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The beloved bestselling author of The Road from Coorain and True North continues her remarkable autobiography with an account of her decade as the first woman president of Smith College–a time when she was faced with the challenge of reinventing women’s education and with the demands of her own life. Conway took on the helm at Smith at the height of exploding culture wars a The beloved bestselling author of The Road from Coorain and True North continues her remarkable autobiography with an account of her decade as the first woman president of Smith College–a time when she was faced with the challenge of reinventing women’s education and with the demands of her own life. Conway took on the helm at Smith at the height of exploding culture wars and the rising popularity of coeducation. With the college’s future at stake, she battled conservative faculty, ossified traditions, and doubtful funders to turn Smith into a place committed to preparing young women for the new realities of the future. Through it all, Conway served as an inspiration to thousands of students, while balancing the demands of her public role against the private pressures of coping with her husband’s bipolar disorder. A moving tribute to the value of single-sex education and to one woman’s achievements, A Woman’s Education is sure to become a classic.


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The beloved bestselling author of The Road from Coorain and True North continues her remarkable autobiography with an account of her decade as the first woman president of Smith College–a time when she was faced with the challenge of reinventing women’s education and with the demands of her own life. Conway took on the helm at Smith at the height of exploding culture wars a The beloved bestselling author of The Road from Coorain and True North continues her remarkable autobiography with an account of her decade as the first woman president of Smith College–a time when she was faced with the challenge of reinventing women’s education and with the demands of her own life. Conway took on the helm at Smith at the height of exploding culture wars and the rising popularity of coeducation. With the college’s future at stake, she battled conservative faculty, ossified traditions, and doubtful funders to turn Smith into a place committed to preparing young women for the new realities of the future. Through it all, Conway served as an inspiration to thousands of students, while balancing the demands of her public role against the private pressures of coping with her husband’s bipolar disorder. A moving tribute to the value of single-sex education and to one woman’s achievements, A Woman’s Education is sure to become a classic.

30 review for A Woman's Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I read the first two books of Jill Ker Conway’s trilogy and enjoyed each of them. This, the third book, is titled “A Woman’s Education” covers the period of her career as the first woman President of Smith College, a women’s liberal college. I feel it is important to read these books in order of publishing. The first book “The Road From Coorain” (about her childhood on a sheep/cattle ranch in Australia), “True North” (about her teaching career at University of Toronto and the launching of her ca I read the first two books of Jill Ker Conway’s trilogy and enjoyed each of them. This, the third book, is titled “A Woman’s Education” covers the period of her career as the first woman President of Smith College, a women’s liberal college. I feel it is important to read these books in order of publishing. The first book “The Road From Coorain” (about her childhood on a sheep/cattle ranch in Australia), “True North” (about her teaching career at University of Toronto and the launching of her career in Administration) “A Woman’s Education” about her time as President of Smith College. I was surprised that Conway was the first President of Smith and that there were so many men teachers. I thought it would have been important to have women professors at a women’s college. Part of the book is about her problems with funding, education goals and curriculum, changing faculty, and of course building the school for the future. Conway devised a ten year plan for the school, set up the funding, got the key people behind her and implemented the plan. She joined boards to learn more about business and investment banking to better accomplish her job. She asked CEO’s why they did not recruit at Smith’s. They said they had not thought about recruiting women. She asked what skills and degree’s they were looking to hire. She pointed out the Smith women already had the foreign language skill they needed. Conway then set about creating curriculum goals to meet the demands of the business world. I was surprised she met opposition from the faculty in setting the required curriculum. I thought the goal of school was to teach you skills to be hired in your chosen profession. She set about correcting the school endowment and building it so it would last for many years. She had to learn all about investment banking and also fund raising. Part of the book is about what she sees as goals for women’s education and also some history of women’s education. The end of the book is about her goals for the last part of her life. She wants to do more creative things such as writing as well as learning skills in technology to be better able to write about the coming needs and goals in women’s education. We all should be so through with our own goals in life. The story of her time a Smith’s is a story about strong leadership. I read this as an e-book for which the book was well-suited to this format. If you are interested in Women’s education, history, academia or women’s memoirs you will enjoy this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia

    After hearing Jill speak at my 25th college reunion, I was compelled to read this book by and about a woman who, unbeknownst to me, had a HUGE roll in shaping my world view. When I arrived on the Smith Campus my freshman year, Jill was completing her last year as the president. Of course our next president and every subsequent one since would be a woman - right? Of course it made sense for me to study math, become an Air Force officer and then a strategy consultant at a leading global strategy f After hearing Jill speak at my 25th college reunion, I was compelled to read this book by and about a woman who, unbeknownst to me, had a HUGE roll in shaping my world view. When I arrived on the Smith Campus my freshman year, Jill was completing her last year as the president. Of course our next president and every subsequent one since would be a woman - right? Of course it made sense for me to study math, become an Air Force officer and then a strategy consultant at a leading global strategy firm dominated by men. All women had access to great college counseling that would encourage such things - right? I had no idea the contributions she made that enabled me and thousands, likely millions, of other women to lead the lives of our choosing. While it was Jill's memoir, she also sheds light on the lives of many women in this current age.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jo Young Switzer

    What an intense and honest book this is!!! For me, it was the third book by Jill Ker Conway that I've read. They were all beautifully written. Conway writes in a very concentrated way -- each word in each sentence is there for an important reason. In this book, she describes being recruited and hired to serve as the first female president of the prestigious Smith College. Her descriptions of the challenges facing her matched my experiences as the first female president of Manchester University. What an intense and honest book this is!!! For me, it was the third book by Jill Ker Conway that I've read. They were all beautifully written. Conway writes in a very concentrated way -- each word in each sentence is there for an important reason. In this book, she describes being recruited and hired to serve as the first female president of the prestigious Smith College. Her descriptions of the challenges facing her matched my experiences as the first female president of Manchester University. People made inaccurate assumptions about limitations she might have like making hard decisions or handling the maintenance of a campus. In the end, her leadership was tremendously effective at improving enrollment, increasing donations, and updating the campus. She is my hero.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Selena

    Took until my 10th reunion to read this, but what better place to read it than at Smith? It was a great read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    Q: What to do if you're 40 years old, a VP at the University of Toronto, and passionate women's education? A: Become the president of Smith College. Q: What to do if you've tripled the endowment, built a new athletic facility, opened the College to older women, and stretched the mission of a very traditional liberal arts college to include educating about women, preparing female students to enter highly-paid professions, and marketing itself to prospective students -- and you're only 50 years old Q: What to do if you're 40 years old, a VP at the University of Toronto, and passionate women's education? A: Become the president of Smith College. Q: What to do if you've tripled the endowment, built a new athletic facility, opened the College to older women, and stretched the mission of a very traditional liberal arts college to include educating about women, preparing female students to enter highly-paid professions, and marketing itself to prospective students -- and you're only 50 years old and you are still passionate about portraying women as intellectuals and leaders? A: Retire from being the president of Smith College and write, including three memoirs about your experience as an educated woman and a leader. A Woman's Education is the third memoir (following on The Road from Coorain and True North). It doesn't feature interesting personalities in the same way as its predecessors but it's full of observations about higher education and college politics. It's interesting for anyone who is involved in higher education and college politics, anyone who wonders about the idiosyncrasies of professors and their working relations, and anyone who wants to trace the career of a woman with a mission. Jill Ker Conway knew what she wanted to do, found the right mentors and allies, and accomplished her goals, setting up Smith College to be a leader in women's education for the 21st century. I'm betting she also made her fair share of enemies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    While this book is not as entertaining as Conway's first two books, I found this slim volume to be an interesting perspective on being the first woman president of a women's college (Smith) between 1975-85. Conway describes not just her experience being president but reflects on women's education in general and how it was changing in this time period--a period when I was in college. It made me reflect on women's roles not only in academia but in other careers and the different understanding that While this book is not as entertaining as Conway's first two books, I found this slim volume to be an interesting perspective on being the first woman president of a women's college (Smith) between 1975-85. Conway describes not just her experience being president but reflects on women's education in general and how it was changing in this time period--a period when I was in college. It made me reflect on women's roles not only in academia but in other careers and the different understanding that people have of what this means. Each decade/generation has its own issues/priorities and understanding of how we perceive the world, and Conway discusses how this changed from her experience in the 70s, 80s, to the 90s.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Misti

