Public Appeal on Behalf of Historian Andrea Hamilton


Editor's Note On Monday May 13 the following appeal, signed by historians across the country, is being sent to the president of Baltimore's Bryn Mawr School, a private prep school for girls. The letter protests the school's decision to suppress the publication of a history of the institution written by Dr. Andrea Hamilton, a Tulane graduate who spent three years on archival research for her dissertation. The school's objection to the use of its archival materials prompted Johns Hopkins University Press to cancel a contract to publish the book.

The appeal is being circulated by Laura Kalman, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In a cover letter accompanying the appeal she explains that she became involved after reading about the case in the media."I had never heard of Andrea Hamilton or, I should add, The Bryn Mawr School," she writes. But"I was appalled by the story. I wrote Andrea Hamilton and her adviser, Bill McClay, to ask how I could help. Since the school is currently reviewing the situation and may be disposed to reverse its decision, we all thought a letter from American historians urging it to do so might prove useful." She adds:"We have a chance to make a real difference in the life of a young scholar and take a stand on an issue vital to our profession."

May 12, 2002
David M. Funk, Esq.
President, The Bryn Mawr School Board of Trustees
Funk & Bolton, PA
100 Light Street, Suite 1000
Baltimore, MD 21202-1036

Dear Mr. Funk:

As historians of the United States, we write you about Andrea Hamilton. Some of us teach, or have taught, in history departments, others in law schools. All of us have spent at least part of our careers working with manuscript sources and encouraging graduate students to do the same.

Dr. Hamilton did what graduate students in American history are taught to do: She spent days poring over her sources and months organizing, interpreting and contextualizing her findings. Dr. Hamilton seems to us to have followed every customary professional protocol and to have entered into her research with the full support of the school.

We are distressed, then, that an institution, particularly a distinguished educational one, has apparently chosen to suppress publication of her book, and has provided no explanation for its abrupt and drastic change in position. On the basis of the accounts in The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Baltimore Sun, it would seem that Bryn Mawr School's behavior to date has had the lamentable effect of blocking--or, at the very least, unconscionably delaying--the entrance of a fully qualified young scholar into our profession.

On the basis of these same published reports, it also appears to us that Dr. Hamilton reasonably assumed that Bryn Mawr School officials consented to the book's publication in late 1998. From our perspective, Dr. Hamilton has been unfairly prevented from publishing research derived from sources that she was encouraged to use.

As a matter of fact, however, the dissertation is already available for public review. University Microfilms (UMI) has published Dr. Hamilton's dissertation, without, so far as we are aware, eliciting any objection from Bryn Mawr School. Thus Dr. Hamilton's research is now available publicly and for purchase (, and is a potential source for quotation or citation by almost anyone. It seems ironic and unfair to us that only Dr. Hamilton, the dissertation's author, would prove the exception.

Reasonable people may differ about Dr. Hamilton's interpretations and conclusions, as we do about all subjects of historical scholarship. This is our trade, and this is what we do. Part of our mission is to bring new sources to light and debate historians' findings in the marketplace of scholarly ideas. When the subjects of scholarly inquiry engage in the apparently arbitrary suppression of responsible scholarly work, it fatally undermines our pursuit of that mission. This case thus possesses larger significance for all of us who are engaged in the enterprise of historical scholarship.

As an educational institution, and one with a rich and proud history, you have an obligation to your students--past, present and future--to support scholarship and intellectual inquiry. Should you disagree with Dr. Hamilton's interpretations or conclusions, you have the right to refute them or to invite other historians to examine your archives. As historians of, and readers of the histories of, the country's leading educational institutions, we know that all have complicated histories, which are open to a multiplicity of interpretations. This is not to be feared or avoided. By leaving the matter as it now stands, you risk making this unfortunate episode the legacy of Bryn Mawr School: a footnote in the history of the suppression of academic freedom and historical debate.

We earnestly hope that you will reconsider your earlier decision and allow The Bryn Mawr School to be remembered for its tradition of free and open inquiry in the pursuit of knowledge. In the interest of scholarship and fairness, we urge you to authorize publication of Dr. Hamilton's work without further delay.


