LILYAN AFFINITO: I'm Lilyan Affinito, Classes of '53 at Cornell in the hotel school. And I was from a small town in Pennsylvania, Monongahela, which is south of Pittsburgh, about 25 miles. And I had an interest in finance because my father had a grocery store, and he had a restaurant. And my aunt used to take care of the books, and she had an opportunity for me to help.
So when I was graduating from high school, my mother and my aunt, who had been school teachers and one was a nurse, but I knew I didn't want any of those career paths, and so I went to the career counselor, and I said I was interested in business. And she said, well, what have you done? And I said, well, the restaurant was particular interest. So she said, well, Penn State has a very good hotel school, hotel restaurant, and you might want to go there.
So I said, fine. And then she said, but Cornell has the best one. So I said, well, give me the material about both of them, and I went home, and I told my parents about it. And my mother became alert when she heard Cornell because she had a godchild who had gone to Cornell during World War II, and he was a serious [INAUDIBLE] engineer, and the government had sent him.
So she called him, and he came with his yearbooks, and he encouraged me to apply. So I applied to Cornell. And knowing, really, very little about the school, I took the exams, and I had to go for an interview. They required it. So he and my father drove me up, and we had our interview. And it was, in May, I remember, it was raining and dreary. And we weren't staying because this was a quick trip. We drove up and drove back, which was-- but-- and at that time, the hotel school was in the Human Ecology building. The Statler was being built the following year, and we would move in there my second year at Cornell.
So I did have the interview. And I met Dean Meek, who was then the dean and, really, the one who started the whole hotel school program at Cornell. And it was very impressive and interesting. So I did go back, and I was accepted, and I went back my freshman year and, of course, like all the women, lived in the women's dorms and had hours, and so on.
What I had never ask about were the women in the hotel school. So the first day I walked in, I found 60 men and me. The freshman class had-- I was the only woman. We subsequently had two women transfer in. And there were maybe four or five other women in the other classes. So we were there, and we were accepted, and it was fine, but we were definitely a minority. And it was an interesting time. And the small group was probably very good for me because I came from a small town, and we had spent a lot of time together with the way the course programs were.
And then when we were in the Statler, for most of our courses, I had a great opportunity to feel comfortable. But my first course was in accounting, and the professor was Prof Meek, who was very well known at Cornell at the time. And other students from campus used to come to take the accounting courses. And I loved accounting, and I learned about being a CPA and what I had to take and do and so on. And you had definite requirements in those days and so much in economics, and banking, and so on.
So I took those courses in the hotel school and the arts school, and I took the accounting in the hotel school. And that was-- I had a record that I needed and the achieve-- [INAUDIBLE] course that I needed to take the exam. So when I graduated, I wanted to go to New York and work in an accounting firm. And one of the professors who visited once a week from New York was with Horowitz and [INAUDIBLE] the hotel accounting firm.
So he hired me, and I went there. And there were a few other Cornell people there. There were actually two Cornell partners. And one of the men from the hotel school, Fred [INAUDIBLE], was there. And a woman was there who had graduated in the '30s from the hotel school. So it was an interesting environment. However, I found that Mr. Horowitz did not want to send women out on audits. And they had not told me that. So I had a very mundane job that wasn't challenging.
And I complained. And then, they gave me a few special projects that I could do. And then one of the men came down from the hotel school in November to be interviewed, but he was graduating in January. And they offered him a job, and he took me to dinner telling me about this job. And I also learned that he was getting paid $275 a month, and I was getting $215 a month. So that really started my whole understanding of the problems I was going to have as a woman in the accounting world.
And I subsequently left there and went back to Pittsburgh, and I got a master's at the University of Pittsburgh. And I was fortunate that Pricewaterhouse hired me. Because the other accounting firms in Pittsburgh weren't hiring women for the audit staff, either. So it was a break that I was able to do that.
And then I stayed with them, went to New York with Pricewaterhouse, and then I joined my client, Simplicity Pattern Company, as the controller. And I ultimately became president of Simplicity. So that was pretty much my career path.
