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Administration of Elizabeth T. Kennan Records, 1956-1997


Scope and Contents of the Collection

Records for the administration of Elizabeth T. Kennan primarily date from her years as President of Mount Holyoke College (1978-July 1995). They also include include materials from her years as a Mount Holyoke student (1956-1960) and from the administrations of David Bicknell Truman (President, 1969-1978) and Joanne V. Creighton, who became President in 1996.

Correspondence (1978-1993 in 4 sub-series) consists of letters and memoranda by Kennan or members of her staff as well as letters to her from students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae, trustees, friends, and colleagues. Most of the letters concern students, faculty, staff, departments, College events and issues, religious life, financial affairs, and state and federal legislation having an impact on private colleges while other letters discuss such issues as regulations for student behavior, concerns of minority, gay, lesbian, or bisexual students, and sexual harassment at the College. There is also personal correspondence with Kennan’s friends and colleagues and letters of recommendation by her for individuals not affiliated with the College. Researchers should note that many letters to and from Kennan are part of Subject Files in these records.

Writings (1972-1997) consist of speeches, articles, published letters, and notes written by Kennan. These materials include copies of her talks and greetings presented to groups of Mount Holyoke College alumnae and donors, Convocation addresses to students, addresses that she gave at other colleges, and remarks presented at meetings of Phi Beta Kappa, the New England Museum Association, the South Hadley, Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, the Holyoke, Massachusetts Lions Club, and other organizations. Topics of her writings include the education of women, “Women in the Future,” federal regulation of colleges and universities, financial aid for college students, the curricula of colleges. The writings also contain some of Kennan’s scholarly works, including her essays about “Moral Leadership in the Community: Some Abbots in the Twelfth Century” and “The Relentless Good: Some Women Artists of the 20th Century.”

Subject Files (1972-1997 in 7 sub-series) include minutes, agenda, reports, correspondence, memoranda, plans, surveys, financial records, publications, lists, and other materials concerning a wide range of issues and events. Many of these records concern the administration, creation, renovation, expansion, or furnishings of buildings and grounds, including library facilities, Blanchard Hall, the Skinner Museum, Willits-Hallowell Center, the stables, the Wa Shin An Japanese meditation garden and teahouse, and the Village Commons. There is information about ceremonies and special events at the College, including Founder’s Day and Commencement celebrations and the Festival of Italian Culture. Other records concern administrative, financial, and academic matters such as the work of faculty and staff, the selection and activities of deans and other administrators, curricular developments and issues within departments and programs. There are files of materials relating to admissions statistics and trends, financial aid for students, annual budgets, and the 1980-1987 capital campaign. Some records reflect the College’s interest in energy conservation while other files concern day care, salaries, and housing for faculty and staff. There is also information about minority students on campus. In addition, one file contains correspondence relating to the play Uncommon Women and Others by Wendy Wasserstein, a 1971 graduate of the College. The records also document Mount Holyoke’s relationship with other organizations, participation in a number of studies, and interest in state and federal legislation affecting higher education. There are materials relating to Oberlin College and other colleges and universities in the United States and abroad and to organizations such as the American Council on Education. These materials also include responses to the annual Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) sponsored by the National Association for Education Statistics and materials reflecting the College’s participation in the .Seven Colleges Study of Medical Careers (1979-1984). Other records concern the Mount Holyoke ABC (A Better Chance of South Hadley), Higher Horizons and College Bound, and SummerMath programs for non-Mount Holyoke students. Researchers should note that some records of the Administrative Advisory Council (1990-1993) and Senior Staff (1989-1990) and part of subject files.

Biographical Material (1978-1995) primarily consists of copies of Kennan’s resumes and biographical sketches, notes, articles, and press releases about her. There are also transcripts of several interview of her, itineraries and calendars reflecting her activities, and a list of her major accomplishments as President of Mount Holyoke.

Photographs (1956-1995) chiefly date from Kennan’s tenure as Mount Holyoke College President, although there are also photographs of her taken as a student at the College and one portrait from her high school years. Some of the photographs are formal portraits of Kennan. Many photographs show her events such as her inauguration, Commencement, Convocation, and annual Parent’s Weekend celebrations, while other photographs are of Kennan with students, alumnae, faculty members, trustees, and the presidents of other colleges and universities. There are also photographs reflecting Kennan’s participation in Faculty Shows at the College. These images include one folder of slides.

