A Woman's Education

by Jill Ker Conway

Hardcover, 2001




Knopf (2001)


The acclaimed author of the best-selling The Road from Coorain and True North now gives us the third book in her remarkable continuing memoir--describing the pleasures, the challenges, and the constant surprises (good and bad) of her years as the first woman president of Smith College. The story opens in 1973 as Conway, unbeknownst to her, is first "looked over" as a prospective candidate by members of the Smith community, and continues as she assesses her passions and possibilities and agrees to the new challenge of heading the college in 1975. The jolt of energy she gets from being surrounded by several thousand young women enables her to take on the difficulties that arise in dealing with the diverse Smith constituencies--from the self-appointed protectors of the great male tradition of humanistic learning to the equally determined young feminists insisting on change. We see Conway juggling the needs and concerns of faculty, students, parents, trustees, and alumnae, and re-defining and redesigning aspects of the college to create programs in line with the new realities of women's lives. We sense the urgency of her efforts to shape an institution that will attract students of the 1990s and beyond. Through it all we see Jill Ker Conway coping with her husband's illness, and learning to protect and sustain her inner self. As the end of a decade at Smith approaches, we see her realizing that she has both had her education and made her contributions, and that it is time now for her to graduate.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Jill Ker Conway has left us with quite a trilogy of autobiographies. In so doing, she has divided her life into thirds – growing up on the Australian outback, coming of age in North-American academe, and gaining a feminist voice as president of the elite Smith College.

This work examines her
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experiences at Smith College. She poured her soul into learning to articulate an authentically feminine institutional voice in a world of coeducation. Instead of seeing women’s education as fading from the world, she embraced the single-gender nature of her task and emphasized women’s roles in virtually all fields.

As an educated male, I’ve often had mixed feelings about feminism. I am 100% for women’s advancement in society. Like Conway, I find women provide a unique and strong contribution in the history of just about every sphere of human activity. However, I am uncomfortable with a feminism that seeks the advancement of women through the denigration of men’s roles. Like Conway, I think we do better when we march and reason together.

This work will leave some readers feeling empty. It focuses on Conway’s leadership of an elite academic institution. While authentic, it is relatively devoid of drama. Those used to following plot twists won’t find much here. Conway’s perspective is about active self-expression and self-development.

After reading this trilogy of autobiographies, I find that I like Conway. She seems full of life and like someone who I’d like to have dinner with sometime. Her perspective of life is one which all people – not just women – can gain from. She is an intellectual (as am I), and those who appreciate a vibrant life of the mind will appreciate this trilogy.

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