SPEAKER 1: Interesting. OK. Why have you stayed involved or returned to involvement with Cornell?
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, the hotel school always had an active alumni program. But when I was in Pittsburgh, there were very few, so I joined the women's club there, Cornell Women's Club. And it turned out there were very few women graduates in Pittsburgh, and they weren't really active, but there was one woman who headed it up and really made an effort to have some events. Like, for the women, before you went to Cornell, she would have something in September, like a tea or something so you would know. And I appreciated that. When I went, she had done that. And so I had contacted her when I came back.
And then we did small events where we would raise some money for the women's scholarship program. And that time, there was the women's scholar-- and that scholarship still exists at Cornell. All of the women's clubs in the country would do events to raise money and contribute to the scholarship.
And, ultimately, when I went to New York City, we had a much more active group, and we raised money and really had a great time doing it. It was fun. So the Cornell women were involved in that way. That was sort of the easiest way for us to do it. We didn't seem to, in the first years, go back to campus much, probably because we didn't have money and we were just starting out. So we were more local. And you kept in touch, usually, with some close female friends you had from Cornell.
And in my case, I kept in touch with the hotel school group, which were principally men. But through that, when I got to New York, of course I met Pat Stewart in New York. And she was active in the women's group. And I was. And then many other women, we really-- and a broad age group, there were women-- actually, in the classes in the '20s and '30s. We got to know them. Now they weren't as active in some cases, but many of them were.
And one of them, she was at sort of a townhouse place. Her husband was a dentist, and she had graduated from Cornell in the ag school. And she raised African violets, and she'd built a greenhouse around us. And we would pick those up and sell those as part of our method to raise money. So it was kind of a fun, interesting group in many ways.
And then we encouraged, later on, the-- I actually worked with the Federation of Cornell clubs in Ithaca, and I became very involved in that. And I worked on writing the constitution to merge the men's and women's federation. And then, we worked to write to merge the local Cornell women's club and the men's. So that was more difficult because the women, in many cases-- and not just in New York City, didn't want to be merged.
SPEAKER 1: And when was this, the merging of the men and women?
LILYAN AFFINITO: This would have been, I guess, in the '70s. And so some of the younger women just ignored the issue, and they just joined the men's club in New York City. So the women's club, the one's who wanted to stay, stayed. And then, there was a [? men ?] women's club. So I mean, there were many interesting aspects of this male-female Cornell situation.
Even the classes, if you remember, most of the classes had a men's group and a women's group. And some of the older classes continued that. They did not want to merge. So I grew up with that history of Cornell and the segregation, in certain cases, of men and women, of course living in the dorm and having ours, and so on.
So I knew that the history of some of the issues and was not surprised to find later on that the women were not as involved in certain areas at Cornell, and one of them being the board of trustees, as I got to know more of those women, and the council. They used to put me on all those committees because I had done this work. And the council had very few women.
And we just gradually built it up. And Pat and I think we're sort of-- our generation, a little more aggressive about doing it. Because what we were living through the time when women were being questioned, their jobs, and business, and so on, so it was all part of that effort. And Cornell had welcomed women, but they [? had ?] never really reached out for them to be in leadership roles.
SPEAKER 1: And what inspired you to found PCCW, you and Pat?
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, this was the result of all these experiences, and I was having lunch with a friend who had graduated from Penn. And she told me that Penn was in the process of organizing a group of women because they had also had similar experiences. And they were found that the women started to work outside the home more. And once that happened, they were not working with the women's club anymore and not going to raise money selling cheese, and flowers, and having parties and so on for the scholarship fund. And they weren't as interested in returning to campus because they were busy with their families and working. So you needed to have something different to attract them.
And so Penn had decided they would do this women's group. And ours then turned out to be different because the Cornell community is more diverse and with more colleges. So I went to Pat, and she said she would support the idea.