    Jill Ker Conway was the president of Smith College in the 70s and 80s, so this book holds special significance to me. It was interesting to read about her experiences guiding the faculty and her spending decisions which apparently dramatically affected the traditions and opportunities available to today's Smithies. The increased alumnae donation programs, better CDO and of course the amazing athletic facilities are all a part of Conway's legacy. And while there is a great deal of introspection h Jill Ker Conway was the president of Smith College in the 70s and 80s, so this book holds special significance to me. It was interesting to read about her experiences guiding the faculty and her spending decisions which apparently dramatically affected the traditions and opportunities available to today's Smithies. The increased alumnae donation programs, better CDO and of course the amazing athletic facilities are all a part of Conway's legacy. And while there is a great deal of introspection here, it's intriguing to learn of the difficulties pervading Jill's life while she was in her prime. A must read for any Smithie who wants to learn more about Smith's past and future.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is amazing! I've read both of author:Jill Ker Conway's books and have enjoyed them all. This book is inspiring. The things she has accomplished are unbelievable. It is an interesting look into her life and her role at Smith College as the first female president (in the 60s) of an all female institution. Even if you are not in this field, it will inspire you to go out and do great things. It gets you started thinking what else should I be doing? I highly recommend this book to everyone! This book is amazing! I've read both of author:Jill Ker Conway's books and have enjoyed them all. This book is inspiring. The things she has accomplished are unbelievable. It is an interesting look into her life and her role at Smith College as the first female president (in the 60s) of an all female institution. Even if you are not in this field, it will inspire you to go out and do great things. It gets you started thinking what else should I be doing? I highly recommend this book to everyone!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I've wanted to read this book for a long time. Not only because of her wonderful writing style but also because it's set in an area I lived in for years. So it was great fun to read about locations I knew very well. What I didn't expect was how very candid she was and what a great insight she provided of the role of a president of a small liberal arts college for women. It made me want to read more by Ms Ker Conway. I've wanted to read this book for a long time. Not only because of her wonderful writing style but also because it's set in an area I lived in for years. So it was great fun to read about locations I knew very well. What I didn't expect was how very candid she was and what a great insight she provided of the role of a president of a small liberal arts college for women. It made me want to read more by Ms Ker Conway.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I read her first two memoirs and liked them very much -- especially finding out that the author had been friends with one of my favorite literature professors from college. I found this at a used book sale (thanks again to the friends of the Newport Beach Public Library). I enjoyed reading about her experiences in becoming the president of Smith College in the late 70's but overall it was not as enthralling a tale as the others. But I'm glad I read it. I read her first two memoirs and liked them very much -- especially finding out that the author had been friends with one of my favorite literature professors from college. I found this at a used book sale (thanks again to the friends of the Newport Beach Public Library). I enjoyed reading about her experiences in becoming the president of Smith College in the late 70's but overall it was not as enthralling a tale as the others. But I'm glad I read it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Enjoyed this short book by an Australian woman who became the first woman President of Smith College in the US. The whole idea of a female-only college was strange and interesting, and I particularly enjoyed her take on institutional politics at such a tumultuous time in American society (and tertiary education) - 70s and 80s.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    An absolutely engrossing memoir from a truely admirable and intellectual woman. There was lots of good food for thought about the purpose of education, both generally and specifically the value of women's colleges. An absolutely engrossing memoir from a truely admirable and intellectual woman. There was lots of good food for thought about the purpose of education, both generally and specifically the value of women's colleges.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Margo

