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The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

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An important debut work of narrative nonfiction: the timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, stepping outside the domestic sphere and shaping the course of feminism in ways that still resonate today. In 1960, at the height of an era that expected wo An important debut work of narrative nonfiction: the timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, stepping outside the domestic sphere and shaping the course of feminism in ways that still resonate today. In 1960, at the height of an era that expected women to focus solely on raising families, Radcliffe College announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, offering fellowships to women with a PhD or "the equivalent" in artistic success. Acclaimed writer and Harvard lecturer Maggie Doherty introduces us to five brilliant friends--poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen--who came together at the Institute and would go on to make history. Drawing from their notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, journals, and finished works, Doherty weaves from these women's own voices a moving narrative of friendship, ambition, activism, and art. Beautifully written and urgently told, The Equivalents shows us where we've been--and inspires us to go forward.


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An important debut work of narrative nonfiction: the timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, stepping outside the domestic sphere and shaping the course of feminism in ways that still resonate today. In 1960, at the height of an era that expected wo An important debut work of narrative nonfiction: the timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, stepping outside the domestic sphere and shaping the course of feminism in ways that still resonate today. In 1960, at the height of an era that expected women to focus solely on raising families, Radcliffe College announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, offering fellowships to women with a PhD or "the equivalent" in artistic success. Acclaimed writer and Harvard lecturer Maggie Doherty introduces us to five brilliant friends--poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen--who came together at the Institute and would go on to make history. Drawing from their notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, journals, and finished works, Doherty weaves from these women's own voices a moving narrative of friendship, ambition, activism, and art. Beautifully written and urgently told, The Equivalents shows us where we've been--and inspires us to go forward.

30 review for The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    In 1960, Radcliffe College launched a pioneer program , the Institute of Independent studies. It's goal was to foster the talent of those women who were stuck at home, raising children, without a space to call their own. It offered these women a stipend for childcare or household help, a office of their own at the institution and free access to the library. These five women, Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, posts, Barbara Swan a painter, a sculptor, Mariana Pineda and Tillie Olsen, a writer. Althou In 1960, Radcliffe College launched a pioneer program , the Institute of Independent studies. It's goal was to foster the talent of those women who were stuck at home, raising children, without a space to call their own. It offered these women a stipend for childcare or household help, a office of their own at the institution and free access to the library. These five women, Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, posts, Barbara Swan a painter, a sculptor, Mariana Pineda and Tillie Olsen, a writer. Although it was stated that this program was for women with degrees, it was also stated that the equivalency in work or talent could also apply. These five women were without official college credentials and hence were known as the Equivalents. I loved this book, a cultural biography of the times but also an in-depth look at these women and their lives, prior to the program and after. It focuses quite often on the complicated friendship between Anne Sexton, Kumin and Olsen. There are many different women mentioned in this book, Virginia Woolf of course and her Room of my Own, Sylvia Plath, whose talent was astonishing but not enough to overcome life's obstacles. The groundbreaking Feminine Mystique, trailblazers all, some successful, some not. It is a wonderful look at women who transcended their expected roles and wanted more. Not all would find it, but many did.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Equivalents was a fascinating and extensively researched debut non-fiction work by author Maggie Doherty. The book primarily focused on the groundbreaking program developed by Radcliffe in 1961 offering a small selected group of gifted women artists the opportunity to avail themselves of the resources they needed to succeed, namely, fellowship money, office space and access to a professional and creative female community for two years. It was limited to twenty-four women. However, Doherty pr The Equivalents was a fascinating and extensively researched debut non-fiction work by author Maggie Doherty. The book primarily focused on the groundbreaking program developed by Radcliffe in 1961 offering a small selected group of gifted women artists the opportunity to avail themselves of the resources they needed to succeed, namely, fellowship money, office space and access to a professional and creative female community for two years. It was limited to twenty-four women. However, Doherty primarily focused on the relationship and work of poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin as well as writer Tillie Olsen. She also explored the creative process inherent in the sculptures of Marianna Pineda and the art work and portraits by Barbara Swan. As these women came together in collaboration and support of one another the institute for most was nothing short of life-changing. This was very a well written and compelling work that not only explores the history of that time but all that still needs to be done. "This book is about a small group of women writers and artists who operated as a hinge between the 1950s and 1960s, between a decade of women's confinement and a decade of women's liberation. It tells the story of their careers, their friendships, and their art as a way of describing how and why the feminist movement reemerged in 1960s America. But the book is also about their particularities, their inner lives, their conflicts. It attends to the rich, idiosyncratic, loving, competitive relationships that form between women--the kinds of relationships that so often go unexamined and unrecognized." ----- Maggie Doherty, Introduction to The Equivalents