Jennifer K. Ruark,"The History That May Never Be Read," Chronicle of Higher Education (April 26, 2002).
Mike Bowler,"Bryn Mawr Closed Book on Career," Baltimore Sun (April 2, 2002). > By JENNIFER K. RUARK

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Lance Gay - 5/13/2002

BC-Bryn Mawr Book,0378
Historians petition Baltimore girls school to allow publication of book on school's history
BALTIMORE (AP) _ More than 140 historians are asking a private girls school to allow publication of a book it blocked after the author concluded the school "often perpetuated" society's limited expectations for girls.
The historians were expected to deliver a petition Monday to the Bryn Mawr School in north Baltimore, which blocked publication of Andrea Hamilton's manuscript.
"We earnestly hope that you will reconsider your earlier decision and allow the Bryn Mawr School to be remembered for its tradition of free and open inquiry in the pursuit of knowledge," the historians wrote in the petition.
The school's trustees are planning to take another look at the publication issue, the board's president said.
Hamilton wrote a social history of Bryn Mawr School as her doctoral dissertation at Tulane University and sold the manuscript to the Johns Hopkins University Press.
The publisher canceled Hamilton's contract after Bryn Mawr officials rejected the book. Hamilton had signed a contract giving Bryn Mawr's archivist veto power in order to gain access to school records.
Some school officials were said to have objected to the way it depicted the school's role in the history of girls education. Hamilton wrote that although Bryn Mawr was a pioneer in challenging assumptions about womanhood, it had more recently "often perpetuated society's expectations for girls."
The school was founded in the 1880s as a feeder school to Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, a women's college known for its high academic standards.
Emory University historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a sister of former headmistress Rebecca MacMillan Fox, reviewed the manuscript and called it "historically muddled and misleading."
David M. Funk, chairman of the board of trustees, said school officials are "taking a fresh look at everything involved with this case, and we'll either reaffirm (the decision to block publication) or we won't. We'll be reviewing Dr. Hamilton's manuscript, and we'll be reviewing the agreement she signed."
On the Net:
Bryn Mawr School:
03AP-ES-05-13-02 1253EDT

Natwexler - 5/11/2002

I am a historian who has worked extensively with primary source materials (I was formerly on the staff of The Documentary History of the Supreme Court, 1789-1800), and I would agree with Laura Kalman that such agreements are common, but generally viewed as pro forma. For example,I recently did archival research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which has a policy requiring that a researcher get the society's permission before reproducing or quoting any of its materials. But I was assured by a former colleage, who has vast experience reproducing archival materials, that these institutions invariably give their permission -- albeit, often for a fee. They don't get into the business of vetting or trying to suppress a manuscript, as Bryn Mawr is trying to do. And I don't think Dr. Hamilton can be blamed for not seeing trouble ahead; according to the published articles, Bryn Mawr gave her nothing but encouragement until a year after the dissertation had been accepted by Hopkins for publication.
As an alumna of the Bryn Mawr School (Class of 1972), I am frankly appalled and quite puzzled by the school's actions. Bryn Mawr was -- and I think, is -- a wonderful place, where I got a top-notch education. I would certainly expect such an institution to have a better understanding of how history is written -- not through prior restraint imposed by the subject of the history itself, but through give and take in the free marketplace of ideas. If Bryn Mawr has criticisms of the book's scholarship (and the school has been quite closed-mouthed about the precise nature of its objections), let them be aired AFTER the publication of Dr. Hamilton's book.

lk - 5/10/2002

Actually, such agreements are not that uncommon. They are not generally an issue, I don't think (though my memory may be playing tricks on me), for those of us who work in Presidential Libaries or the Library of Congress. But many of the other archives I work in make researchers sign agreements promising not to quote from collections without the archivist or curator's approval prior to granting access. For example, if you take a look at the permission form on the Harvard Law School Special Collections website, you will see that researchers must promise to get the curator's approval prior to publication. When I sign such agreements, I treat them as pro forma and expect them to be applied in pro forma fasion.

The Chronicle article is from the issue dated April 26, 2002: "The History That May Never Be Read."

