The Intimate Collaborations of Female Faculty in Select Women's Colleges, 1890-1930: Women's Early Attempts to Create the Closet

Date of Award

December 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret S. Thompson


Mount Holyoke, Wellelsey, Women's Colleges, Women's Relationships

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


“The Intimate Collaborations of Female Faculty in Select Women’s Colleges, 1890-1930: Women’s Early Attempts to Create the Closet” provides a close analysis of the long-term relationships of two pairs of academic women: Mary Emma Woolley and Jeannette Augustus Marks of Mount Holyoke College, and Katharine Lee Bates and Katharine Ellis Coman of Wellesley College. These women were born and experienced their formative years prior to the late nineteenth century, when female relationships were socially acceptable and often encouraged. However, by the early twentieth century female relationships and shared living arrangements between pairs of unmarried women, platonic or not, would begin to be labeled as deviant because the work of sexologists such as Richard Krafft-Ebing, Edward Carpenter, Sigmund Freud, and Havelock Ellis was changing the public’s perception and acceptance of same-sex relationships. Woolley and Marks, and Bates and Coman never married, led fulfilling professional lives, and lived in long-term relationships that resembled de facto marriages. They were caught straddling these two centuries of changing sexual mores during which they began to feel constrained in terms of openly expressing their love. This dissertation provides an understanding of how unmarried professional women, living in close and sometimes sexually intimate association with other women, structured their lives and relationships in a culture of change. Woolley, Marks, Bates, and Coman were just some of the women of their generation whose intimate lives are a largely undocumented part of the understanding of lesbian history.


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