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A Women's Education
A Women's Education


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Author Name Jill Ker Conway was born in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1958, and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. In 1962 she married John Conway and moved with him to his native Canada. From 1964 to 1975 she taught at the University of Toronto, where she was also Vice President, before going to Smith College. Since 1985 she has been a visiting scholar and professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. She serves on the boards of Nike, Merrill Lynch, and Colgate-Palmolive, and as Chairman of Lend Lease Corporation. She lives in Boston.

Photo at right (c) Gabe Cooney

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.

"One of the leading educators of our time - Jill Ker Conway - had described the challenges and the benefits of a first rate university for women in contemporary society. Her path as President of Smith College gives us an insider's view not only of the institutional side but the personal demands and their burdens. It is a fascinating and important story."
--Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court

"Jill Ker Conway offers an elegant and highly readable narrative of both women's education and her own amidst the feminist revolution of the late twentieth century. This is a personal as well as a social and cultural history -- and a compelling story besides."
-- Drew Gilpin Faust, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and author of Mothers of Invention

"A WOMAN'S EDUCATION is another inspiring chapter in Jill Ker Conway's life. This time she recounts the struggle and triumphs as the first woman president of Smith College. It is a story of strengths and hope and success in a woman's education. Nothing came easy to this gallant woman."
-- Thomas Winship, former Editor of The Boston Globe

"In A WOMAN'S EDUCATION Jill Ker Conway continues her fiercely introspective and fearless study of her own life, public role and intellectual development. It is a compelling story of an active, ambitious and intellectually forceful woman who has shaped her own life. And along the way, she provides an invaluable and frank history of how a women's college met the challenges of the second wave of feminism under the direction of a thoroughly independent thinker who was determined to build a modern, feminist institution. As her successor, I was constantly aware of my debt to her, and found her own story of her years at Smith entirely fascinating and instructive."
-- Mary Maples Dunn, President Emerita, Smith College

"Jill Ker Conway continues the absorbing and beautifully crafted account of her life's journey with her experiences as president of Smith. As always, her autobiography is an excellent read for anyone who cares about interesting lives, thoughtfully described. This particular volume should appeal to anyone who has ever wondered what college and university presidents actually do, and why anyone would want such a job. Jill gives her own answers to these questions with candor, humor, and acute attentiveness to the multifaceted nature of the sometimes bizarre and apparently impenetrable office of the president."
-- Nannerl O. Keohane, President, Duke University

"Jill Conway gives the reader that rare glimpse of a whole person tacking historic events. Her language is clear and crisp, her observations astute, her understanding of history remarkable, even as she is making it, yet all this from a woman's point of view -- not only about success or failure, but the larger issues of living.... Ultimately, Jill Conway, like any great author, leaves us better off for our journey through A Woman's Education. Her deep respect for life, her careful, honest, open exploration of how we live our lives and her unrelenting belief in a set of values that have the power to take root in people and institutions makes us take stock of our own lives. She does this graciously, joyfully, and enjoyably."
-- F Baron Harvey III, CEO, The Enterprise Foundation

"A Woman's Education provides a rare insider's view of what it means and what it takes to be a college president, as well as a unique perspective on an institution many of us have come to know and love. It was the first thing I handed to Carol Christ, the moment after she was elected the new President of Smith College."
-- Shelly Lazarus, CEO, Oglesby & Mather, and Chair of the Smith College Trustees

Jill Ker Conway is the the first to have written of years as a college or university president. In this book, nonetheless, she has set a standard to which all in the future will have to conform. In diversly interesting English, with penetrating insight and memory, she has told of the problems and prospects of leading a much admired college. And of doing it very well. No one can think that they have a full understanding of women's rights, scholarly conflict, required personal commitment and true accomplishment who hasn't read these pages. And further, no one can know what enjoyment was missed. On education, not to say also personal biography, it is truly the book of the year.
-- John Kenneth Galbraith

"To be president of Smith from 1975 to 1985 required guts and resilience; Conway met the challenge. Her compelling account of that roller-coaster ride prompts amazement. There is much to marvel at here; my favorite gem is her portrayal of the aging male conservative faculty defending their cozy turf."
-- Carolyn Heilbrun, author of Writing a Woman's Life

"This masterful story interweaves lives with institutional history and modern times. The backdrop is a renowned woman's college that was fated to be hidebound by tradition until it captured a president whose past dictated her future and that of the college. Challenged by the opportunity, she led courageous innovations and, amazingly agile in neutralizing foes, and intellectually honest, she chose to act on what mattered most to the long-term viability of the college. In the process, she captured the imagination and support of a disparate gang -- students, trustees, faculties, and administrators. It is a poignant tale of personal and professional courage that should be read because it is all so human and so profound. Lessons are there for the young and the old because she dares to tell the truth."
-- Margaret F. Mahoney, MEM Associates, Inc.

"As a Smith alumna and a fellow laborer in the groves of women's colleges, I found Jill Ker Conway's book both absorbing and touching....Her educational vision and personal courage stood her, and eventually the institution she served so well, in very good stead. A Woman's Education is an engaging personal study of a complicated period in the women's movement and in the development of selective women's colleges."
-- Mary Patterson McPherson, The Andrew Mellon Foundation and President Emeritus, Bryn Mawr College