    3.5 - Having gone to a woman's college, I agree with much of what she says. Many women do benefit from the environment, feel freer to discuss and debate. 3.5 - Having gone to a woman's college, I agree with much of what she says. Many women do benefit from the environment, feel freer to discuss and debate.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Noriko

    How she got to Smith's presidency and all the years she was there. I was on campus for her last year of her tenure. How she got to Smith's presidency and all the years she was there. I was on campus for her last year of her tenure.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott J Pearson

    Jill Ker Conway has left us with quite a trilogy of autobiographies. In so doing, she has divided her life into thirds – growing up on the Australian outback, coming of age in North-American academe, and gaining a feminist voice as president of the elite Smith College. This work examines her experiences at Smith College. She poured her soul into learning to articulate an authentically feminine institutional voice in a world of coeducation. Instead of seeing women’s education as fading from the wo Jill Ker Conway has left us with quite a trilogy of autobiographies. In so doing, she has divided her life into thirds – growing up on the Australian outback, coming of age in North-American academe, and gaining a feminist voice as president of the elite Smith College. This work examines her experiences at Smith College. She poured her soul into learning to articulate an authentically feminine institutional voice in a world of coeducation. Instead of seeing women’s education as fading from the world, she embraced the single-gender nature of her task and emphasized women’s roles in virtually all fields. As an educated male, I’ve often had mixed feelings about feminism. I am 100% for women’s advancement in society. Like Conway, I find women provide a unique and strong contribution in the history of just about every sphere of human activity. However, I am uncomfortable with a feminism that seeks the advancement of women through the denigration of men’s roles. Like Conway, I think we do better when we march and reason together. This work will leave some readers feeling empty. It focuses on Conway’s leadership of an elite academic institution. While authentic, it is relatively devoid of drama. Those used to following plot twists won’t find much here. Conway’s perspective is about active self-expression and self-development. After reading this trilogy of autobiographies, I find that I like Conway. She seems full of life and like someone who I’d like to have dinner with sometime. Her perspective of life is one which all people – not just women – can gain from. She is an intellectual (as am I), and those who appreciate a vibrant life of the mind will appreciate this trilogy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Connie Kronlokken

    More an exploration of ideas than a memoir, though we get glimpses. Rounds out her other two books. Quite wonderful. Makes me want to take my intellect seriously, as Jill Ker Conway does. It is actually sort of a "how-to" book as well, if you read it closely. It shows you how to become involved in boards and committees, where decisions get made. Read the materials provided closely and be passionate about them! So few people do this that it takes you very far into an issue. More an exploration of ideas than a memoir, though we get glimpses. Rounds out her other two books. Quite wonderful. Makes me want to take my intellect seriously, as Jill Ker Conway does. It is actually sort of a "how-to" book as well, if you read it closely. It shows you how to become involved in boards and committees, where decisions get made. Read the materials provided closely and be passionate about them! So few people do this that it takes you very far into an issue.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I appreciated Jill Ker Conway's insights and perspectives regarding women's education. She sheds an important light on the trajectory of women and the liberal arts, and making higher education more inclusive for women of different backgrounds and ages. I took off one star for her often glib jabs at colleagues and certain alumnae, and the suck-up bouquets she tossed to others. I find her both incredibly admirable and annoying. I appreciated Jill Ker Conway's insights and perspectives regarding women's education. She sheds an important light on the trajectory of women and the liberal arts, and making higher education more inclusive for women of different backgrounds and ages. I took off one star for her often glib jabs at colleagues and certain alumnae, and the suck-up bouquets she tossed to others. I find her both incredibly admirable and annoying.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dhartridge

    Having attended a women’s college myself, the subject interested me. I could have used more specific stories or anecdotes illustrating her ideas. It all came across as too abstract for me. It did make me curious about Smith, which is one of the few remaining colleges that has only women undergraduates.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I read most of this rather short book. It was good to remember the times when women's education was questioned and particularly how single gender schools were in jeopardy. Through Conway's leadership, Smith survived but she wrote about struggling with the "dinosaurs" who were used to teaching from a white male perspective. I read most of this rather short book. It was good to remember the times when women's education was questioned and particularly how single gender schools were in jeopardy. Through Conway's leadership, Smith survived but she wrote about struggling with the "dinosaurs" who were used to teaching from a white male perspective.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ania Gaska

    Well she's obviously a very intelligent and strong writer, and I am certainly going to read every single one of her books. This one was guarded, I guess because she was a public figure. I hope that her more private opinions come out one day. Well she's obviously a very intelligent and strong writer, and I am certainly going to read every single one of her books. This one was guarded, I guess because she was a public figure. I hope that her more private opinions come out one day.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    I really enjoyed this book - I think in particular as I am in an academic setting and interested in women in leadership. That sounds dry - but she is a great writer

  22. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Mundy

    While informative, I did not like this book as much as I did "The Road From Coorain". I am glad I read it, but I am not sure I would want to read it a second time. While informative, I did not like this book as much as I did "The Road From Coorain". I am glad I read it, but I am not sure I would want to read it a second time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Arleen Williams

    A book that many in academic leadership could benefit from reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    I just need to remove this from my 'currently reading' shelf. It's not a bad book, but it wasn't what I expected or want to know a lot about. I just need to remove this from my 'currently reading' shelf. It's not a bad book, but it wasn't what I expected or want to know a lot about.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    "doing the conventional things - marrying, beginning a career - gave me a false sense of security, as though the task of relating inner and outer self had been definitely completed. as a young married woman in my thirties, i expected that there weren't going to be too many more iterations of the quest for self-definition. but, of course, i was wrong. i wasn't quite forty when i arrived at smith and ran instantly into one of the major challenges of adulthood. that challenge is to protect and sust "doing the conventional things - marrying, beginning a career - gave me a false sense of security, as though the task of relating inner and outer self had been definitely completed. as a young married woman in my thirties, i expected that there weren't going to be too many more iterations of the quest for self-definition. but, of course, i was wrong. i wasn't quite forty when i arrived at smith and ran instantly into one of the major challenges of adulthood. that challenge is to protect and sustain the inner self we've labored so hard to release while fully entering into the roles we have to play as adults with major symbolic, professional, and personal responsibilities. the coming-of-age story doesn't deal with what we have to do to sustain the inner self against all the structures of society - family, professions, voluntary institutions, political movements, competing vocations - all of which demand conformity to their ideal types. one of the most seductive attractions of the romantic view of life is the notion that there exists somewhere the perfect partner who resonates emotionally to every note of one's own inner music. and that there is one vocation we are destined to take up in which we will find nothing out of key and experience no disharmonies between our working and private self. but the reality is otherwise. most people are a cluster of talents that could potentially be applied in myriad different ways. and the rate of divorce tells us that the uniquely preordained soul mate is hard to find. so the challenge in adulthood is to sustain that inner self while entering passionately into a complicated set of relationships, any one of which may contain who we are. the alternate is to stand back from life or to choose the "safe" commitments that don't demand much. i was born a risk taker. safety was never attractive."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    Conway's memoir covers the ten years that she served as the first woman president of Smith College, from 1975-1985. These were tumultuous years in the development of higher education curriculum as well as for women's roles in society. Conway's perceptions about college politics and feminism are insightful. I especially enjoyed her discussions about the experience of being a female leader at a women's college in the mid-70s. Her description of an event at which hundreds of young women pounded on Conway's memoir covers the ten years that she served as the first woman president of Smith College, from 1975-1985. These were tumultuous years in the development of higher education curriculum as well as for women's roles in society. Conway's perceptions about college politics and feminism are insightful. I especially enjoyed her discussions about the experience of being a female leader at a women's college in the mid-70s. Her description of an event at which hundreds of young women pounded on the floor calling for "Jill!" is one example. I marveled at this display of exuberance and self-confidence and lack of concern about being ladylike or behaving in a way that could turn off men. During the same historic period, I was at coeducational public institutions, and this kind of behavior by female students was unfathomable, to the detriment of our development as empowered citizens and future leaders, I believe. This book may have a narrow readership, but it will prove satisfying anyone interested in the recent history of higher education and the development of women's status in society.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Consuela