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    I’ve been mired in thrillers for so long I had forgotten how much I enjoy well written and well researched biographies about the artistic with literary biographies being among my favorites. This group biography of Anne Sexton, Tillie Olsen, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, and Mariana Pineda checked all of the boxes. Rather than an in-depth biography of each woman, THE EQUIVALENTS mainly focuses on their friendships which developed as fellowship recipients of an inaugural program at Radcliffe College I’ve been mired in thrillers for so long I had forgotten how much I enjoy well written and well researched biographies about the artistic with literary biographies being among my favorites. This group biography of Anne Sexton, Tillie Olsen, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, and Mariana Pineda checked all of the boxes. Rather than an in-depth biography of each woman, THE EQUIVALENTS mainly focuses on their friendships which developed as fellowship recipients of an inaugural program at Radcliffe College intended to provide a room of one’s own, financial independence, and artistic support to further their scholarly and artistic work during the 60’s when women were expected to be the angels in the home. The candidates were required to possess the equivalent of a PhD. This nonfiction account of brilliant women pursuing their art is fascinating and satisfying. We’ve come a long way baby but there is so much farther to go.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James

    The book is wonderful: elegantly-written, humane and urgent. For anyone in quarantine, it's a reminder of the joys and struggles of a prior generation of remarkable women. The book is wonderful: elegantly-written, humane and urgent. For anyone in quarantine, it's a reminder of the joys and struggles of a prior generation of remarkable women.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Campbell Ackroyd

    I truly enjoyed listening to and reading this book. I sometimes kept walking longer in the morning just so I could finish the chapter. I am just slightly younger than the generation of women the book is about; I came of age a decade later, in the 1970s, so I remember a lot about the women's movement but I was more in that "tweeny" kind of generation. Still told by my Edwardian-era parents that college was a waste for women but encouraged by my 10-year-older sister to go to college anyway. I only I truly enjoyed listening to and reading this book. I sometimes kept walking longer in the morning just so I could finish the chapter. I am just slightly younger than the generation of women the book is about; I came of age a decade later, in the 1970s, so I remember a lot about the women's movement but I was more in that "tweeny" kind of generation. Still told by my Edwardian-era parents that college was a waste for women but encouraged by my 10-year-older sister to go to college anyway. I only knew of two of the women profiled in the book--Sexton and Plath--as I am not a great reader of poetry and am not that familiar with American women painters and sculptors. I know them now that and will be reading more. As a writer manqué, I envied the opportunities these creative women--Sexton, Kumin, Swan, Olsen, Pineda--had to be able to work, study, have their writings published and supported. I gobbled up the descriptions of their writings, the examples of their poetry, their "artistic" lives and I actually bought the book (I started this on Audible) so I could see the photos of the women and of Pineda's sculptures and Swan's drawings/paintings. In the end I couldn't find a photo of Pineda's sculptures so looked them up on Google; wonderful. Doherty of course covers the dark side of creativity--Sexton's and Plath's suicides, Olsen's and Kumin's self doubt--and tries to explain as much as possible what might have caused it and how it affected each one's work. One of the ongoing themes throughout the book--Sexton's mental illness--was especially poignant as it was so much more than depression. As a reader, I appreciated Doherty's meticulous research and reflective writing. It seemed whenever I had a question as I read--these women were so "privileged", could I relate to them today? She answered by acknowledging the privilege but then going deep to explore it. She covers the black women's movement with sensitivity, acknowledging it isn't "her" experience to write, explaining historically and logistically the problems that black woman have had with the women's movement, profiling Alice Walker in her time at the Radcliffe Institute, and does it with original sources, letters by or to the people themselves. Articles they wrote, poetry and stories they wrote. I especially liked the quote that Doherty uses from Tillie Olsen--"There's nothing wrong with privilege except that not everybody has it." I think that is really what this book is about. There is nothing wrong with women (or men for that matter) having wonderful experiences, contracts, grants, prizes, awarded to them. The problem is that it isn't an even field because so many people, because of work, family, education, remain hidden even though they are just as talented as the artists portrayed in this book. Truly, Virginia Woolf's comments about women needing money, education, time and a "room of one's one" are just as true today. I am glad that Doherty brings that out in this book. Her writing, although well researched academically, is approachable. No acadspeak: sociological or historical jargon. I think she really did cover the flavor of women's "place" in society in the 1950s and 1960s very well and anyone of my generation (born in the 1950s) would enjoy reading it for that alone. If you wonder about the artist's life and how a modern artist is inspired by/hampered by her environment, this is a great book. I also think it is an important book for younger women (and men) to read so that they can think about their own places--those they inherited and those they want to fight for. A great book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    spoko

    A good book, especially if you're particularly interested in one or more of the women in the group (personally, I picked it up due to an interest in Tillie Olsen). But it does go on some pretty lengthy asides and overly long descriptions, which don't add much to the whole. Should have been a fair bit shorter. A good book, especially if you're particularly interested in one or more of the women in the group (personally, I picked it up due to an interest in Tillie Olsen). But it does go on some pretty lengthy asides and overly long descriptions, which don't add much to the whole. Should have been a fair bit shorter.

