In Adamless Eden


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The Community of Women Faculty at Wellesley

Patricia Ann Palmieri

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One of the most influential women's colleges in the country, Wellesley has educated many illustrious women, from Katharine Lee Bates—author of America the Beautiful—to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since its origins in the late nineteenth century, Wellesley has had an impact on American history and women's history. The college was unique in its commitment to an exclusively female faculty and much of its intellectual fervor can be traced back to them. This book is an engrossing narrative history of that first generation of Wellesley professors.

Drawing on unpublished diaries, journals, family letters, and autobiographies, on newspapers and magazines, and on official Wellesley College records, Patricia Palmieri re-creates and reinterprets the lives and careers of many of the fifty-three senior women professors of the college. By exploring the family culture, education, and ideology of the "select few," she accounts for the rise of the first generation of academic women in post-Civil War America. Examining Wellesley's social and intellectual milieu, she radically revises standard accounts of the college as a citadel of enlightened domesticity between 1890 and 1920. She shows instead that its separatist women's community encouraged women students to renounce marriage and enter careers of public service, and she links Wellesley's educational climate to the social reform activism of the Progressive Era. In addition, she argues that these academic women formed a collective fellowship, which included many "Wellesley marriages." Ultimately society condemned Wellesley for its "spinster faculty," and by the 1930s the administration began to hire "happily married men." Nevertheless, the contemporary college owes much to the dedication and achievement of its pioneering women scholars.

Patricia Ann Palmieri is Visiting Associate Professor in the history department at Denison University, Granville, Ohio. 

"An important contribution to the fields of women's history and the history of education. It will interest everyone involved in women's culture in America and everyone who attended (or wished they attended) a women's college."—Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Cornell University

"Pat Palmieri has written a classic. In Adamless Eden will set the standard for historians of higher education for many years. General readers will be entranced by this finely nuanced picture of a college and a community during the shaping of modern American institutions."—Jill Ker Conway, Professor

"Informative and engaging. . . . That this book will be of interest to the Wellesley community and its alumnae is indubitable; it is a fascinating account of the early years and of people whose names and ideas still dominate the campus. . . . But it will also be of interest to social historians, feminist scholars, historians of higher education, and to anyone looking for a good read and not minding learning something along the way."—Maud Hazeltine Chaplin, Wellesley Alumnae Quarterly

"A thoroughly researched and thoughtfully presented study presenting important insights. . . . By her close examination of a community of women scholars and their students in a collegiate setting, Palmieri has revealed both the values and pitfalls of such a community. Her book is a fine and useful addition to the debate. It is also a pleasure to read; it is well-written and gracefully designed."—Polly Welts Kaufman, Historical Journal of Massachusetts

"A finely nuanced reading of the trade-off these individual women made in their lives and the structures and ideologies that constrained them."—Susan M. Reverby, Women's Review of Books

"Overall, for any women's studies program, or readers interested in women's history, this is a wonderful addition to a library."—Marianna Hoffer, Ohioana Quarterly

"An excellent book that weaves collective biography and institutional history together to tell the remarkable story of the female faculty of Wellesley College. . . . Palmieri's narrative lets in the social and intellectual world outside college gates, focuses on the college in the era of the university, and recreates the lives and contributions of a singular faculty and student body. In so doing, it recovers the innovative community of women that shaped an important women's college."—Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, American Historical Review

"If you read one book on the history of women’s higher education in the next six months, let it be Patricia Ann Palmieri’s Adamless Eden. This engagingly written history of the community of academic women at Wellesley College…will reward both historians of higher education and women’s historians. . . . The lessons of this splendid book . . . will promote reassessment of the period 1870-1920."—Louise L. Stevenson, History of Education Quarterly

"[An] astute and dazzling study. . . . The vitality and power of this intellectual community at Wellesley, once referred to as an "Adamless Eden," was no small achievement. And Palmieri's rendering of their lives and accomplishments is no small achievement either."—Ann J. Lane, Journal of American History

"Readers will find that Palmieri provides, without pontificating, brilliant insight into this unique academic experiment. . . . This work is cleverly written and makes for rewarding reading to anyone who is interested in American education."—Mabry M. O'Donnell, The Historian

"A fascinating study of Wellesley’s early years."—Katha Pollitt, Sunday New York Times

ISBN: 9780300063882
Publication Date: February 27, 1997
404 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
68 b/w illus.