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'Coorain' author on campus

Barry McNamara
09/02/2010
Best-selling author Jill Ker Conway will deliver the 2010 Samuel M. Thompson Lecture on Sept. 15 at Monmouth College.

Titled “Thinking About Women,” the free lecture will be presented at 7 p.m. in the Kasch Performance Hall of the college’s Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

A familiar name on the Monmouth campus, Conway’s highly-acclaimed 1989 memoir, “The Road from Coorain,” has been the common reading assignment for the past four years in “Introduction to Liberal Arts,” a required course for Monmouth’s first-year students. The autobiography tells of her early life growing up in Australia in the remote township of Hillston, New South Wales.

In an interview with The New York Times, Conway said that she writes “to communicate to people very directly about the authenticity of women’s motivation for work, about how a person strives to find some creative expression. The moral of my mother’s life was that while she had challenging work, she was indomitable and when she didn’t, she fell apart. It’s very much the vogue to talk about women as developing their moral consciousness through a connectedness to mother, but I think that’s misleading. ‘The Road from Coorain’ is deliberately a story of separation – of independence and breaking away.”

The second installment of her memoirs, “True North,” chronicled her life from 1960, when she left Australia, to 1975, when she became the first woman president of Smith College, where she served for 10 years. “A Woman’s Education,” the third installment, followed in 2001.

In addition to writing autobiographies, Conway has also edited three anthologies of women’s autobiography from around the world, the most recent being “In Her Own Words.”

Conway, who holds 38 honorary degrees from North American and Australian colleges and universities, has served the past 25 years as a visiting scholar and professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program in Science, Technology and Society. A graduate of the University of Sydney, she earned her Ph.D. in history at Harvard in 1969. There, she met her husband, the late John J. Conway, a Canadian war hero and professor of British history.

Her research as a historian has focused on the role of feminism in American history, resulting in such books as “The Female Experience in 18th- and 19th-Century America (1982)” and “Women Reformers and American Culture (1987).”

Samuel M. Thompson, for whom the lecture series is named, served in the philosophy department at Monmouth College for 46 years. After graduating from MC with a degree in English in 1924, he earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy from Princeton University. Most notable among his publications were two popular textbooks: “A Modern Philosophy of Religion” and “The Nature of Philosophy.” Thompson died in 1983.