  7. 4 out of 5

    S

    This is largely an interesting and well-written group biography of five women who were awarded paid fellowships by Radcliffe in 1960. The Institute for Independent Study was revolutionary, though no one involved thought of it that way; it was one of the first efforts to try and combat women's underrepresentation in higher learning and post-graduate careers. The book focuses on the five women who were admitted with no PhD, but the "equivalent" of one in the form of a portfolio of artistic achieve This is largely an interesting and well-written group biography of five women who were awarded paid fellowships by Radcliffe in 1960. The Institute for Independent Study was revolutionary, though no one involved thought of it that way; it was one of the first efforts to try and combat women's underrepresentation in higher learning and post-graduate careers. The book focuses on the five women who were admitted with no PhD, but the "equivalent" of one in the form of a portfolio of artistic achievement: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Swan, and Maria Pineda. There is an odd mismatch here between the jacket description and the actual book, since Pineda and Swan get very little focus; the real heart of the book is Sexton, Kumin, and their friendship, with a healthy subplot about Olsen, and it's not really clear why the book wasn't sold on that basis. And the descriptions of some of the Institute members backgrounded here are so interesting that I wished the book had a more general focus. When introducing educational psychologist Alma Wittlin, the only single woman in the group, Doherty notes that in 1960, only eight percent of American women over twenty-five had never been married. What! More about Wittlin, please. Unfortunately there's only one further mention of her in the book, a brief one. Doherty is, mostly, a thoughtful writer: she's writing a book about the constraints felt by white, middle-class women the 1950s and 1960s, and she does so without either ignoring their privilege or by understating the misogyny that they faced. That's very unusual, and it impressed me. The book increasingly shifts, as it goes on, to the struggles of working class and black women in the academy. (Alice Walker was a later Institute resident; one of the later chapters in the book, "Springs of Creativity", details the efforts that she and other black women made to publish and rediscover black women writers, and to include their work as part of the commonly studied literary canon). One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was to see how the author dealt with Anne Sexton's sexual abuse of her daughter. The book is largely centered around Sexton and her experiences; her picture is the one on the cover. It's a challenging subject, and the answer is that Doherty doesn't deal with it at all. It goes completely unmentioned, even in the footnotes. Doherty cites Linda Gray Sexton numerous times, so she clearly considers her a reliable source. Just not in this instance. This isn't a surprising omission, not really; if you want to write about Sexton as an important feminist writer, completely eliding the issue makes your life a whole lot easier. A big part of the book is Sexton's struggles with the roles of wife and mother, and the poetry (including poems about her relationship with Gray Sexton) that resulted. Domestic life takes up a huge part of the book. But Doherty carefully doesn't mention the part that would probably have destroyed a good chunk of the audience's ability to emphasize with Sexton's struggles. I started to feel increasingly crazy as the book went on, and then while reading reviews for the book — which were critical of the book's tilted focus, but never mentioned the part I took issue with. I was questioning my own memory before I looked at Sexton's Wikipedia page, where the allegations are mentioned in the introductory paragraph. It's not exactly hidden. From the epilogue: I began writing it in the late fall of the same year [2016], following the election of Donald Trump — a man who has been accused multiple times of sexual assault. I mean, fuck Trump. But what a disturbing sentence in context. I'm not sure if the difference is that one person being sexually assaulted is fine and not really worth mentioning, or if it's just that Doherty likes Sexton and dislikes Trump, and so evaluates the importance of the accusations differently. How should a book about a feminist icon, which largely believes in that woman's importance as a writer and a pioneer in her field, handle accusations of the same woman sexually abusing a child? With great difficulty, I guess. I certainly don't envy any of Sexton's biographers the task. But the effort would have made for a better, more difficult book, or at least one that isn't centered around a gaping moral absence.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    4.5, rounded up. Really interesting, but for people interested in Barbara Swan or Marianna Peneda, this book will fall a bit short. I was in it to learn about the authors and poets, and they make up the bulk of the book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This book is very good, and goes beyond a simple story of the writers at the Bunting Institute. What she does really well in this book is to use the women artists & writers as exemplars of this time and to contextualize them within what was happening with women at the time. I think she's a good writer and she did so much research, and it shows. She does a good job of expanding beyond the upper class, educated world of some of these women to talk about who was excluded and the elusiveness of creati This book is very good, and goes beyond a simple story of the writers at the Bunting Institute. What she does really well in this book is to use the women artists & writers as exemplars of this time and to contextualize them within what was happening with women at the time. I think she's a good writer and she did so much research, and it shows. She does a good job of expanding beyond the upper class, educated world of some of these women to talk about who was excluded and the elusiveness of creativity for those who have to work full-time, especially at blue collar jobs. She did a good job of outlining the birth of women's studies programs and how Tillie Olsen and Alice Walker and others contributed to that field. I feel like this is a really important piece of history, not just about these few women, The Equivalents of the title, but for creative women and working women. In the end, I do think it is a tragedy that the Bunting Institute is no longer dedicated to helping women, because I don't think it's all that much easier to be a working woman/mother, whether you are a writer, artist, scientist, or whatever. I still think working mothers face a lot of difficulty in maintaining a creative or critical practice and that as a society we still have pretty far to go in supporting that work. Highly recommend this book!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    The story of 5 Radcliffe women I’m the 50s, 60s, who had a hand in shaping current feminist perspectives.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I had no idea this program existed. At Radcliffe, in the early sixties, a program was started to help women, mostly those who already had advanced degrees and who had started on a career in writing, the arts, or sciences, continue their scholarship for a period of about two years. They got "rooms of their own"--offices and studios and places to work--and they got stipends they could use to offset living expenses or hire child care; they got access to the resources of Harvard and Radcliffe; and t I had no idea this program existed. At Radcliffe, in the early sixties, a program was started to help women, mostly those who already had advanced degrees and who had started on a career in writing, the arts, or sciences, continue their scholarship for a period of about two years. They got "rooms of their own"--offices and studios and places to work--and they got stipends they could use to offset living expenses or hire child care; they got access to the resources of Harvard and Radcliffe; and they got a community. Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Tille Olsen, and two artists I was unfamiliar with, Barbara Swan and Marianne Pineda, are the women whose stories comprise the the main portion of the book, though Sylvia Plath and some others make appearances later on. Fascinating, informative, absorbing book about how women in general, and these women in particular, could, with enough support, see their work and creative energies come to impressive fruition.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Bright

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    They were "The Equivalents" not because they were equal to men, but because to earn a Radcliffe quasi "genius grant" in the 1960s, women had to have "the equivalent" of a PhD. The book focuses on five women, including familiar poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. But you also get to meet painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, perhaps, like me, for the first time. Pineda, especially, seems a model of how doing your own thing can make you very content. But it is the writer Tillie Olsen, who They were "The Equivalents" not because they were equal to men, but because to earn a Radcliffe quasi "genius grant" in the 1960s, women had to have "the equivalent" of a PhD. The book focuses on five women, including familiar poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. But you also get to meet painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, perhaps, like me, for the first time. Pineda, especially, seems a model of how doing your own thing can make you very content. But it is the writer Tillie Olsen, whose short story "Tell Me A Riddle" still haunts me 30 years after reading it, is the real challenge. Olsen had to work for a living most of her life, and this inability to focus on her writing frustrated her academic peers. A good portion of the book is taken up with description of how Olsen procrastinated and doubted herself, which I can read very similar descriptions of in my own diaries. While it is helpful to see this close up, a little more narrative shaping of Olsen's struggles would have made the story more fluid.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Boyle-Taylor

    The Equivalents is a story that did need to be told, as Radcliffe's experiment was part of a burgeoning era to deal with the inequality of gender in America's post-war life. As I knew much about Anne Sexton already, I anticipated an exploration into the lives of the other grant recipients. Marianna Pineda, in particular, was a fascinating sculptor who receives little recognition today. Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of scholarly information on the other participants, and I was unhappy The Equivalents is a story that did need to be told, as Radcliffe's experiment was part of a burgeoning era to deal with the inequality of gender in America's post-war life. As I knew much about Anne Sexton already, I anticipated an exploration into the lives of the other grant recipients. Marianna Pineda, in particular, was a fascinating sculptor who receives little recognition today. Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of scholarly information on the other participants, and I was unhappy with the extreme focus on Sexton, including repetition of her thoughts and behaviour. As Doherty had researched both Swan's and Pineda's archive in the Smithsonian, I was amazed by the lack of material presented. There was also a lack of disclosure about the bias of Radcliffe's awarding of the grants, as Doherty did not address its white privileged choices until later, and then only lightly. Only when Alice Walker joined the ranks of these women, did she discuss this issue briefly. Doherty made a great deal about the applications of the chosen women, but it seems highly unlikely that Radcliffe did not know that their lives intersected previously, even if only through letters. What about the other applicants? Doherty's thesis is narrow, supposedly (she puts in a great deal about Betty Friedan and Sylvia Plath as well, who were not part of the experiment) focusing on the five women; a better book on the experiment might have been to include the other 30 odd women involved. I understand Doherty's fascination with Sexton, as she ascended to greater celebrity than the others, however part of the study of that celebrity should have looked at the larger cultural phenomenon of the time. In the mid-sixties, there were several actresses, singers, and socialites who had a similar look - Anouk Aimee and Anne Bancroft come to mind - who have similar characteristics, sleek dark hair, an elegant stature, wide facial features, etc. It was a "look" that dominated the era. Having seen Sexton at a reading in early 1970s (and also emulating her as a writer), I was starstruck myself by her confidence. But Doherty's writing falls flat when trying to capture that feeling: "Sexton always dressed carefully, applying the right lipstick and picking out the perfect jewelry." "Right", "perfect"? Generalities like this, do not describe. Doherty redeems herself for me a bit, as she moves into the women's liberation movement in the later chapters, but the book is surprisingly unfocused in the early sections, when discussing Friedan and Plath. Since I am interested in all these women and topics, I gave the book four stars, but it seems pretty rough to me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Keenan

