A Scholar in the House

From Harvard Magazine:

Faust Tradition and the twenty-first century were tangled together in Barker Center’s Thompson Room on the afternoon of February 11, when Drew Gilpin Faust conducted her first news conference as Harvard’s president-elect. Faust sketched

elements of her childhood “in a privileged family in the rural Shenandoah Valley” of Virginia in “Living History,” an essay published in this magazine in 2003. “I was the only daughter in a family of four children,” she wrote, and subject to her community’s prevailing expectations for girls. As she noted in the bracing preface to her widely acclaimed 1996 book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War:

“When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother taught me that the term “woman” was disrespectful, if not insulting. Adult females—at least white ones—should be considered and addressed as “ladies.” I responded to this instruction by refusing to wear dresses and by joining the 4-H club, not to sew and can like all the other girls, but to raise sheep and cattle with the boys. My mother still insisted on the occasional dress but, to her credit, said not a negative word about my enthusiasm for animal husbandry.

Looking back, I am sure that the origins of this book lie somewhere in that youthful experience and in the continued confrontations with my mother—until the very eve of her death when I was 19—about the requirements of what she usually called “femininity.” “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” she warned. I have been luckier than she in that I have lived in a time when my society and culture have supported me in proving that statement wrong”.

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