Patricia Herlihy

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Prof Details Life Of A Married Woman In Academia

University Wire

November 07, 1997

By Caitlin Armistead, Brown Daily Herald

Associate Professor of History Patricia Herlihy spoke at a College Convocation yesterday entitled, "Married Women Need Not Apply." Her speech dealt with her childhood, married life, traveling experiences and how they have given her a great appreciation for the subject of history.

However, along with the great joy all of these have brought her, she has encountered prejudice numerous times because she is a woman, and, in particular, a married woman, Herlihy said.

She began the convocation by describing her unusual early childhood, which began with a voyage to China with her recently divorced mother when she was only six months old. She and her mother lived in China for five years and only left because of the growing threat of a war between Japan and China.

Herlihy had learned several different languages by the time she left China, including Chinese, German -- due to the influence of her German nursery school teacher -- and some English.

"My mother said I came home from school one day singing O Tannenbaum' with a Chinese accent," Herlihy said. "This early exposure to different cultures and different languages made the study of history interesting to me. I had the ability, through the study of history, to add an extension to my own finite life."

Her interest in history was to continue throughout her adolescence, when she met her future husband, David Herlihy, who was to become a medieval historian and professor. With her husband, Herlihy would continue her world travels, living and studying in various cities in Italy, including Naples, Pisa and Florence, as well as living in France for a year.

They also visited many other places, such as Prague and The Netherlands. Her varied experiences include enduring the flood of Florence in the late 1960s and traveling across Italy with a family of nine, or the "Herlihy Menage a Neuf," as she described it. They also visited Prague during the Prague Springtime of 1967, a year before the Soviet tanks arrived.

Herlihy's first experience with prejudice based upon her marital status came when she applied for a job at a small, Catholic women's college near Bryn Mawr, where her husband was teaching.

Upon arrival for an interview for a position as a professor in the history department, she was told, "We don't hire married women."

It was also at this time, around 1963, that the president of Wellesley College remarked in one of her speeches, "Only our failures marry." Herlihy did eventually get a job at another Catholic women's college in the area.

Herlihy's husband was offered the job of chair of medieval history at the University of Wisconsin soon after that, and she and her family, now consisting of four sons, packed up and moved. Herlihy also encountered some resistance in Wisconsin to married female professors.

"There was an unwritten, iron clad, nepotism rule," Herlihy said. "Women married to faculty members need not apply to the same department."

Herlihy was able to teach one course in Russian history as a visiting professor.

"I wasn't sure exactly where I was visiting from," she joked. "The title visiting professor' signified that I need not apply."

Eventually Herlihy was offered the position of chair of the history department at the extension school of Wisconsin, where she stayed until her family's return to Florence.

Upon their return to the United States, Herlihy and her husband went to Harvard, where her husband was given the position of chair of medieval history.

"Not only were there no wives in the medieval history department, there were no women at all," Herlihy said. She proceeded to teach a course in Russian history at the Harvard Extension School.

Herlihy continued her world travels and her research, and, in 1985, went to Odessa, a city in what is now the Ukraine, for three months. Upon her return, she and her husband were offered tenured positions at Emory University. While they were considering whether to take them, Brown made a similar offer which they accepted.

"I am grateful to Brown for allowing a married woman to apply," Herlihy said.

Herlihy's most recent work, which is almost ready for publication, is on the problem of alcohol in Russia and the temperance movement to combat it.

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