I was introduced to historian Drew Gilpin Faust’s books in my PhD program and learned so much (about writing, women’s involvement in the Civil War, and cultural shifts) from her This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War…
…that I was excited to read her new autobiography, Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury
As expected, I learned so much – she was born in Virginia to (sadly) racist parents but chose Northern schools to teach herself the opposite of their ways – ended up at the march in Selma and became friends with John Lewis — the book title comes from his famous phrase which she asked his permission to use.
My Mom always said you learn more from autobiographies than from fictional books. Though I still read copious amounts of both kinds, she was right in that the real-life details I’ve collected from autobiographies have stayed in my mind longer than much of my other reading.
And if you don’t know the story of how Gilpin Faust became the first female president of Harvard University – check it out:
Essentially, previous president Lawrence H. Summers was forced out for saying that “intrinsic” gender differences accounted for the lack of women in science (in other words there weren’t a lot of women in science and math departments because ‘girls aren’t good at math’) so they appointed Faust the immediate interim pres while they looked for a new one – and after 18 months of looking it suddenly occurred to them that she’d been doing the job for… 18 months so why not make her the permanent new pres? She held the gig for 11 years and “generated what might be considered the opposite kind of controversy: She was too PC, her critics griped — during her time, the number of tenured female faculty rose by 47 percent.”