Comment on “Memoirs of Women and Harvard” by Alice B. Kehoe

Editor’s note: The following essay is a response to “Memoirs of Women and Harvard” by Alice B. Kehoe, published on 9 August 2021 in Reviews. You can find the original essay here.

Alice Kehoe, in her review article, “Memoirs of Women and Harvard,” makes the following inaccurate assertion, “Cora Du Bois was there [Harvard’s Department of Anthropology] only because wealthy patron Doris Zemurray Stone recommended her for the chair the Zemurray family endowed specifically for a woman.” This was in the context of discussing Victoria R. Bricker’s book, Transformational Journeys: An Ethnologist’s Memoir (2017), in which Bricker mentions some of her experiences as a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard and references Du Bois’s mentoring of her.

It is important to keep the historical record accurate both because such an untruth serves to undermine the legitimacy of Cora Du Bois’s appointment at Harvard and because the establishment of the Zemurray-Stone chair was itself an historic landmark. It enabled the first woman to join the all-male faculty at Harvard as a full professor in the School of Arts and Sciences.  As the author of Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), a biography of Du Bois, I did extensive primary research on the establishment of the Zemurray-Stone Chair.  Coincidentally, Bricker and I were classmates in anthropology at Harvard.

I summarize below what I discuss in detail in my biography of Du Bois (see Chapter 8, pp. 249-256). In 1943, Radcliffe College reached a new contractual agreement with Harvard about courses and programs available to its students. Radcliffe had never had its own faculty and was thus dependent upon Harvard for its academic curriculum.  Also, there were no women faculty at Harvard in the School of Arts and Sciences.  Accordingly, Doris Zemurray Stone (Radcliffe ’30), a member of the Radcliffe Board of Trustees, suggested that this might be an opportune context in which to explore with Harvard the possibility of establishing a position for a woman professor. Stone also spoke informally with her father, Samuel Zemurray, president of the United Fruit Company, about the possibility of endowing such a professorship. 

Wilbur Kitchener Jordan, the president of Radcliffe when this new agreement for joint instruction with Harvard took effect, decided to test the waters. He spoke with Harvard’s president, James Bryant Conant, about the idea of a professorship for a woman. Conant was amenable as long as Radcliffe found the funds to endow such a position. President Jordan then formally contacted Samuel Zemurray, suggesting that he might endow such a position in memory of his son, Samuel Zemurray Jr., a graduate of the Harvard School of Business who had recently died in wartime action in North Africa, and to honor his daughter, a graduate of Radcliffe.  Such a chair would symbolically conjoin the two institutions. After several years of negotiations, Zemurray agreed to endow the professorship with a gift of United Fruit Company stock then worth approximately $250,000.

A formal proposal for the Zemurray-Stone Professorship in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University was finalized in February 1947. Harvard would handle the selection and hiring of a woman scholar of high esteem “in accordance with wholly normal procedures governing appointments, with the understanding that Radcliffe could make suggestions through the proper channels and provided the final appointment be concurred in by the Council of Radcliffe College.”[1] “Harvard Gets Woman Thanks to Radcliffe,” proclaimed the Boston Herald on March 5, 1947. Soon thereafter a worldwide search for an outstanding woman scholar to join the all-male Harvard faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences began. History was being made.

A Harvard faculty search committee, representing twelve different departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, was established. The department of anthropology was not represented, nor was there any particular reason it should have been given that this was an open search across many disciplines. A member of the social relations department, sociologist Samuel A. Stouffer, did serve on the committee along with such other august faculty as Arthur M. Schlesinger (history), Bart J. Bok (astronomy), John H. Finley Jr. (classics), Edward S. Mason (economics), and Paul J. Sachs (fine arts).[2] The inaugural appointment went to Helen Maud Cam, a highly esteemed medieval historian from Cambridge University. Cam, near retirement age, received a five-year contract and returned to England after her fifth year.

During Cam’s final year at Harvard (1953-54), a search committee was once again established to identify the second woman to hold the Zemurray-Stone Professorship, which would now come with tenure. Again, the department of anthropology happened not to be represented, but Stouffer (social relations) served a second time. A large and diverse set of women scholars was produced and then narrowed down to six finalists:  Cora Du Bois (anthropology, Institute for International Education), Anna Freud (psychoanalysis, London), Margaret Gilman (French, Bryn Mawr), Susanne Langer (philosophy, Connecticut College), Maria Goeppert Mayer (physics, Chicago), and Virginia Rao (history, University of Lisbon). In the end, Cora Du Bois was selected and began her appointment at Harvard in fall 1954.

There is no evidence that Doris Zemurray Stone tried in any way to influence these appointments.


[1] “Draft Proposals for a Radcliffe Professorship in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University,” final agreement, June 6, 1947, Wilbur Kitchener Jordan, Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1943-60.  Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Cambridge, MA.

[2] The Department of Social Relations included anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn.

Authors
Susan Seymour: contributions / website / Susan_Seymour@pitzer.edu

2 Comments

  1. Susan Seymour kindly wrote the inaugural article for the Archival Developments page of HAR (click on the Bibliography tab at the top of any HAR page) in which she provided a personal view of her use of the Cora DuBois papers at Tozzer Library, Harvard. HAR readers who have used such collections in their research are invited to share their experiences; contact bibliographies@histanthro.org.

  2. I’m very grateful to Susan Seymour for clarifying the significant history of Harvard’s first women professors. I confess I failed to check this history, instead repeated the myth heard by the women in my cohort of Harvard Anthropology graduate program (1957-1960).

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