Audiocassettes (1978-1993) primarily record speeches given by Kennan at College events, particularly Convocation and Alumnae Council meetings. There are also tapes of several interviews of her.

Video Recordings (1982-1994) primarily document television interviews of Kennan either alone or as part of a group. Some of these interviews were on nationally televised programs, while others were produced by television stations in Springfield, Massachusetts. These programs primarily focus on the issue of single sex education for women and include a group interview with the presidents of Mount Holyoke, Colby Sawyer College, Smith College, and Wheaton College on April 13, 1989. Two other programs from October, 1990 feature comments by the Five College Presidents on Proposition 3, a Massachusetts legislative referendum calling for cuts in taxes. There is also a video recording of Kennan’s announcement of her plans to step down as President, April 13, 1994.

Development Office Records (1968-1990) consist of correspondence, minutes, reports, financial records, and publications relating to major gifts to Mount Holyoke, fundraising activities in different regions of the country; and the "Campaign for Mount Holyoke", the fundraising campaign during the sesquicentennial celebration of the College (1984-1989). There are also materials relating to donors, associations, banks, and foundations and to endowed chairs at the College. Files for individual donors contain correspondence, reports, biographical information, and articles.

James Ellis Materials (1984-1990) concern charges of sexual harassment brought against a tenured Mount Holyoke College professor which resulted in his dismissal. These materials include correspondence, memoranda, newspaper articles, reports, financial records, medical records, and transcripts of hearings held before the College’s Appeals Committee in1989. Researchers should note that the James Ellis Materials are closed until 2070.

Justice Department Anti-Trust Materials (1989-1993) document Mount Holyoke’s response to a United States Justice Department investigation of twenty-one Northeast colleges and universities over the practice of holding joint meetings each spring to review financial aid applications from students admitted to two or more of those institutions. Department officials charged these schools with using a standard formula for determining how much a family could pay for a college education and sharing other information that deprived some students of the financial aid they might have received were there more competition among the institutions. Materials include legal documents, reports, correspondence, drafts, surveys, memoranda, articles, and lists.

Administrative Advisory Council Records (1988-1991) consist of agenda, minutes, correspondence, and notes primarily relating to minutes of the Council, which was comprised of key administrators who acted as advisers to President Kennan regarding a variety of issues. Topics discussed in the documents include staff recruitment, training, supervision, and evaluation, security issues, use of technology at the College, the schedule of College holidays, and campus-wide regulations concerning smoking.

Senior Staff Records (1992-1995, in 2 series) document President Kennan’s weekly meetings with a small group of key administrators and several faculty members to discuss topics such as the College’s financial situation, multicultural concerns, faculty and staff benefits, and campus-wide emergency procedures. The records consist of agenda, minutes, reports, correspondence, memoranda, notes, and lists.

Operational Policy Committee Records (1994-1995) concern the mission and activities of a group created in 1994 to replace the College’s Administrative Advisory Council. The records consist of agenda, minutes, reports, correspondence, publications, notes, and memoranda concerning issues such as the increasing use of technology on campus, campus emergency procedures, and staff training and compensation.

Honorary Degree Candidates Records (1980-1997) concern distinguished scientists, artists, authors, government officials, activists, and others who were awarded or considered for Mount Holyoke honorary degrees. The materials consist of correspondence, biographical sketches, articles, citations for awards, and notes.

Presidential Search Committee Records (1977-1978) reflect the activities of a committee created by the Board of Trustees to conduct a search for a successor to David Bicknell Truman as President of Mount Holyoke. The records primarily consist of reports and correspondence describing the progress of the search.


  • Creation: 1956-1997

Conditions Governing Access note

Access is unrestricted to Writings, Inauguration Records, Biographical Material, Photographs, Audiocassettes, and Video Recordings. Access to the James Ellis Material is restricted until January 1, 2070. Access to Correspondence Subject Files, Development Office Records, Justice Department Anti-Trust Materials, Administrative Advisory Council Records Senior Staff Records Honorary Degree Candidates Records, Presidential Search Committee Records, and Operational Policy Committee Records is restricted to use by the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees and the Office of the President for 25 years from the date of record creation.

