From 1991 to 2001, Gwendolyn Jensen served as President of Wilson College. You may recognize her name more from the fact that the dining hall was named in honor of her and her husband, Gordon. When she retired, Jensen found herself in need of something new to do and decided to pursue poetry. On April 23 and 24, she visited Wilson to guest teach a class and give a reading from her latest book of poetry, As If Towards Beauty.
Jensen’s legacy does not only include her time at Wilson. It now includes the works of poetry that she has sent forth into the world: her first book, Birthright and her new book, As If Towards Beauty. Jensen’s works have also been published in various magazines and poetry compilations.
When asked why she chose to take up poetry, Jensen said,
“When I retired, I thought I wanted to do something creative; I wanted to write. I asked myself which kind of literature I admired most and I said poems.”
Poetry is not an easy thing and Jensen emphasizes it. She explains that it’s a lot of work, “A poem has to be compressed and it takes many, many revisions to create poems.”
Jensen has expanded her poetry writing into translation and the listeners at her poetry reading were treated to two of the poems she translated from their original language, Italian. There were also readings of six of her poems, both published and unpublished.
President Jensen came to Wilson in 1991 after working at a few other colleges in similar positions. She brought to Wilson all the drive and determination that Wilson women are known for having left a profound impact upon the school.
Like any college president, she wanted to improve upon what Wilson already had and she did so in three ways. In 1994, she helped to bring about the creation of the Fulton Farm. Although Jensen says she wasn’t the main impetus behind its inception, she did make it possible for it to happen and last year, Fulton Farm celebrated its 20th anniversary .
“I helped raise the money for it but the faculty—the science faculty—really knew what they wanted to do with that land.”
The Women With Children program was also created by Jensen. At the time, no other higher education institutions had programs like it and she was surprised and grateful for the support that she received.
“It was a wonderful time for me as president, because people seemed willing to try things that were new and the Women With Children program was certainly new. Everyone supported the program. The degree of acceptability of the program still impresses me and now of course, I think there should be fathers as well as mothers.”
During Jensen’s time, she also helped to start the Hankey Center, which houses the archives and transitioned Wilson from intermural athletics to intercollegiate athletics.
President Jensen is also supportive of coeducation and thinks that Wilson has done a wonderful job in integrating male students into the on campus population. She even said that if she were still at Wilson, she would probably find herself sitting with the basketball team every day.
The audience enjoyed the reading and an extensive Q&A session afterwards, where Jensen was able to talk about everything from the process of writing poetry to how she chooses which ones to publish.
Jensen’s time here at Wilson, whether it be referring to her presidential term or her visits for poetry readings, is magical, like the woman herself. If you wish to find out more about her or purchase any of her works, be sure to check out www.gwendolynjensen.com.