The New England Quarterly, Inc.

Vol. 52, No. 1 (Mar. 1979), pp. 107-110

Miss Marks and Miss Wooley [sic]

[Throughout the entire review, Miss Woolley's name is misspelled. It is transcribed as published.]

Miss Marks and Miss Wooley. By Anna Mary Wells. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1978. Pp. xvii, 269. $10.95.)

Mary Wooley, the daughter of a New England Congregational minister, was educated at Wheaton Seminary. In 1891 she had an unexpected opportunity to attend classes at Brown University and the following year matriculated as a member of the first group of women at what was later to become Pembroke College of Brown University. Upon graduation she became an instructor at Wellesley College where she met a student, Jeannette Marks, who became her lifelong companion, confidante, and emotional partner. In 1899 she was offered two positions, the deanship of Pembroke College, which she turned down, and the presidency of Mount Holyoke, which she accepted and then held for thirty-six years, from 1901 to 1937. Wells devotes the major portion of her book to the public and private worlds of Miss Wooley as a college administrator during the developing years of colleges for women.

To some extent her focus is on higher education, on Mount Holyoke and Wooley's drive to make the best, or if not that, then at least to have it recognized as the oldest of the "seven sisters." But the scope of the analysis widens to the role that the women's colleges played both in educating women (too often, unfortunately, only for "gentle womanhood"), and in developing women faculty members. In the first half of the century these schools were the sources of jobs that were not open to newly educated women faculty in the male-dominated schools. Although Wells mentions that such a role became unnecessary over the years as the male colleges began to hire women with the Ph.D., the still-present disparities in the proportion of women Ph.D.'s on such faculties testifies to the slow pace of the widening of opportunities.

Wells also tries to explain the hesitancy of Wooley and her contemporaries at other schools to go beyond the narrow goal of education to take a firm stand for women on other women's issues. These female leaders were much more willing to speak as women for peace than they were as women for women's suffrage. In that context she shows the paternalism and patronizing attitudes that these, the most influential women of their time, experienced from male trustees, and that they, in turn, expressed towards their female students. The women's colleges in their day constituted a safe and controlled repository for ideas and people that posed little threat to the male establishment. They were not wellsprings of feminism but were supporters of the status quo. Miss Wooley was quoted once as stating that she never said anything startling in interviews. The good and reasoned responses of women in her position could be dealt with reasonably, and were likely to be dismissed or ignored. The women deans and presidents could be depended upon to administer but not to upset matters, for they were gracious ladies.

Wells's other and equally important subject is the dependence of prominent women upon other women for their emotional and personal life. Marriage for women leaders, not only in education but in other fields such as in nursing administration, meant giving up their positions. For a few, notably Alice Freeman Palmer, who left the Wellesley presidency to marry a professor at Harvard University, marriage meant greater power, because as Mrs. Palmer, she had the ear of the president of Harvard, something that had been denied her as president of Wellesley. But for most, to marry was to give up one's place and career. They had to choose, and many found a substitute caring relationship with a companion, an arrangement discreetly referred to as a "Boston Marriage" by knowing New Englanders, such as Helen Howe (see her 1965 book, The Gentle Americans, 1864-1960: Biography of a Breed).

For Mary Wooley the other woman was her former student, Jeannette Marks. Although she is unable to reach a definite answer, Wells tries to determine whether the relationship between Marks and Wooley involved explicit sexual relations. For lack of evidence in the letters between them, the question remains unanswered. Nevertheless, the strong power of these women over each other overrides the physical question. Miss Wooley used Miss Marks for her own comfort and gain, but Miss Marks also used Miss Wooley.

While she was a faculty member at Wellesley, Miss Wooley met Miss Marks. She realized how much she needed and loved Jeannette when the Mount Holyoke presidency offer came, and it seemed that they must go their separate ways. Jeannette wanted to develop a writing career, but Miss Wooley seduced her to Mount Holyoke with an offer of an important teaching position even though Miss Marks, a recent B.A., had no teaching experience. Miss Wooley then used her power as an administrator to keep her at Mount Holyoke by providing over the years numerous academic rewards that were easily arranged favors, such as reduced or special teaching loads, numerous leaves of absence, and protection from other faculty when they complained. In return Jeannette stayed, and played the compliant, albeit sometimes irascible, source of secret comfort to the more visible, public figure, Mary Wooley, who privately wrote to Jeannette, "But my work is one thing. I am interested in it; I intend to put myself into it, but it is not myself. You are that - my very heart - my Love."

Jeannette did try to break away from Wooley's comforting surroundings in a series of leaves from Mount Holyoke during which she did live abroad, wrote stories and plays, and conducted scholarly research, but the need for money and security, combined with Wooley's generous offerings of Mount Holyoke's resources always brought her back.

Wells portrays Jeannette as the more modern of the two women. Active in antiestablishment causes, she rejected the gentle womanhood image to write about drug addiction in the 1920's, to support suffrage in the first decade of the century, and to work for the Sacco-Vanzetti defense group. Toward the end of their years together Miss Marks, the younger woman by fifteen years, established full dominance over Wooley, who had retired in 1937 at age seventy-four. Psychologically, Wooley always needed Marks, and although she had been the dominant partner for nearly four decades, in the last few years the power shifted. She became the dependent one, secluded in isolation in Jeannette's home at Lake George, when previously Jeannette had lived quietly on the third floor of Mount Holyoke's president's house.

By convincing Wooley never to return to Mount Holyoke, primarily because a man had been named to succeed her as president (talk ad it that a married man would be safe from rumors of peculiar relationships), Marks, who was still on the college faculty, led Wooley to damage her image at Mount Holyoke. By sending letters to the New York Times about controversial subjects over Wooley's name, when she was debilitated and unable to write or speak following a stroke, she cast doubt on Wooley's national image. Whether her behavior in those years was motivated by vindictiveness or a radical's belief that the causes that these acts supported would justify any means, even the betrayal of a friend, Miss Marks got her pound of flesh.

It is interesting that Wells, by her title, opts for Miss Marks as the stronger woman, if not the more admirable. She comes closer to the women of the 1970's and is perhaps a more interesting personality, but her own dependence on Wooley and the "buddy" system she made available, convince one that there was full reciprocity in this complex social and psychological exchange.

Lois A. Monteiro.

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