Laura Kalman

Lance Gay - 5/10/2002

I also am confused by this posting, and agree with Bartlett that more information should be provided.
What is this all about? The poster says the dissertation is available via University Microfilm, so there doesn't seem to be any real suppression of the research from public view.
From the Baltimore Sun story, the author seems to have signed an agreement giving the school the rights of prior approval of any publication resulting from her research. Someone foolish enough to agree to such pre-conditions stands on very shaky grounds later crying about the right to publish if the school decides _ for whatever reasons _ it doesn't want the publicity, and won't give approval. What does the agreement with Bryn Mawr say?
P.S. A Lexis-Nexis search did not find any articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education on this. Could you provide a more specific reference, or link?

J. Bartlett - 5/10/2002

The blocked publication of the Bryn Mawr School history certainly sounds unwarranted. But any historian knows that there is more than one side to any story, and there is almost nothing here about the position of the school, or why Ms. Hamilton should have decided to pick a dissertation topic which gave the subject thereof an effective veto right (if that's what it amounts to) over later publication.

There are disturbing charges here but also a notable lack of supporting detail on the motives of the chargees.

Ann T. Allen - 5/9/2002

May 8, 2002

David M. Funk, Esq.
President, The Bryn Mawr School Board of Trustees
Funk and Bolton, PA
100 Light Street, Suite 1000
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Dear Mr. Funk:

I am a professor of history who has specialized in the history of women and written on the history of women's education. I am also an alumna of Bryn Mawr School, Class of 1961. Along with several members of my family who have been members of the student body, faculty, and Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr over three generations, I have great respect for the school's ambitious curriculum and high academic standards. I look back with great affection on the many teachers who both nurtured and challenged my intellectual abilities. My financial contributions over the years have expressed my appreciation for all that the school has meant to me and to many others.

I am therefore extremely distressed to see the Bryn Mawr School associated by a highly respected academic publication, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and by many of my colleagues in the field of history, with an attempt to prevent the publication of the book by Andrea Hamilton. I have no knowledge at all of Ms. Hamilton, of her dealings with the school, or of her book. I am therefore unable to judge the quality of her work, her use of sources, or her conclusions. These are judgments that should be made through the review process that was carried through by Johns Hopkins University Press. This is a process that relies on the opinions of experts in the field to which the book contributes. It is designed to judge the merits of the work impartially.

Its intervention in this process places the school in an extremely bad light. Whatever the motives for this intervention may actually have been, they are widely assumed to have arisen from the school's self-interested desire to protect its image. But nothing could be so damaging to the school's image as the accusation of trying to cut off scholarly inquiry and cover up damaging information. A school that is so justly known for its high academic standards and its encouragement of intellectual curiosity should not set this example to its students and faculty.

A role for the school that would be more consistent with its reputation for academic excellence would be to accept the publication of the book, and then to encourage discussion and review of the issues that it raises. Certainly supporters of the school could criticize any portions of the book that they consider unfair or inaccurate, and they would have a sympathetic audience among the loyal body of students, faculty, and alumnae of which I am privileged to be a member.

Please do not hesitate to call on me if I can be of any assistance to you as you make your decision.

With best wishes,

Ann Taylor Allen, Class of 1961
Professor of History
University of Louisville

Laura Sinclair Odelius - 5/8/2002

Not that I necessarily agree with your assessment, but perhaps you are confusing Bryn Mawr College with Bryn Mawr School...? Andrea Hamilton's dissertation deals with the latter.

jane haigh - 5/8/2002

I too decry the the efforts to keep this book from publication. But I fail to see how this must spell the end to a career. The fact is, lots of interesting research never gets published for a variety of reasons. I always thought that you only needed to finish the dissertation, in order to get a job, not necessarily get it published. And, there is always another project.

William Heuisler - 5/8/2002

Would it be too much to mention the name and skim the detail of the offending paper? Bryn Mawr has long been an institution on the cutting edge of liberal dogmatism and I wanted to know what Western cultural flashlight was being extinguished. Guess I wasted my time. Bill Heuisler, Tucson, AZ