Sue Young Histories

Marion Talbot 1858 - 1948

May 20, 2008

American Association of University
WomenMarion Talbot 1858 - 1948 daughter of homeopath Israel Tisdale Talbot and niece of Nancy Talbot Clark and a close friend of Julia Ward Howe and Louisa May Alcott.

Marion was a lifelong advocate of homeopathy.

Marion’s mother Emily, appalled by the lack of educational opportunities for girls, insisted that Marion was taught Latin and Greek at an early age, and Emily campaigned for her daughter’s admission to Boston University, founding a Latin School for Girls in

  1. Marion’s sister Edith graduated from the Latin School for Girls in their first class.

Marion found life after her graduation difficult, isolated from the pursuits of her female friends, so Emily hit on the idea of an Association of Collegiate Aluminae, which filled an important void in her postgraduate years.

When Marion graduated from Boston University, she was in the 2% of women who went on to higher education in 1881. Subsequently, there were no jobs available to them, so Marion and some friends formed the Association of Collegiate Aluminae, and at their second meeting on 14.1.1882, sixty five women representing eight Institutions formed an organisation which would help many hundreds of women in the decades to follow.

Ellen Swallow Richards along with Marion Talbot (Boston University, class of 1880), became the initial “founding mothers” of what was to become the American Association of University Women when they invited 15 other women college graduates to a meeting at Talbot’s home in Boston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1881.

The 17 women envisioned an organization in which women college graduates would band together to open the doors of higher education to other women and to find wider opportunities for their training.

The American Association of University Women became one of the nation’s leading advocates for education and equity for all women and girls—a 125-year legacy of leadership. Today AAUW numbers more than 100,000 members, 1,300 branches, and 500 college and university partners nationwide.

Marion Talbot studied under Ellen Swallow Richards (the first woman to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and and the first American woman to earn a degree in chemistry), a key figure in the home economics movement that attempted to transform household management into a social science.

Believing that the majority of women students would become homemakers, she identified the need for educating them “both to administer their homes and to become involved in social reform work [municipal housekeeping] in the community”.

The Home Economics Movement (which owes its origin to Catharine Beecher), whose leaders included Katharine Blunt and Lydia Roberts, saw scientific motherhood as a golden opportunity to improve future generations and solve many of society’s problems.

Home economist and educator, born in Thun, Switzerland. Marion Talbot was raised and educated in Boston. She joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, teaching sanitary science, and was the nation’s first Dean of women, developing the women’s house system (1892–1925).

With Ellen Swallow Richards she edited Home Sanitation (1887), and other works include The Education of Women (1910) and The Modern Household (1912) with Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge.

Marion Talbot was born while her parents were vacationing in Thun, Switzerland. Her mother, Emily Fairbank Talbot, was active in securing college preparatory courses for young women, notably in beginning the Girls’ Latin School in Boston in 1877.

Marion’s father, Israel Tisdale Talbot was a homeopathic medicine supporter and was the first Dean of Boston University’s Homeopathic Medical School.

Family friends included Julia Ward Howe and Louisa May Alcott.

Marion graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston University in 1880. Interested in the science of sanitation in the home, Talbot earned a B.S. degree in 1888 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1881-82 she joined her mother, Ellen Swallow Richards, Alice Freeman Palmer, and a few friends in organizing college women in the Association of Collegiate Aluminae. This group focused on providing fellowships and appropriate living facilities for women graduate students.

They also began defining standards for women’s schools and colleges in the United States. Talbot was first Secretary of the Association and then President from 1895 to 1897.

This group became today’s American Association of University Women, with membership of more than 100,000 women and men and more than 1,300 branches.

Marion Talbot joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as full-time Dean of Undergraduate Women in 1892 and Assistant Professor of Sanitary Science. Interested in healthy nutrition, she wrote Food as a Factor in Student Life in 1894 with Ellen Swallow Richards.

In 1899, she was appointed Dean of Women, responsible for developing dormitories with self-government for on-campus living. By 1905, she was Professor of her own Department of Household Administration. In 1910, her book _The Education of Women_ identified changing roles for women and described the need for educational changes.

After retiring in 1925, Talbot served as acting President of Constantinople Women’s College in Turkey from 1927 to 1932. Talbot died at age 90 of chronic myocarditis in Chicago.

One of the most important commitments made by the founders of the University of Chicago was to equal educational opportunities for men and women at the new institution.

Marion Talbot, head of the Department of Household Administration and Dean of Women, constantly reminded the three presidents under whom she served of that pledge.

Marion Talbot held firm convictions about education and the role of women in education. One of only a handful of women in American university administration, she advised female students at the University of Chicago to take full advantage of their academic opportunities.

Always concerned about the distracting temptations of campus life, she urged women to limit their involvement in extracurricular activities and cultivate a strong sense of culture.

In assuming a new role in society, women needed both personal self-confidence and the best professional education. Marion Talbot expected the University of Chicago to provide these in an environment in which they could be enhanced and developed.

Although Talbot advocated a continuing role for women in the home, her views were not traditional. Borrowing from progressive models of efficiency and scientific management and exploiting the new technology appearing at the time, modern women had the domestic tools to escape the drudgery of the past.

Marion Talbot taught that a home could be “administered” in an effective way without compromising its vital role as a cultural hearth.

Crucial to this view was access to academic opportunity. When the University appeared to renege on its early promises of equal education by promoting sexually segregated instruction at the turn of the century, Talbot challenged the administration to abandon its plan.

Later, she pointed out the inequity of preponderantly male faculty appointments and the overwhelming focus on men in University events, eloquently and precisely identifying the problem and leaving no doubt as to a solution.

Despite her reputation as an advocate for women, Talbot argued that equality should mean simply that and nothing else. She expected no more and no less than anyone else received.

Her courses in household administration were specifically open to both men and women, and she criticized decisions that she felt patronized any specific group. Marion Talbot asked only that everyone be given equal opportunities, a goal she vigorously pursued.


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