A lengthy biography of educator M. Carey Thomas (1857--1935). Horowitz (History & American Studies/Smith; Campus Life, 1987,...



A lengthy biography of educator M. Carey Thomas (1857--1935). Horowitz (History & American Studies/Smith; Campus Life, 1987, etc.) presents Thomas as a ""bundle of conflicting aspirations,"" a woman torn between scholarship, women's education, and art. Born in Baltimore in 1857 to Quaker parents, Thomas showed, early in life, an ambition to break through the social constraints placed on women. She studied abroad, was the first woman to earn summa cum laude honors for her Ph.D. from the university at Zurich, and then set her sights on the presidency of the newly founded Bryn Mawr College for women. After settling for the position of dean of Bryn Mawr at the age of 27, Thomas concentrated on education, sadly putting aside her own research and art, a compromise that continued after her ascendancy to the presidency ten years later. Although Horowitz practically apologizes for Thomas's turn to political conservatism and bureaucratic manipulations later in life, the educator shone as she struggled to succeed in a world not usually friendly to women. Horowitz follows her passionate affairs with women, primarily with long-time friend Mamie Gwinn and heiress Mary Garrett. When her 25-year relationship with Gwinn ended, Thomas experienced desperate pain, even though the affluent Garrett was waiting in the wings. Thomas's anti-Semitism and racism, certainly not a pretty part of the picture, are eclipsed in this account by her intense ambition and obsession with monetary gain. At 65, quite wealthy since Garrett willed the bulk of her estate to her, and after serving for 28 years as president of Bryn Mawr, Thomas retired to once again pursue her love of art and travel. At times burdened by its unrelenting attention to detail, Horowitz's account personalizes a courageous woman and provides the historical context to balance her complex and contradictory life choices.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994


Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994