    Plenty of important and interesting social experiments were done in the 50s and the 60s: names like Timothy Leary and B.F.Skinner and Phillip Zimbardo come to mind, helping to cement these two decades as ones of radical change and social upheaval. Lesser known perhaps in this history is the Radcliffe Fellowship experiment, designed by one Laura Bunting to realize the potential of well-educated women (or those of equivalent talent), largely mothers, towards great creative and scientific endeavour Plenty of important and interesting social experiments were done in the 50s and the 60s: names like Timothy Leary and B.F.Skinner and Phillip Zimbardo come to mind, helping to cement these two decades as ones of radical change and social upheaval. Lesser known perhaps in this history is the Radcliffe Fellowship experiment, designed by one Laura Bunting to realize the potential of well-educated women (or those of equivalent talent), largely mothers, towards great creative and scientific endeavours by providing them with the necessary resources (stipend, office, the Harvard library). The author of this non-fiction work largely focusses on five women, two poets (Anne Sexton and Maxime Kumin), an author (Tillie Olsen), a painter (Barbara Swan), and a sculptor (Marianna Pineda), delving into their lives with a particular focus on their time spent with the Institute, giving seminars and forging friendships. Lives of other fellows, people connected to the experiment, and other figures in 60s poetry and feminism also come and go in this book. Leaving aside the extremely problematic fact that the rosy picture painted of Sexton, the most prominent fellow in this text, leaves out important allegations of abuse from her children, this book in many ways leaves much to be desired. First, there's a lot of extraneous stuff that could have easily been cut out: for example, there's a five page build-up to one of Olsen's speeches to her fellows despite the fact that it received a lukewarm reception and generally wasn't very clear. Second, it becomes clear that there's only so many hundreds of pages that can be written about an academic fellowship, and the author takes every opportunity available to go off on tangents about Sylvia Plath or Betty Friedan, giving me the impression that this whole work would have been better off as two or three essays. I wouldn't recommend reading this as I think there are much better accounts of the progression of feminism and gender equality in the US in this time period, and while the women in this book unquestionably led interesting lives (especially compared to the average white middle-class American housewife at the time), the finer details of their relationships and worries and friendships is not suited for a general audience.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lisa-Michele

    In 1960, Radcliffe conducted an intriguing experiment when it invited “intellectually displaced women” to join a special scholar’s program for one year where they could theoretically pursue their art. Talented women who would later become famous – Anne Sexton, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Swan, Marianne Pineda, Maxine Kumin – were drawn there and this book documents their experience. I struggled mightily with the premises of the experiment, which targeted privileged white women with children who presum In 1960, Radcliffe conducted an intriguing experiment when it invited “intellectually displaced women” to join a special scholar’s program for one year where they could theoretically pursue their art. Talented women who would later become famous – Anne Sexton, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Swan, Marianne Pineda, Maxine Kumin – were drawn there and this book documents their experience. I struggled mightily with the premises of the experiment, which targeted privileged white women with children who presumably needed help with work space, money and “being taken seriously.” Hmmm. Much ado was made about the drain of child-rearing and housework on the artist’s life. I wanted women to have these opportunities, of course, but was stopped in my tracks by the pervasive paternalism and apologetic tone of the experiment. I tried hard to appreciate the times they lived in. Consider these phrases: “Radcliffe Launching Plan to Get Brainy Women out of the Kitchen,” “Studying, in appropriate doses, mixes wonderfully well with homemaking,” “Every one of these neat little brick houses has at least one woman who doesn’t seem to have enough to do.” Okay, enough of my soapbox. The best parts of the book were the stories of the individual women and their friendships. I loved learning more about Tillie Olsen, who crafted a writing career from fits and starts while raising four children and a grandchild. She was already middle-aged when she came to the Institute and she boldly embraced her family life as part of her gift as a writer. Anne Sexton was a troubled and mercurial poet on the verge of publishing in the big time when she arrived at Radcliffe in the last years of her too-short life. The women became genuine friends and mentors for each other. After the initial class there were black artists admitted such as Alice Walker, Alice Childress, and Florence Ladd. The stories of the women’s friendships, especially their correspondence, was riveting and illuminating. I finished the book thinking anew about the myriad ways that women push through the complexities of their lives – lives they choose and lives that are thrust upon them – to express their gifts.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Himanshi Yadav