    I would have never read this book if I hadn't enjoyed the first 2 books in Jill Ker Conway's autobiography. And I probably wouldn't have read it even then if someone hadn't loaned it to me and if I was a captive audience on a very long train ride. This book is about her 10 years as the first woman President of Smith College. I had no idea being a college president required so much work! For that it was interesting. I also loved that she stretched me to think more about ideas more deeply, primari I would have never read this book if I hadn't enjoyed the first 2 books in Jill Ker Conway's autobiography. And I probably wouldn't have read it even then if someone hadn't loaned it to me and if I was a captive audience on a very long train ride. This book is about her 10 years as the first woman President of Smith College. I had no idea being a college president required so much work! For that it was interesting. I also loved that she stretched me to think more about ideas more deeply, primarily some aspects of feminism. I'd say the book succeeded in that she was always trying to get her students to think. She's a wonderful writer.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paula Dembeck

    This continues the author’s autobiography which she began in two books, first “The Road to Coorain” and then in “True North”. In 1975, she moved on from a VP position at the University of Toronto to President of Smith’s College in the United States. She had a big job ahead of her juggling the needs and concerns of faculty, students, parents, trustees and alumnae. One of her major challenges was redefining life at the college and creating programs consistent with the new reality of women’s lives. This continues the author’s autobiography which she began in two books, first “The Road to Coorain” and then in “True North”. In 1975, she moved on from a VP position at the University of Toronto to President of Smith’s College in the United States. She had a big job ahead of her juggling the needs and concerns of faculty, students, parents, trustees and alumnae. One of her major challenges was redefining life at the college and creating programs consistent with the new reality of women’s lives. She continued to cope with her husband’s bipolar disorder and faced her mother’s death as well. Excellent; still an inspiring story of a strong, independent and intelligent woman.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as its two predecessors. It felt that she had to walk a very careful tightrope between describing her experiences at Smith honestly, and not potentially offending any faculty still at the college. Also the difficulties with her husband's health could not have been easy to write about either. She remains an inspirational figure and I was very fortunate to have met her while I was at Smith after she retired. I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as its two predecessors. It felt that she had to walk a very careful tightrope between describing her experiences at Smith honestly, and not potentially offending any faculty still at the college. Also the difficulties with her husband's health could not have been easy to write about either. She remains an inspirational figure and I was very fortunate to have met her while I was at Smith after she retired.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Her university political life, mostly otr all in the United States--can't remember, read it in 2009. Nothing matches Road from Cohrain for me--I loved that memoir. I suppose I'm less interested in women's politics in education now that I'm out of that field and my energies are elsewhere. Her writing about her relationships remains compelling for me, however. At least, I think she wrote a lot about them in this Memoir, too? (Monday morning no-coffee brain-drain...) Her university political life, mostly otr all in the United States--can't remember, read it in 2009. Nothing matches Road from Cohrain for me--I loved that memoir. I suppose I'm less interested in women's politics in education now that I'm out of that field and my energies are elsewhere. Her writing about her relationships remains compelling for me, however. At least, I think she wrote a lot about them in this Memoir, too? (Monday morning no-coffee brain-drain...)

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