Biographical Note

Elizabeth Topham Kennan, medieval historian, author, college and university professor and administrator and President of Mount Holyoke College from 1978-1995 was born on February 25, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Frank Topham, a general sales manager, and Henrietta Margaret Jackson Kennan. The family resided in Westfield, New Jersey where she attended Westfield High School from 1953-1956. She entered Mount Holyoke College in the fall of 1955, focusing her studies on medieval history and earning numerous prizes and honors including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the Sarah Williston Prize, a Marshall Scholarship, and election to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in history, she attended St. Hilda’s College at Oxford University from 1960-1962 where she earned a M.A. in history. She married Robert M. Kennan, Jr., another Marshall Scholar whom she met at Oxford, in 1961. Kennan entered the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington in 1962 where she worked as a graduate teaching assistant while completing her doctorate. After receiving her Ph.D. in history in 1966, she became the first lay woman to teach in the History Department and the first Protestant to teach in the medieval program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She also served as the director of both the Medieval and Byzantine Studies Program and the Program in Early Christian Humanism and was honored as the University’s Teacher of the Year in 1977. She had a son, Frank Alexander Kennan, in 1967. Her husband died suddenly on October 29, 1973 following gall bladder surgery; he was thirty-five and serving as general counsel of the National Wildlife Federation at the time of his death. In 1977 Kennan married Martin Lewis Budd, a lawyer whom she later divorced. Kennan left the Catholic University of America in 1978 to become the sixteenth President of Mount Holyoke College. One of her major accomplishments at Mount Holyoke was leading a five-year celebration (1982-1987) of the College’s Sesquicentennial and a successful capital campaign that raised $139.4 million for the school. These funds allowed administrators to undertake an ambitious Master Plan for buildings and the campus to ensure that all campus facilities meet the needs of its faculty and students. Several major buildings were constructed or renovated as part of this plan, including the Miles-Smith Science Library, Clapp Laboratory, Blanchard Hall, the Kendall Sports Complex, and the Equestrian Center. The College also purchased much of the retail space in South Hadley Center after several fires destroyed the College Inn, the Odyssey Bookshop, and many other businesses in 1985-1986. A new Village Commons complex for shopping, dining, and leisure activities, designed by noted architect Graham Gund, opened in 1988. Funds from the capital campaign were also used to increase faculty salaries and financial aid to students, create a number of endowed chairs for faculty, support research by both faculty and students, and establish many new programs at the College. These programs include those in Asian studies, computer science, critical social thought, environmental studies, European studies, international relations, Jewish studies, and women’s studies; the Frances Perkins Program for women of non-traditional age who wish to complete the requirements for a B.A. degree; and the SummerMath Programs for teachers and high school students. In 1982, Mount Holyoke was one of ten colleges to receive a major grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the development of courses to increase technological literacy among its students. In 1983, Kennan supported the introduction of a required Third World course in which students studied some aspect of the history and culture of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, or non-white people of North American. Kennan married Mount Holyoke history professor Michael Burns in 1986 and retired as President of the College at the end of June, 1995. While in that office, she served as President of the Five Colleges consortium from 1985-1994 and was an active member of many organizations including the Women’s College Coalition, American Council on Education Commission on Governmental Relations, the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges, the Women’s College Coalition, and Northeast Utilities, Mediaeval Academy of America’s executive council, National Endowment for the Humanities Board of Consultants, the oversight committee for the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Bell Atlantic, Shawmut Bank, and Putnam Investments. She received many awards during her career, including honorary degrees from Trinity College, Oxford University, Amherst College, Smith College, Oberlin College, St. Mary’s College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Catholic University of America, and Mount Holyoke. She has also written extensively on topics both in higher education and medieval studies and in 2000 co-authored a mystery novel, Overnight Float, with former Smith College President Jill Ker Conway.


79 boxes

Language of Materials



Kennan, Elizabeth T.; medieval historian, author, college and university professor and administrator. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1960. Records concern activities, issues, and events during her administration as President of Mount Holyoke College (1978-1995) and also include materials from her years as a Mount Holyoke student (1956-1960) and from the administrations of her immediate predecessor David Bicknell Truman (President, 1969-1978) and successor Joanne V. Creighton, who took office in1996. Records consist of correspondence; her published or unpublished writings; records of the Development Office, Administrative Advisory Council, Senior Staff, Operational Policy Committee, and Presidential Search Committee; records relating to honorary degree candidates and to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the financial aid practices of a number of colleges and universities; materials concern faculty member James Ellis biographical material; photographs; audiocassettes; and video recordings. Materials are arranged in 26 sub-series primarily reflecting the order in which these materials were received and processed by Archives and Special Collections.

Location Number:


Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA