Another former school friend has described Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood back then as a blend of Irish, Italian, Lebanese, and other ethnic groups, as well as Jewish families like the Yellens. New York City was benefiting at that time from an influx of immigrants displaced by World War II, "many of whom became teachers," the friend, Jacqueline Leo, wrote recently in The Fiscal Times.
Ms. Leo added that "the real gift to teenage girls like Janet and me was the way we were treated by our teachers, our parents and our peers." Instead of being beholden to gender stereotypes, "[w]e were expected to take charge, just as our mothers and grandmothers did when men went off to war."
Yellen was an all-around scholar who, with encouragement from her parents, took an advanced-course track through middle school, allowing her to enter high school as a sophomore and graduate a year ahead of her peers.
Her prowess with language arts propelled her toward the editor in chief role at The Pilot. Yet her self-profile revealed her to be fascinated by science and math. She was fun-loving and showed a ready wit (she said she enjoyed reading philosophy because it helped her "write unpopular essays"), but also seemed to exhibit an unusual degree of discipline.
"She did lots of things, and she did them all really well," says Ms. Hedberg, who was a colleague of Yellen's on The Pilot and another top scholar at Fort Hamilton High. "What stood out to me was intentionality, purposefulness, a determination not to be better than others but to be the best she could be."
Yellen wasn't one to put on airs, Hedberg says. That's a trait that has stuck with her throughout her career at the Fed. Staff economists remember her eating with them in the bank cafeteria.
But she was motivated to achieve. An unsigned editorial in The Pilot at the close of her senior year (Yellen believes she wrote it but, 50 years later, can't be sure) urged a do-something outlook that her own life embraced: "Be curious! Wonder why the sky is blue, what fire is, why peace-loving nations feud ... but wonder about something!"