Five Colleges: Five Histories


The Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts is home to one of the most successful consortia in American higher education. Four private colleges and the state university have banded together to plan and carry out cooperative programs under the banner of Five Colleges. Commemorating twenty-five years of collaboration, as Donald R. Friary points out in the foreword, this volume offers five essays that speak to the distinctive histories of each of these institutions.

In the first essay, Theodore P. Greene depicts the temper of Amherst College in the early decades after its founding in 1821, a time when piety occasionally gave way to playfulness among the "indigent young men" who formed the student body. Christopher Benfey follows with a lucid amount of Emily Dickinson's Mount Holyoke (1847-48), describing how several generations of critics have treated the poet's experience there. Ronald Story's essay is a somber, provocative analysis of past growth and future prospects at New England's largest public research university, the University of Massachusetts.

Writing about Smith College, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz argues that embedded in the architecture of the campus are four successive visions of the ideal Smith student; the campus thus becomes a text in which patterns of building reflect different conceptions of educated womanhood. Charles R. Longsworth contributes a lively first-hand account of the founding of Hampshire College in an era of countercultural reform. In the Afterword, Lorna M. Peterson traces the history of the Five-College system, suggesting that it has always thrived on the individuality and idiosyncrasies of the different campuses.

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