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Mary Emma Woolley
(July 13, 1863 - September 5, 1947) U.S.A.

Mary Woolley

President Mount Holyoke, author


Born in South Norwalk, Connecticutt. After teaching at Wheaton Seminary (1886-91), she attended college and became the first woman to receive (1894) a B.A. from Brown Univ. She then taught biblical history and literature at Wellesley College (1895-1900) and from 1901 to her retirement in 1937 was president of Mt. Holyoke College, the oldest women's college in the nation. She was named one of the 12 greatest living American women in 1930.

While at Mt. Holyoke College, she meet and fell in love with Jeannette Marks. They remained together for 52 years. In the late 1970's a book was published which included their love letters to one another. The alumanae of the college were so concerned over the forthcoming publication that an article even appeared in the New York Times.

Miss Woolley taught Biblical Studies before she became president of Mt. Holyoke College for 36 years (1901-1937). Under her strong leadership the college expanded to a major learning institution. She eliminated the housekeeping required of the women-only students and instituted student government.

Woolley not only increased the size and endowment of Holyoke but she dramatically advanced the academic program to make it one of the finest colleges in the nation by increasing both the number and quality of the teaching staff.

In 1931 Good Housekeeping named her "one of the twelve greatest living women in America," along with women-centered notables Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt and Willa Cather.

She held a number of government advisory positions. In 1932, she went to Geneva to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, which was organized by the League of Nations. She was the only female delegate sent form the United States, and one of only five female delegates. The others were from Canada, Poland, Uraguay and Great Britain.

She was president of the American Association of University Women (1927-1933), first woman chair of the College Entrance Examination Board, and active in the ACLU. She wrote several historical monographs, including Early History of the Colonial Post Office (1894), and magazine articles on current affairs.

An outspoken proponent of women's suffrage, she was a leading organizer in National College Women's Equal Suffrage League and persuaded half the students at Mount Holyoke to become active in the league. She also served as national chair of the College Entrance Examination Board and as president of the American Association of University Women. She was also prominent in the American Association for Labor Legislation, which raised awareness about sweatshop conditions.

But the end of her tenure as president of Mount Holyoke was less than great, as the board of trustees appointed a man who undid many of her good works as her successor. When a man was chosen to succeed her at Holyoke, a woman-only college, she never set foot on the campus again.


Jeannette Marks was her student. They fell in love, but found conflict arising from popular anti-lesbian beliefs at the time, which generated internalized homophobia. Before their own and the public's realizations about the nature of their relationship they enjoyed each other's company and being in love. Marks, who became later the head of the Holyoke English Literature Department, lived with Mary Woolley for 52 years. Marks established the noted Laboratory Theatre and published some 20 books.

"Oh! My dear little girl, do you not know, can you not understand, that you do just as much for me as I can possibly do for you? I want to be what you think I am, Jeannette - The fact that I love you makes me wish to be more in the world."

Mary Woolley to life partner Jeannette Marks, April 1900

Mary WoolleyUnlike her Bryn Mawr counterpart who also shared her home with a woman, Woolley's same-sex pairing with Jeannette Marks, an English professor at Mount Holyoke, provoked much animosity among the other faculty and staff. While teaching a course at Wellesley, the 32-year-old Woolley met the 21-year-old Marks. For the next five years, Woolley watched over Marks' education, but it was during Marks' bout with typhoid fever in her senior year that Woolley came to understand the depth of her feelings for the undergraduate.

Before the president's house was built on campus, Woolley and Marks lived separately with the students giggling over Woolley's late night return to her own quarters. But the faculty was less amused at her favoritism, particularly because Woolley never made Marks attend faculty meetings or serve on committees. Her troubles were compounded by a growing homophobia. By 1910 rumors of her relationship abounded, Marks took a yearlong leave of absence to write full-time and quell the swelling tide against her beloved. While Woolley, who would sooner abandon her post than her relationship, was to serve another 25 years as president, the board of trustees was increasingly against her.

Woolley's relationship with Mount Holyoke lasted 36 years, while her relationship with Marks lasted 52 years. After Woolley's death in 1944, Marks wrote the biography of her beloved. A colleague remarked upon reading Life and Letters of Mary Emma Woolley, "Jeannette writes as if she had kissed each sentence as she wrote it down."


Miss Woolley became aware of how painful the separation would be when Jeannette was graduated and she herself left Wellesley. Now it appeared that the intimacy must come to an end. Under this threat the two women made in March a mutual declaration of ardent and exclusive love. Mary Woolley used the language and imagery of the Bible, Jeannette Marks that of the English romantic poets. They exchanged tokens, a ring and a jeweled pin, with pledges of lifelong fidelity.

Here are some excerpts from letters between the two, reprinted in the book Miss Marks and Miss Woolley.

"If you knew what a lonely feeling I have every night when I do not see you, you would realize what the thought of our separation next year means to me. I have such a feeling of security in your love, Jeannette. I know that it will not change... I rest in your love in a way that makes me stronger and happier."

"Your coming is my rest and refreshment and delight after my hours of work... Oh! my dear little girl, do you not know, can you not understand, that you do just as much for me as I can possibly do for you? I want to be what you thing that I am Jeannette- the fact that I love you makes me wish to be more in the world... you are an inspiration to me, dear, as well as my greatest comfort... Does it seem possible that it is only a few short weeks since we have felt that we could say allthat we feel without restraint or constraint? Two such proud ladies, too, each one afraid that she felt more than the other and determined to keep her own self respect! ... I am so glad that it is not a sudden "possessing," Jeannette, that for five years it has been coming surely to pass and that for almost three years I have realized that you were very dear to me, never as dear, however as you are today."

"You know that you have given me this great birthday gift, one which will make this birthday different from any that I have ever spent. I shall thank God for it tomorrow as the great gift which this year has brought to me, my Treasure... I wonder whether it often falls to the lot of mortals to love as we do. My own Love, should we not be very thankful for this supreme gift which makes life so full and rich and deep and tender?"

(pp. 56-57)

"... if only the separation need not come! It will be so hard this coming year- first the ocean between me and all that I love, and then the new work among strangers! If only you were to be with me , dearest, if only!... Besides, we can not afford to be separated! We should be bankrupt in the stationary and postage line!"

"I cannot grow reconciled to the thought of being away from you. Even a day or two is hard... Dearest, my dearest, it is hard not to have your good night kiss.. God in His providence has given me this love when I most need it, when I am about to take up crushing responsibilities... Do you realize what it means to have you, the heart of my life, to talk with you as I would with my own soul, to have nothing hid, to feel that we are one?"


"My own Darling, the year has brought me no gift as great as your love."

(p. 61)

"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."

(p. 64)

"It is just like having an unremitting pain, this having you away. There is a dull ache all the time, and I long, long for you... I think that you do not know, Dearie, how my real life is just bound up in you. Everything, my work, my happiness, has you as its center.

(p. 107)


Source: excerpts from: Anna Mary Wells Boston, Miss Marks and Miss Woolley, Houghton Mifflin, 1978

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