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A Woman's Education


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About the Author

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.


Conway's goals and visions as the first female president of elite Smith College during an era in which many women's institutions were going co-ed are the focus of this plainspoken and gracefully written third volume of her memoirs (following The Road from Coorain and True North). When Conway, then age 39, took the helm of Smith College in 1975, she knew that her determination to make Smith competitive as "an avowedly modern feminist institution" would be a difficult challenge. In addition, she faced the disapproval of most of the entrenched senior male faculty, as well as academic infighting and tensions between the faculty and the board of trustees. She is candid about the problems in her decade there, revealing as well her own misgivings and vulnerabilities and the stresses of her personal life. Learning quickly that she had to be a political strategist, mediator and fundraiser, Conway took as her main mission the need to convey the liberalizing qualities of single-sex education for women seeking to develop their identities. Despite alumnae criticism of the strong lesbian presence at Smith, she was also outspoken in her passionate defense of gay rights as a fundamental feminist issue. Yet she also records her intellectual differences with much of the ideology of the feminist movement. There are poignant passages, when Conway describes her "losses" and her husband's accelerating manic depression, but the main thrust is her forceful argument about the superior ability of women's colleges to liberate students from the shibboleths and constraints of the male-dominated point of view prevalent at most other institutions. Whether or not readers agree with her analysis, they will respond to her high ideals, courageous spirit and humanistic philosophy. (Oct. 29) Forecast: The Road from Coorain created a core audience for Conway that goes well beyond Smith alumnae and feminists. Whether this more focused and cerebral book will attract an equal number of readers is an open question, but Conway's articulate presence on talk shows during her eight-city tour could move a sizable portion of the 40,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Smith College's first woman president, who was born in New South Wales, Australia, and is currently a visiting scholar and professor at MIT, continues the memoirs she began in The Road from Coorain (LJ 6/15/89) and True North (1994). This latest work starts with Conway's move from Canada to Northampton, MA, in 1975, to assume her duties at Smith and ends with her decision to step down in 1985. Conway arrived at the women's college at a time when single-gender schools were falling prey to coeducation. She brought new energy to what some considered a stuffy, old-fashioned institution yet kept its integrity. Conway describes the events of her decade of leadership with a mixture of humor, intelligence, and insight. The reader is treated to tales of dissatisfied faculty, the joys of gardening, and the illness of Conway's husband. Having read Conway's previous memoirs is not a prerequisite to enjoying this work, as she relates enough of her earlier years to fill in the gaps. Those interested in education and women's studies will be drawn to this work. For most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Terry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Conway continues the story begun so elegantly in The Road from Coorain, recounting her first tempestuous years as Smith College president. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"An exceptional story. . . . Crisp and engaging." -San Francisco Chronicle "Jill Ker Conway is a woman of extraordinary character, ability and ambition. One might hope to learn from her memoir how such talent emerges, and how it finds its best employment." -The New York Times "A lively book [by] a woman of strong convictions and forceful personality." -The Boston Globe

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