because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Carey Thomas

Carey Thomas was born and raised in an Orthodox Quaker family, but thanks to her education, her traveling, and her mother's feminism, Thomas turned out to be an in-your-face woman who didn't espouse Quaker views. She preferred music and theater to silent meditation and that was that.

Born in the mid-1800's, Thomas' forays into education distinguished her greatly, but not without slaps and struggles. She managed to graduate from Cornell University, for example, but though she was admitted to Johns Hopkins for grad school, she wasn't allowed to attend classes because she was a woman. Then she enrolled and did further graduate level work at the University of Leipzig, but they didn't grant degrees to women, so she was still stuck. Finally, in 1882, the University of Zurich allowed Thomas to earn a Ph.D. (summa cum laude) in linguistics. But anyway, the only reason she kept trudging through academe was to prove that a woman could do it just as well as a man.

Extremely rigorous in scholarly pursuits herself, at the age of only thirty-seven, Thomas was elected President of Bryn Mawr College, one of the most demanding institutions of higher learning in the nation.  And from then on, besides helping to turn out some of the best trained minds in America, Thomas served in a whole string of leadership roles in various organizations fighting for women's right to vote and even an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Then, when her significant other, Mary Garrett, died, leaving her $15,000,000 to do with as she pleased, Thomas spent the last two decades of her life living in the lap of luxury. Some might find this inconsistent with her lifetime of selfless service and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. Others might find it simply the act of an in-your-face woman who felt she had earned her fun.

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