And then, I met with Frank Rhodes and Austin Kiplinger. They had dinner with me. And I tried to explain this. And they were interested, but they wanted to have more research done. So I worked with Dick Raymond, principally. If you remember, Dick was in charge of most of the alumni activities at the time. So we then worked-- and Pat-- and he and I-- and we came up with what we thought was a proposal that suited the Cornell environment and our personalities. And so we decided to start it. We had one early program in New York City.
And we actually tried to talk to the classes and find out if they had any women they thought would be suitable and interested. And then we went through alumni news. We went through newspapers and just, generally, did a search. Many of the women, we-- nobody knew them because they hadn't been active. So we just went out and asked them to come. And Frank came to the first event and helped us-- and Dick, and various people from campus. And so we started it that way.
I think people were interested, but they were not-- they were busy women. And you had to find the combination of the amount of time they could spend, the interest they could have, and what the subjects were, and then the geography. So we did try Ithaca, and we tried New York. And it just evolved over the years.
And I think the idea of being on campus was our preference. But it was somewhat of a problem because of the geography of getting there. But it worked out, ultimately, that the campus was what people preferred. And then when we had two meetings a year, we used to try to have one in another city. And we did do the West Coast, and Chicago, and so on. And that, I think, was important at that time.
But now, working women do not have as much time as we would like to spend on the Cornell functions. And it's better to try and focus it at one place so they know what they're doing. And many of them have other interests now at Cornell, which was one of our goals also. So they're happy to do other things on campus, go with their college or sororities. So I think it's worked out better to stay there. And also, we can attract speakers from the faculty, the deans, and it makes it more important for Cornell.
SPEAKER 1: And there are some regional activities as well.
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, the various-- wherever the people live, then they form their own group and have some activities. And that's worked well. And they usually have Cornelians come in as speakers or some-- that's fairly common now.
SPEAKER 1: Has PCCW evolved into the organization that you envisioned?
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, I think it has even more so. I mean, we didn't expect it to survive for 20 years. The intention was really to just start something, and then the women would not need an organization like this, that they would be invigorated, and they would see ways to go to their college, or to their museum, or the library, wherever their interests were, as opposed to doing it as a women's club. So we thought that it would just be sort of a starter program.
And, in some cases, it has, in certain ways, because the program itself is more structured. And most of the women have gone in other directions at Cornell. So I think that's been good. And Cornell's been happy with that, where they've gotten more involved in their college and, particularly, I think, in their own college?
SPEAKER 1: And I think one of the reasons that a lot of people come is to renew their acquaintance with Cornell and to meet other professional women, that they have not had a chance
LILYAN AFFINITO: --very much. I think both aspects. But they make personal contacts with the campus with professors, but also with the university management group. And they relate to them, and they help them with special projects. So I think it's become a professional interest that they have beyond just being Cornell, that they can help, they can understand, and they can learn. They can take something back to their work experience. So it's worked out.
SPEAKER 1: Any other comment you would like to make on PCCW?
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, I think that what we tried to do with PCCW, which, I think it has worked, although it's not easy to do, we tried to work with the faculty. And we do have a scholarship now, which is for the women who are not yet on a tenured track. We struggled. The first few years, this was not an easy area. But the dean of the faculty helped us explain where we could be most helpful. And these are when they are hired new women faculty who do not have tenure. And the difficulty that they have, because they need money to achieve their research that they're going to need.
And so when we came along and said, well, we were willing to do that, it wasn't a huge amount of money for each one of them, but it helped them get started. And if they had our grant, they often were able to attract other grants. So that turned out to be, I would say, a very successful program.
And in the beginning-- and we still do it, we've helped with students with the sports programs, the women's sports programs, that needed and didn't have much money for some of the capital they needed. So we did that. And we've helped now the Gannett with some of the women's health issues. And they've come to us for that. And we helped the Arts College when they-- the freshmen, in many cases now, are able to start with a research program immediately. And so that takes extra money. And so we've helped with that-- the library, we've helped the art-- the museum, we've bought some women's art.