    I absolutely admired this extensively researched, fascinating scholarly narrative by Doherty. Right from the start of the chapter describing the classroom of John Holmes and Sexton’s soul-stirring anxiety till the end of the book chartering the lives and accomplished works of the Radcliffe Women fellows. Although it is a non-fiction account of some dazzling pioneering women who were way ahead of their time shaping the present day feminism thought and culture, I particularly loved the way it is w I absolutely admired this extensively researched, fascinating scholarly narrative by Doherty. Right from the start of the chapter describing the classroom of John Holmes and Sexton’s soul-stirring anxiety till the end of the book chartering the lives and accomplished works of the Radcliffe Women fellows. Although it is a non-fiction account of some dazzling pioneering women who were way ahead of their time shaping the present day feminism thought and culture, I particularly loved the way it is written like a story of friendship, community and womanhood. Although after reading the epilogue, I am a bit perplexed by the author’s views and her proclamation to have another ‘messy experiment’ It is important to look back in history especially of literature in order to understand the culture differences and issues of today, in my case to stumble upon a particular person who stirs and reverberates my existing thoughts and my creative process. I am in debt to this book for introducing me to Tillie Olsen, one of the five ‘equivalents’ / fellows who joined the institute in 1961. Her sheer honesty and vivacity, and her seminar talk ‘Death of the Creative Process’ bedazzled me that I ended up reading so many articles on her life and works. This book is utterly mesmerising, influential and thought-provoking delving in to the genius minds of both popular and unappreciated poets/writers/artists of the twentieth century who unknowingly influenced various radical movements of the future.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is one of the most thought provoking things I've read this year. I long for the sorts of opportunities the women who were part of the Radcliffe Institute were given. I relate deeply to their struggles and issues. I also know I would never have been selected if I had lived then with the credits I have now. I appreciate how this book shows us the wonders, the challenges and the failures of this experiment. It is a complicated and textured look at women's friendships. And even more specificall This is one of the most thought provoking things I've read this year. I long for the sorts of opportunities the women who were part of the Radcliffe Institute were given. I relate deeply to their struggles and issues. I also know I would never have been selected if I had lived then with the credits I have now. I appreciate how this book shows us the wonders, the challenges and the failures of this experiment. It is a complicated and textured look at women's friendships. And even more specifically, women artist's friendships. I am now very curious about this moment in the women's movement and all the artists who appear in this book. I'm sure reading it will lead me to many other discoveries. Things that popped out at me that I can't stop thinking about: Maxine Kumin needing her husband to sign something with his boss as a witness to prove that her poems were her work so that they could be published. Anne Sexton's tenacity and fervor in getting Tillie Olsen to Radcliffe and all the ways Sexton supported her friends. Also, her swimming pool for which she caught so much guff but which sounded like a lifeline for her and her community.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    Before reading this I knew virtually nothing about Anne Sexton, so it’s always a crapshoot to dive into a biography about someone one has no background on. And after reading it, I’m not sure that I’ll peruse more of Sexton’s work, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this work by Maggie Doherty. It’s such a well written and engrossing account of what could have been an otherwise dry tale of a depressive poet’s life. The author covers other ground here besides Sexton, namely the women’s rights Before reading this I knew virtually nothing about Anne Sexton, so it’s always a crapshoot to dive into a biography about someone one has no background on. And after reading it, I’m not sure that I’ll peruse more of Sexton’s work, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this work by Maggie Doherty. It’s such a well written and engrossing account of what could have been an otherwise dry tale of a depressive poet’s life. The author covers other ground here besides Sexton, namely the women’s rights movement in the 60’s and quite a bit of background on Radcliffe. The parts on Betty Friedan were quite interesting and did not realize the schisms that developed in the movement and the different factions within it. Sexton was weaved in and out of all of this, and it was sad to read of her tribulations and demise. However, I very much hope to see a new work from Doherty in the future, definitely an author on my “to-read” list for sure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kappy

    A very interesting book and well researched. I was graduated from college in 1970 so reaped the rewards of women who were bold in previous decades, but still experienced male dominance. In college I was treated equally but was shocked at how invisible I became in the working world and certain areas of life. I could not have a credit card in my own name - only my husband could have the account. My one concern was the impression that the author seemed to view the "suburban women, housewives" as if A very interesting book and well researched. I was graduated from college in 1970 so reaped the rewards of women who were bold in previous decades, but still experienced male dominance. In college I was treated equally but was shocked at how invisible I became in the working world and certain areas of life. I could not have a credit card in my own name - only my husband could have the account. My one concern was the impression that the author seemed to view the "suburban women, housewives" as if they were one entity and a bit boring. Certainly many women were not as bold or assertive as the ones featured in the book. However, I think of my grandmother, mother and aunt who did not push against societal restraints but were not passive or uninteresting. They may have wished for more in life (I wish I could interview them now) but they contributed to their communities and expressed themselves in varied ways.

