Alice Palache first met Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn in 1924 when they were classmates at Bryn Mawr, an all-women’s liberal arts college near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The friends were a study in contrasts. “Palache,” as she was called, was popular, a great student, athletic, active in student council, and from a conventional home in which her dad, a Harvard professor and staunch Episcopalian, considered it sacrilegious for her to play with friends on Sunday. “Kath,” on the other hand, was a loner, one of the worst students in the class, and did whatever she pleased. She dressed as a boy, smoked scented cigarettes in her tower dorm room, and jumped into the cloister fountain – naked – to wake herself up after cramming all night for an exam.
This gallant good-time girl, her blazing red hair dragged back into a charwoman’s bun, wore baggy, unflattering cast-off clothes rumored to be held together with safety pins.”
In their junior year, Kath invited Palache to visit her family home in Hartford, Connecticut. In between games of tennis, Kath and Palache spent time with Kath’s parents, Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn and Mrs. Katharine (“Kate”) Houghton Hepburn. Both of Kath’s parents were highly-educated – Dad was a surgeon, Mom had 2 degrees from Bryn Mawr and was a prominent suffragette – and were militant public crusaders on the burning social issues of the day.
Dr. Hepburn’s dressing room was the center of the family home. Kath and Palache joined Dr. and Mrs. Hepburn there for heated discussions. The family debated topics alien to Palache’s childhood home such as prostitution, venereal disease, and birth control. At times, Dr. Hepburn would be soaking in the tub during such discussions or, perhaps, shaving at the sink. The girls sat on a Queen Anne sofa in his dressing room as Dr. Hepburn would nonchalantly stride back and forth across the cork flooring wearing absolutely nothing. Almost as shocking as the casual nudity – a naked man in his forties parading in front of his teenage daughter and her girlfriend – was Mrs. Hepburn’s attitude. When she would enter the room, she would hug and kiss her very naked husband, while declaring to the young women,
I find him beautiful,” while adding that the doctor “had no seat.”
Katharine Hepburn came from anything but a conventional home.
Source: Leaming, Barbara. Katharine Hepburn. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1995.
Source: Bryn Mawr College Archives Online