The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas

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9780394572277: The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas

M. Carey Thomas (1857-1935) was an extraordinary woman whose career spanned the Victorian and modern worlds.

Her story is superbly told in a biography that resonates with the complicated interplay between he necessarily hidden private life and her eminently visible and successful public life as president of Bryn Mawr College, as a founder of the Johns Hopkins medical school and the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, as a leader in the women's suffrage movement, and as the preeminent spokeswoman for education around the turn of the century. Behind close doors, however, Carey Thomas was by no means the "proper Quaker daughter" many of her contemporaries assumed her to be. She was a freethinker. She was an ardent admirer of Swinburne, Rossetti, an the Pre-Raphaelites. She was a passionate woman whose lovers were women.

In rich detail and with insight and balance, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz recounts a life lived outside the bounds of nineteenth-century convention. She show us the child overcoming a life-threatening and disfiguring burn; the schoolgirl deciding to devote he life to scholarship -- and ultimately becoming one of the first American women to study for a doctorate in Germany. We see the Cornell woman -- in an age when marriage eliminated the possibility of a serious career -- promising her parents to avoid all encounter with men students; the young educator outwitting college trustees to develop her dreams of a rigorous education for women. Throughout, as the book reconstructs Thomas' consciousness and her understanding of herself as a woman of passion, Horowitz provides fresh insights into emotional and sexual life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Carey Thomas was complexity itself. She was at once visionary and narrow, warm and hard, spontaneous and calculating. She demanded everything of the world and of herself. She brought equal intensity to her professional responsibilities and her personal relations. She lived at fever pitch.

Helen Horowitz has given us a brilliant portrait of the vivid and sui generis woman who -- in a world that held no models for her -- created herself, full scale, in the grand manner.

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About the Author:

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Professor of History and American Studies at Smith College, is the author of Culture and City, Alma Mater, and Campus Life.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A lengthy biography of educator M. Carey Thomas (18571935). 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. (16 pages b&w photographs, not seen) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz
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Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz
Published by Knopf (1994)
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