  21. 5 out of 5

    litost

    Tells the story of five women who attended the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study in the early 1960s: Anne Sexton, poet; Maxine Kumin, poet; Tillie Olsen, writer; Barbara Swan, painter; Marianna Pineda, sculptor. It’s hard to describe this book. Is it the history of the early years of the Radcliffe Institute? Could be, but seems like a lot of work for such a small program (24 women in 1961, 17 more in 1962). Is it the story of five brilliant, passionate women? It’s more like a biography o Tells the story of five women who attended the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study in the early 1960s: Anne Sexton, poet; Maxine Kumin, poet; Tillie Olsen, writer; Barbara Swan, painter; Marianna Pineda, sculptor. It’s hard to describe this book. Is it the history of the early years of the Radcliffe Institute? Could be, but seems like a lot of work for such a small program (24 women in 1961, 17 more in 1962). Is it the story of five brilliant, passionate women? It’s more like a biography of Anne Sexton; or perhaps a study of the friendship between Maxine Kumin and Sexton (Olsen receives some space, but Swan and Pineda not very much; non-Institute women Sylvia Plath and Betty Friedan receive as much). Is it a history of early second-wave feminism? If so, it may have been better to devote the book to that rather than needing to link the larger events back to the Radcliffe Institute. Well written, easy to read, recommended for those interested in the topic.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Suju

    I loved this book. It hits a sweet spot for me - women writers and artists finding their voice and coming together in this case at a first of its kind institute based at Radcliffe which supported mainly mothers who were also artists. The book focuses primarily on Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin and Tillie Olsen, though there are two visual artists we learn about as well. It was a fascinating look at these women and their work and the friendships they formed. I have to admit I got a little thrown when I loved this book. It hits a sweet spot for me - women writers and artists finding their voice and coming together in this case at a first of its kind institute based at Radcliffe which supported mainly mothers who were also artists. The book focuses primarily on Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin and Tillie Olsen, though there are two visual artists we learn about as well. It was a fascinating look at these women and their work and the friendships they formed. I have to admit I got a little thrown when on some side reading about Sexton I learned that her daughter accused her of sexual abuse, it seems fairly credibly, while also saying that Sexton herself was likely abused. That obviously made me think of Sexton differently and I wish the author - who does talk about some of Sexton's poor mothering - had at least alluded to this issue. Felt intentionally omitted. That said, I loved the book and highly recommend it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alan Asnen

    This was an immediate must-read for me. As soon as I saw Anne Sexton’s name mentioned. When I was a freshman in high school a friend read to me her poem, “Cinderella,” and I was forever changed. Indeed, he didn’t read it so much as he acted it out. We started our own poetry magazine on the spot. It was a momentous occasion in many ways. Sexton is one of several figures in this history of friends who met through fate before the women’s movement took shape, as Radcliffe decided to offer a program f This was an immediate must-read for me. As soon as I saw Anne Sexton’s name mentioned. When I was a freshman in high school a friend read to me her poem, “Cinderella,” and I was forever changed. Indeed, he didn’t read it so much as he acted it out. We started our own poetry magazine on the spot. It was a momentous occasion in many ways. Sexton is one of several figures in this history of friends who met through fate before the women’s movement took shape, as Radcliffe decided to offer a program for “cultured” women who had the “equivalent” through their work of a PhD. Of course, Sexton qualified, as did Maxine Kumin and Tillie Olsen, as well as artists Barbara Swan and Marianna Pineda. At times it seems absurd how undramatic some of the stories play out until you remember this was sixty years ago when, despite being a “women’s college,” such things were almost unheard of.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I skimmed this book. I lived through these two decades, so it was all pretty familiar, in some ways a history of the first two decades of the second wave feminist movement, how rising feminism and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe impacted these literary women. . . . I was most interested in what I learned about Tillie Olsen and her book Silences, which was important to me in college, and for what I learned about the relationship between Anne Sexton and the poet Maxine Kumin. I hadn't realized I skimmed this book. I lived through these two decades, so it was all pretty familiar, in some ways a history of the first two decades of the second wave feminist movement, how rising feminism and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe impacted these literary women. . . . I was most interested in what I learned about Tillie Olsen and her book Silences, which was important to me in college, and for what I learned about the relationship between Anne Sexton and the poet Maxine Kumin. I hadn't realized they knew each other, and apparently they were very, very close, calling each other on the phone every day, reading their poems to each other. When another poet at the Bunting Institute asked Sexton how she knew when a poem she had written was finished, she said, "I ask Maxine." But what a difficult friend Anne Sexton must have been!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aurelie

