The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas

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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 ...

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Overview

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 andearly 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.

M. Carey Thomas (1857-1935), an extraordinary American woman whose life bridged the Victorian and modern worlds, was, among other things, president of Bryn Mawr College, one of the creators of Johns Hopkins medical school, and a leader in the suffrage movement. Horowitz weaves the threads of her remarkable life into a full-bodied tapestry of a complex and original woman. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Suffragist, lesbian feminist and pioneer advocate of women's career and educational rights, Martha Carey Thomas (1857-1935) was president of Bryn Mawr College and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Medical School. According to this wholly engrossing and often shocking biography, she was also a plagiarist, an elitist snob, a racist who actively discriminated against Jewish and African American applicants to Bryn Mawr and a deceitful, autocratic administrator. Horowitz ( Campus Life ), a Smith history professor, presents compelling evidence that Thomas's lover, Mamie Gwinn, ghostwrote all or part of Thomas's Ph.D. dissertation, and further, that Gwinn was the unacknowledged collaborator of Thomas's Bryn Mawr lectures. With sympathetic insight, Horowitz probes how Thomas replaced the Christian faith of her orthodox Quaker parents with a positivist belief in evolutionary science. Horowitz also unravels Thomas's partly simultaneous, passionate affairs with bohemian Gwinn and wealthy Mary Garrett, a balancing act complicated by Gwinn's love for novelist Alfred Hodder. This is a brilliant portrait of a complex, divided personality. Photos. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Thomas surpassed outrageously the normative achievements of a Victorian woman. Self-invented in a world lacking female role models, she emerges in this gorgeously written and copiously documented biography as a penultimate aesthete simultaneously shaped by her world and struggling against it. One of the first heavy- weight women academics, she made an indelible mark as president of Bryn Mawr College; in Horowitz's telling, she becomes as well a sublimely complex period study worthy of the emulation of women today. Horowitz (Campus Life, LJ 5/15/87) presents a rich portrait of a complex and sometimes contradictory woman of power. This is the first complete life of Thomas, well supported by excellent collections of letters and papers. It will be of interest to libraries at all levels focusing on women's studies, academic life, and social customs of the Victorian era in the United States.-Susan E. Parker, Harvard Law Sch. Lib.
Marie Kuda
As an adolescent, M. Carey Thomas decried the inequity that denied American women an education comparable to that offered American men. The future president of Bryn Mawr kept her sense of that injustice as she gained a Ph.D. in Europe and thereafter set the higher education of women on an irreversible upward course. Lacking both the reticence of the 1979 edition of Thomas' early journals and letters ("The Making of a Feminist") and the acrimony of Gertrude Stein's fictionalized depiction of Thomas in "Fernhurst", Horowitz's study of this complex, determined woman who was a freethinker, a leader in the women's suffrage movement, and an "impassioned lover whose lovers were women" is a full-scale biography. It is a life which, moreover, does not fail to convey an understanding of Thomas' unique contribution to American education, especially in her early books on women's colleges ("Alma Mater") and undergraduate culture ("Campus Life"). Regard Horowitz's effort as a cornerstone for education and women's studies collections--and thoroughly readable to boot.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394572277
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/23/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.83 (d)

Meet 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.

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