So we've really gone across the campus, I think. And we've tried to do it where women are our focus, but we want to also do what Cornell wants us to do in the way of being constructive, not just to take programs that we think would be a good idea. And Cornell knows programs that will help women, where they don't have the funds to finance everything. So that's been successful.
And we have now endowments for the faculty program, as the fund is over a million dollars now. The other fund, which we raised was for the student program, which is also over a million. So we had built the endowments as well and the scholarship programs. So I think we've tried to be fair and cover the interests that most of our women members have and also meet the needs of the university. And we asked the university for suggestions. So we've tried to be good citizens in every way.
And we are there-- I should stress that it is the President's Council of Cornell Women. So we do take the leadership from the president. It's not like we say we want to do all of this. The president knows where the needs are on campus and where we can fit in and help. And we try very hard to do anything that the university feels is in need and that the president would like us to do. I mean, we don't turn him down. We work hard to meet their needs. And now, it's particularly a problem, with the financial stress. And Cornell has had to increase the scholarships because, as you know, Harvard, and Yale, and Princeton, and many others have also increased theirs, and we have to be competitive.
So the money issue has now become more crucial for us to think about. And we do have a plan now to raise a million dollars for scholarship money, and we've started that project. I think we're almost at $200,000, so that's encouraging. So the people are-- I mean, I think the women are very realistic about what the university needs, and we recognize it and try to help. And we meet with the students when our on campus, the women students.
And we do try to help them with their career plans and anything we can do to give them some advice and work with them. That's fun. I've enjoyed that. I have a number of women who I've made friends with and followed them through this period of time. It's not easy for-- particularly this past year, when they couldn't get jobs. So I think we've filled that role out. I think most every woman enjoys her students more, as much as anything. I mean, we have a luncheon on Saturday, as you know, so it's fun.
SPEAKER 1: I know one of the other missions of PCCW is to help with the advancement of women in the faculty. How do you think that we have done historically over the 20 years?
LILYAN AFFINITO: Well, I think we've tried. That is not the easiest project to do because the faculty are so busy, and particularly the women doing research, the young faculty members, that sometimes we feel that we're in their way. So we have to say we're here and we like to do it, and then those who want us to do more will ask because that's been more complicated. And we also found that we would like to feel that the faculty that we give the support to stay and become tenured. That doesn't always happen. So we lose track of some of them because they aren't on campus.
Yeah, we've tried to follow up. We've done some research to go back and see how it's worked. And I think it's just normal. It's nothing unusual about it. I mean, I think that's true everywhere. And they leave for other reasons-- family reasons or something they can't stay. But the relationships with faculty seem to be more-- the ones that are long-lasting are some of the ones that are tenured and do research projects, and they speak to us, and we become interested in their research and what they're doing. And I think we make relationships that way as much as the other way. So we try to always have faculty speakers, as you know. That's important.
SPEAKER 1: Anything else you'd like to finish up with?
LILYAN AFFINITO: No, I think Cornell is unique as far as women are concerned. And I think I've mentioned that it is-- it was always open to women. And that's unusual in those days to have women students. There weren't many, and they had one dorm for all of them in the center of campus. And they were also not allowed to move out at night.
But I happen to know one woman very well, because I ended up-- she was working at Simplicity when I went there, class of '21. And she loved every minute of it. And those women were so close. All their lives, they were like sisters. I mean, it was really a wonderful relationship. And they certainly wouldn't complain about anything that was going on in their life. They accepted it, and men just happened to be there.
And they were serious students, the ones I met through her. I met a number of the other women, and I was at that age group. And they were very serious and good students. So Cornell was fortunate to have them. And I think, now, we have so many women graduates, and we're very proud of them, of course, and what they have done. As you know, many of them have been firsts, and that's great.
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PCCW member Lilyan Affinito '53 reflects on how she chose Cornell, her memories of the university, and how Cornell has shaped her life both personally and professionally.
The President's Council of Cornell Women is a group of highly accomplished alumnae working to enhance the involvement of women students, faculty, staff, and alumnae as leaders within Cornell University and its many communities.