    Rating: 4.5 stars. The book is about the first few years of a new Radcliffe fellowship program for creative women (writers, mathematicians, etc) who had been sidetracked from fulfilling their potential due to family duties and just plain life in those days. The inaugural cohort included Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. By now those are well-researched literary figures but the Radcliffe angle allowed fresh insights. My favorite chapters were those about writer Tillie Olsen, whom I had never heard ab Rating: 4.5 stars. The book is about the first few years of a new Radcliffe fellowship program for creative women (writers, mathematicians, etc) who had been sidetracked from fulfilling their potential due to family duties and just plain life in those days. The inaugural cohort included Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. By now those are well-researched literary figures but the Radcliffe angle allowed fresh insights. My favorite chapters were those about writer Tillie Olsen, whom I had never heard about (especially her social activism and her speech about what kills creativity) and, in the last part of the book, Alice Walker. Below is Tillie Olsen's obituary published in the Stanford Report when she died at 2007 at age 94. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/j...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Valeri Drach

    If you want to learn about the lives of women and the changes they went through from the 1950s through the 1970s this is the book for you. If you are especially interested in the poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Cumin this is certainly the non fiction work for you. Tillie Olsen is also discussed and her contributions politically on behalf of working women. Doherty’s research is impeccable and very touching especially about the two poets. Sextons demons and Kumin’s strength shine through as does thei If you want to learn about the lives of women and the changes they went through from the 1950s through the 1970s this is the book for you. If you are especially interested in the poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Cumin this is certainly the non fiction work for you. Tillie Olsen is also discussed and her contributions politically on behalf of working women. Doherty’s research is impeccable and very touching especially about the two poets. Sextons demons and Kumin’s strength shine through as does their relations with the academic world and their families during the frustrating years of the 50s and 60s. Women find everything they need at the Radcliffe Institute, a room of their own, resources and a sense of community.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    At first I felt I should be put off because this book was about privileged white women, but I kept going because the author addressed that throughout the book and also because I was fascinated despite myself, especially reading about the male-dominated poetry scene during that time and the writers I read in grad school but don't mean anything to me now (or, I suspect, to any but academic poets) because the poetry scene now is so diffuse, with so many DIY writers and publishers. Confessional poet At first I felt I should be put off because this book was about privileged white women, but I kept going because the author addressed that throughout the book and also because I was fascinated despite myself, especially reading about the male-dominated poetry scene during that time and the writers I read in grad school but don't mean anything to me now (or, I suspect, to any but academic poets) because the poetry scene now is so diffuse, with so many DIY writers and publishers. Confessional poetry is so taken for granted now, it's hard to remember it was such a challenge to the establishment back then.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Not sure why I liked it so much, I don't generally read nonfiction, but the stories of these poets and artists was fascinating. They were Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Swan and Mariana Pineda. It took place mostly in the 60s and 70s and focused on 5 artists and their relationships with each other. All had been accepted into the Radcliffe Institute and were supported in their craft, in a time when women were not appreciated. It was well written, compelling and made me want to r Not sure why I liked it so much, I don't generally read nonfiction, but the stories of these poets and artists was fascinating. They were Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Swan and Mariana Pineda. It took place mostly in the 60s and 70s and focused on 5 artists and their relationships with each other. All had been accepted into the Radcliffe Institute and were supported in their craft, in a time when women were not appreciated. It was well written, compelling and made me want to read the three poets. It talked about their read lives, and how they managed their children and households in addition to their art. I highly recommend it!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    In 1960 Ratcliffe College launched a program to jump start the careers of women who had been sidelined by motherhood. They were looking for women with PhDs or the equivalent. The Equivalents looks at the founding of the program and the deep friendships that grew out of it focusing on 5 women including poets Anne Sexton and Maxime Kunin. The book shines when it talks about their deep friendship and is great at placing their growing feminism in the context of the cold war. Unfortunately it was a b In 1960 Ratcliffe College launched a program to jump start the careers of women who had been sidelined by motherhood. They were looking for women with PhDs or the equivalent. The Equivalents looks at the founding of the program and the deep friendships that grew out of it focusing on 5 women including poets Anne Sexton and Maxime Kunin. The book shines when it talks about their deep friendship and is great at placing their growing feminism in the context of the cold war. Unfortunately it was a bit repetitive and did not hold my attention. There were a few photos in the book, would have liked to see more of the artwork and poems.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    This is a fascinating, if a bit dry, discussion of an experiment designed to empower women artists by giving them the time and money they needed to pursue their art. Radcliffe decided to offer this program to women - all married - who had left their promising careers in the days when that was what good girls did, in the hope that they could jump start their careers. There were mixed opinions of how the program would do - and mixed results, Maggie Doherty's recounting of 5 of the women in the progr This is a fascinating, if a bit dry, discussion of an experiment designed to empower women artists by giving them the time and money they needed to pursue their art. Radcliffe decided to offer this program to women - all married - who had left their promising careers in the days when that was what good girls did, in the hope that they could jump start their careers. There were mixed opinions of how the program would do - and mixed results, Maggie Doherty's recounting of 5 of the women in the program is enlightening and well worth the time to read.

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