Barbara Miller Solomon

Faculty Profile

The conversation of Barbara Miller Solomon, new Dean of East House, combines thoughtful scholarly appraisal and constant excitement. She answers questions carefully, sometimes hesitating and gazing into space before replying. "I just can't give pat answers--everything I do is exploratory," she emphasizes. But when Radcliffe's newly appointed dean speaks, often she blows a quick stream of smoke into the air and then turns to look directly at her companion. As an undergraduate at Radcliffe, she concentrated in History and Literature. She married Peter H. Solomon '40 "right after orals" but admits that hers was hardly a typical Harvard-Radcliffe romance: she and her husband had known each other before college. In the ten years following graduation, Mrs. Solomon had three children, developed her skill in French and Italian cooking, and took courses leading to her Radcliffe Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization.

After receiving this degree, she taught at Wheelock College for two years. But when offered the directorship of Radcliffe's Women's Archives and of the Radcliffe seminar program for adult women in 1959, Mrs. Solomon was glad to return to her alma mater. The Archives include one of the country's most complete collections of the diaries and letters of noted women; Mrs. Solomon enjoys working with the varied scholars who use these documents. "You never know who's going to come in to do research," she says, "and I love the quest for new manuscripts." Mrs. Solomon will serve as both Director of Women's Archives and Dean of East House this fall.

During her teaching and administrative appointments, Mrs. Solomon has continued her studies in American history. She finds the "urgency of developing a particular idea" an especially exciting part of research. The meticulousness and care with which she develops these ideas have contributed to her reputation as a leading historian. Her two books, Pioneers in Service and Ancestors and Immigrants explore the backgrounds of leading Americans. She is now editing Travels in New York and New England, the diary of Timothy Dwight, former president of Yale University; she enjoys studying New England, she says, "because I grew up here--and also, the people have always been so conscious of history."

The role of women is, of course, one of her major interests, but in discussing the possible conflict between career and family, Mrs. Solomon emphasizes that here, too, no pat answer exists for every case. Many women can combine the two successfully, she says; others must choose, for at least part of their lives, one or the other.

The changes between generations form another of Mrs. Solomon's interests. She points out that the letters of successive generations show the changes in pressures women face. In addition to studying such written records, Mrs. Solomon once organized a meeting of old suffragettes and "was back in another chapter of history." In her new job, she will be "getting to know another generation again."