Two Lives in Perspective

The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas             by  Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz


The first Dean of Bryn Mawr college, Carey Thomas did a lot to further women’s higher education in America. Coming from Quaker stock with a mother who was deeply involved in the Women’s Temperance Union and the fight for women’s suffrage, Carey Thomas had an awareness of the need for women to have more opportunities in the academic world. After graduating Cornell University, she took her PhD and professorship at Leipzig College in Germany.

The Friday Club at Cornell (Mary Garrett is at lower rt.) C. Thomas at far left

The Friday Club at Cornell (Mary Garrett is at lower rt.) C. Thomas at far left

I was shocked to read about this woman’s conniving and use of other people to achieve her own goals! She was willing to do anything to be at the top of her field and to gain the top post in a school she could mold as she chose!

Timing was on her side as a wealthy Quaker, Joseph Wright Taylor, had died and left a legacy to establish a Quaker college for women. Carey knew she wanted to be head of this school and began to draw up plans for the academic profile of the college. She succeeded in getting herself chosen as the first dean, working with President James E. Rhoads to establish a liberal art college at Bryn Mawr in Philadelphia.

Thomas never married but she had two longtime companions. She lived and traveled with Mamie Gwinn. The author speculates on the nature of their relationship, whether it was a physical love and not only spiritual. Many” love letters ” using pet names and declaring their love for each other are extant.

Mamie Gwinn, Carey's soulmate

Mamie Gwinn, Carey’s soulmate

Later, Carey Thomas forged a deep relationship with Mary Garrett, heir to the Pacific and Ohio Railroad fortune. Garrett made Carey Thomas independent and made many generous contributions that kept the college afloat during rough times.

I picked up this book because there was a photo of her famous aunt inside. Hannah Whitall Smith was a activist and writer, author of my oft-read and dog-eared copy of  The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. This book is a classic and has gone through many printings.

To be honest, I was shocked to read how self-centered and manipulating Carey Thomas was. She was also anti-Semitic, limiting the number of Jewish students and refusing to hire any Jewish professors. Thomas’ racism is also evident when she commented to her nephew while on a trip to Japan,

(the Japanese are) “orientals and savages” and ” in spite of their wonderfully intelligent

government,they can never compete with us. They are radically unintelligent, I feel sure.”

I was interested in reading this thorough and well-researched work on M. Carey Thomas but was very disappointed to learn what kind of a person she was on a human level. I just wouldn’t help comparing her to her famous aunt and thinking that the latter had a life well-lived.

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life                                                                           by Hannah Whitall Smith


I read this every few years after a friend told me about it 20 years ago! Even though some of the examples Hannah uses are a bit out-of-date, the message is so relevant to our lives today. She gives us such a practical application of Biblical truths that we can immediately apply in our day-to-day life.

An exemplary life: Hannah Whitall Smith

An exemplary life: Hannah Whitall Smith

When I reflect on the two lives, I can’t help but think Hannah’s was the more purposeful life. It is true that Carey played an important role in the opening of scholarship and academic life to American women. I am sorry that her personal life was so self-centered and that she held such bigoted opinions, certainly what I wouldn’t have expected from someone who stood for women’s rights.

A Christian classic

A Christian classic

If you have never read Hannah’s book, I would definitely recommend it. It is good read a little at a time and thoughtfully! You can download it for free or read it online:

Here is one idea of hers that helped me through a difficult time. Hannah explains that,  if our life is committed to God, then there are no “second causes.” Whatever comes into my life, God is in it and using it for His glory. Although deeply hurt by my closest friend, after I read what Hannah wrote, I was able not to lay any blame, but to truly say, “I accept this from your hand, Lord, although I don’t understand now.”

This devout Quaker women who was well-known for her work in the women’s suffrage movement, has shared her inner life with us and it is still so applicable in my life now!


5 thoughts on “Two Lives in Perspective

  1. Hannah was a very brave woman who followed her convictions into personal loss. She came to the understanding through much agonizing that all people will eventually find peace with God. She wrote about it in her autobiographical work – “The Unselfishness of God.” But unfortunately most modern editions have deleted 3 of the main chapters of her autobiography! I have written and posted the 3 missing chapters at my blog if any are interested. God bless-

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