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Visiting Middlebury with my grandparents and cousins, spring 1987.

In the spring of 1987, I was trying to decide between matriculating at Middlebury or Bowdoin. They were in many ways similar, of course, and I was basically framing the choice as being near the ocean or being near the mountains.  Then one day at school, Mr. Warner came up to me; his official title was the “Dean of Discipline,” and he seemed quite gruff, but he was really very sweet and concerned about his students.  This seems amazing to think about, but in 1987 a lot of the small liberal arts schools in the Northeast had been co-ed for less than two decades.  Middlebury, however, had admitted women in 1883. Mr. Warner said, “Bowdoin is still a boys school.  Middlebury has been taking women for over one hundred years.  I think you will be happier there.”  It really struck me, and while it wasn’t the only factor in my decision, it certainly played a part. (And no offense to any one who went to Bowdoin, which is a great school).

Middlebury students in 1886.

I thought of that conversation a few years ago when a friend of mine who is a very loyal Wesleyan alumn noted she wished there had been more older women alumni to turn to for career advice when she first graduated in the early 90s .  (Wesleyan turned co-ed in 1970).

Anyway, this is all a long prelude to say the Middlebury (Not-So) Old Girls Network has been firing away this week.  A college pal is the award-winning blogger Book Club Girl, and she allowed me to post some thoughts about Harriet Hosmer and the challenges of writing a biography in honor of women’s history month.  If you are in a book club, or just are interested in contemporary fiction, make her blog a regular stop on your trips around the internet.  She has giveaways, great guest posts, and lots of fantastic information about new books.  She also hosts an internet radio show, giving readers a chance to ask questions of some of their favorite authors.

Book Club Girl and me (on the right) at a performance of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States in 2008, just a month before her adorable daughter (and perhaps future Middlebury alumnae) was born.

By the way, I have written a series of reading questions for Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography.

(Pictures from the Middlebury website.)

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I will be a guest on the internet radio show the Stonestreet Cafe this Thursday, at 9 PM EST.  The cafe is hosted by Julia Stonestreet Smith, a friend of mine from high school.  The interview was recorded last week, and we had a great time catching up before the show and discussing Harriet Hosmer during the official interview.  Julia is also an astrologer, and you can check our her horoscopes, or, as she calls them, “Good Fortune Scopes,” for the week here.  I have a very busy week, so I am going to take her advice for Tauruses like me to heart:  “Take time out to rest and reflect even though you may have pressing responsibilities, Taurus.  You’ll get more done if you take care of yourself while you move through it.”

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I celebrated Halloween by going to see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the rock musical about the 7th US president with the tagline “History just got all sexypants.”  The best description I can think of is it is a cross between a History Channel documentary and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It is clever and charming, and I liked the way it sent up our tendency to either lionize or demonize our leaders and tackled his treatment of Native Americans head on.  And I am a sucker for oddball musicals.  (The Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical soundtrack is some of my favorite driving music).  The script did lean a little too heavily on (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) jokes about effeminate elite male politicians, played broadly through  homosexual stereotypes. I got that the production was commenting on the discussion around masculinity in American politics, but there was too much reliance on those jokes without enough payoff.  But it was ultimately very worth seeing, especially at the discount price I got through the Theater Development Fund. Read the NY Times review here.

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Jane Austen’s Editor

A major theme in my biography of Hosmer is how she and her supporters shaped her public image and the difference between her public and private selves.  I was therefore very interested in the story on NPR about the role Austen’s editor played in her writing.  While Austen’s brother had claimed “Everything came finished from her pen,” the Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland has found a very different story in her close examination of Austen’s manuscripts.  Sutherland suggests Austen fans and scholars stop ‘polishing Austen’s halo’ and dig into the process of how her works took on the form we know and love, for we hold few other author’s to such high standards.  A fascinating tale.

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