Abby Leach vs. Grace Harriet Macurdy:
A Dramatic Reading of Letters from Two Pioneering Woman Classicists

Grace Macurdy presents her case

In 1878, Abby Leach became the first woman ever taught by Harvard professors when she hired two famous classics professors to teach her Latin and Greek. Ten years later, Grace Macurdy received a BA from “the Harvard Annex” that Leach had helped to establish. As Head of the Greek Department at Vassar, Leach hired Macurdy in 1893 and encouraged her to complete her doctorate at Columbia. By 1906, however, Leach had begun a campaign to get Macurdy fired from Vassar. Over the years, she escalated this campaign, using her control over course assignments and scheduling as weapons and attempting to enlist Vassar students and alumnae and professors from other schools, creating a minor academic scandal that became known outside the walls of Vassar College. Despite the fact that her campaign was unsuccessful and was alienating most of her friends at Vassar, Leach did not give up this feud until she learned that she was dying of cancer in 1918.

What caused one pioneering woman scholar to turn on another and attempt to destroy her career? Were the causes purely personal or were they related in significant ways to the conditions of women's education and professional opportunities? How can we piece together a coherent narrative from letters and other primary documents, and how reliably can we deduce motivations from such sources?

This program presents the story dramatically, as it unrolled before the researcher listening to voices from the past speaking through letters. Two students, Brooke Bushman and Faith Racette, play the roles of Leach and Macurdy, bringing the letters to life, representing each woman's side of the story in her own words. Professor Barbara McManus serves as narrator and plays James Monroe Taylor, President of Vassar College, who attempted to mediate the dispute between two valued faculty members. After the dramatic reading, the audience has a chance to interpret what they have heard, seeking answers to the questions posed above.

Taylor and Leach
Abby Leach pontificates as James Monroe Taylor looks skeptical


Barbara F. McManus, <>
Professor of Classics Emerita, The College of New Rochelle
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