Children’s Hour,’ 60 Years Later

By schwartzsa | May 2, 2012

Marcelline Krafchick ’54, Arcadia University’s first Fulbright Scholar, returned to campus to reconnect with friends, tour the new Commons student center and attend the inauguration ceremony of the 20th president of the University, Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III. A renowned literature and drama scholar, Krafchick made a special visit to MainStage Theater to take in Arcadia’s production of The Children’s Hour, a play she studied under the tutelage of English Professor Belle Matheson nearly 60 years ago.

As she reminisces about the first time she read the play as a student, one can only marvel at the miles she’s traveled, the strides she’s taken both as a scholar and a humanitarian. It’s been an exquisite journey.

“The staging was outstanding,” notes Krafchick, high praise coming from an international theater scholar. “It’s a very difficult play to do because mostly it’s dated. But it has some universals in it that are not dated. For example, the power of gossip. It certainly links into McCarthyism and other instances of inflammatory provocation.”

She is quickly reminded of Act III, Scene III of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar wherein the poet Cinna is overcome by an angry mob that mistakes him for a conspirator of the same name. Pleading for his life, the poet makes his identity known. A soldier responds, “It is no matter, his name’s Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.”

“Like that scene,” she says, “the play shows how people get worked up. So in a way it isn’t outdated at all. It’s very timely. It has psychological strengths and powerful moments … even though the social issue might change—now, somebody says these two women are lesbians, so what? But in those days it wasn’t ‘so what.’ The issue might change but the process remains the same.”

Krafchick has always found the plot of Lillian Hellman’s play a bit awkward. However, as a sophomore she was still developing the skills required to analyze and articulate the reasons why. “I’ve seen thousands of plays in London, New York, and everywhere,” she says, “and my critical faculty has been honed so that I immediately identify contrivances, whereas, [as a student] I responded intuitively that the end was a bit forced, now I have the critical vocabulary.”

Her international education was founded at Arcadia University. “I was actually there, thanks to Dean Ruth Higgins—she advocated for me,” says Krafchick. “And Marjorie Darling was also instrumental in my being admitted so late in the year.” Nearing graduation, she was encouraged to apply to the Fulbright Scholarship program, which allowed her to study for a full year at Bristol University in the United Kingdom.

Some of her most memorable adventures took place during trips to the Continent during holiday breaks. Wielding letters of introduction to international theater institutes from her tutors at Bristol, she was afforded many opportunities. On holiday in Milan during the spring of 1955, Krafchick visited the Piccolo Theatre where she met Giorgio Strehler, one of Europe’s leading directors.

It was during her courses at Bristol that Krafchick met Bristol’s Chancellor, Sir Winston Churchill. This event incidentally kick started her lifelong knack for brushing shoulders with celebrities and world leaders. Or rather, as she lightheartedly puts it, “They were meeting me.”

“It’s like stroke of luck after stroke of luck,” she says. However, it’s clear her fortune is largely due to her faculties: a fusion of hard work, passion and fierce intelligence, both learned and innate. After earning an M.A. in Comparative Literature and Drama from University of North Carolina and an M.A. and Ph.D. from University of California, Krafchick began her 40-year teaching career. She became the first woman professor at Santa Clara University and taught for more than 30 years at University of California. She’s also a prolific writer, whose work includes dozens of journal articles and four books, one of which, The Romance of Elsewhere, recounts tales of her travels.

Whether accidently stepping on Katherine Hepburn’s toes in Whitney Museum, dining with Alfred Hitchcock or being formally introduced to President Barack Obama in 2007, she seems to have an uncanny way of being at the right place at the right time. “I kept pinching myself—I’m still pinching myself.”

When asked for advice on how to live well, she pauses to consider. Waiting for a moment in anticipation, one can almost bear witness to her life, a slideshow of experience, as she flicks past millions of encounters, a legacy of love and adventure. “Stay grounded in your community in some practical way and doors will open. And of course travel.”

She adds, with a glimmer in her eye, “I don’t have to tell Arcadia [students] to travel.”

Photo of Marcelline Krafchick courtesy of