Conway opens with her assessment of her life, passions, possibilities and the making of her decision to leave Canada and return to the United States to become Smith's first woman president. Settling into her new environment, she is at once struck by the beauty of the Connecticut Valley and the Olmstead-designed Smith campus - but also by the College's financial problems and a quarrelsome and complaining faculty engaged in disputes and trivial lawsuits. The jolt of energy she gets from being in the presence of several thousand young women enables her to take on the various Smith constituencies: the self-appointed custodians of the great western male tradition of humanistic learning, the puzzled liberals, the younger male feminists, the 'lady scholars doing intellectual petitpoint', and the young committed feminists of all stripes.
We see her harnessing the negative energies in more positive directions, redefining and redesigning parts of the institution, strategising, positioning herself and building a political base, introducing feminist scholarship into the curriculum, creating a programme for older students and a funded research centre, adding fields of study and athletic programmes, developing strong career counselling, changing investment strategy, increasing the endowment - and, in general, mobilising the institution to share the urgency she felt for shaping the kind of women's institution that would attract the students of the '90s and beyond. Through it all we see her continuing to cope with her husband John's ill health and learning to protect and sustain her inner self in the quiet solitude of gardening at their country home - a North American variant of the solitude of her native Australian plains. As the end of the Smith decade approaches, she reviews what she has learned and decides that she has had her education and that it is time to 'graduate'.
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(198mm x 129mm x 9mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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UK Kirkus Review »
This is a slice of autobiography incorporating the story of ten years in the life of an American women's college. Jill Ker Conway, a feminist historian, left Toronto in 1975 shortly before her 40th birthday to become the first woman president of Smith College, which opened its doors in 1875 and boasts Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush amongst its alumnae. The author's appointment was a popular one, endorsed at her first convocation by 2,200 Smith students chanting 'Jill, Jill!' and drumming their feet on the floor. But her first faculty meeting was a very different matter. There was no agreement about Smith's mission, no consensus on what the college should teach or how subjects should be taught. The male faculty called her 'Madam President' in a way that made it sound like an insult and she became embroiled in fighting entrenched male power. Older faculty members expected their fondling and pats on the behind to be treated as compliments. The prevailing fashion was for female colleges to merge with male colleges but the new president was having none of it, believing passionately that women needed their own intellectual territory. Conway wanted Smith to become the place where women got the best possible counselling about careers. Determined to move her students out of the secretarial and clerical ghettos of the modern corporation, she called CEOs to ask why they didn't recruit on Smith Campus. She also honoured the promise she had made to her mother's memory to make academic institutions take older women seriously as students. The multiple and conflicting roles of a college president make fascinating reading. The author discovered that fundraising was like pouring money into a leaky bucket and studied finance until she was able to argue convincingly for a change in investment policies. The endless round of meetings was complemented by a life of hectic entertaining, offering food and hospitality to around 5000 people a year. Her marriage to a manic-depressive husband a generation older increased the stress of this fast-moving life. She compensated by creating a garden, hiking and listening to music. While the book lays bare the workings of an academic institution, it's also very much the mid-life diary of a modern, professional female committed to a juggling act - trying to balance the needs of the college, her husband and herself. This is invaluable reading for educators, administrators and professional women alike and an important addition to feminist literature. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Jill Ker Conway
Jill Ker Conway was born in Hillston, NSW, Australia, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1958, and received her PhD from Harvard University in 1969. From 1964 to 1975 she taught at the University of Toronto and was Vice President there before serving for ten years as President of Smith College. Since 1985 she has been a visiting scholar and professor in MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society, and she currently serves on the boards of several companies. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.