Her father, a doctor, passed away when she was very young, and Maddox grew up taking care of her invalid mother.
Cost was also a consideration, and since Radcliffe’s tuition was $200 less a year than Simmons, Maddox chose the Cambridge route, working during the summer and living in cooperative housing to lessen the room and board costs.
Still, moving from her small public high school to Radcliffe presented “total culture shock in every way,” Maddox says, when she arrived on campus in September of 1949. “I came from a place where I was one of two people who loved reading books,” she says.
Maddox said that at first, she didn’t feel as thoughs she quite fit into the social puzzle of wealthier and more connected girls. Unlike them, she had grown up as a pious Catholic, Irish-Italian American who regularly went to church.
“We didn’t have a network to plug into,” she says.
Maddox’s priest warned her that she would be entering a different world at Radcliffe.
In high school, she won the Bridgewater Catholic Women’s Club scholarship, but her priest was reluctant to write the check, fearing that Maddox would be influenced by Harvard professors to give up on religion.
Maddox said that the priest still wrote the check, but that he was right—it took only two years before she gave up her Catholicism. “At a certain point, I realized that I don’t believe a word of this,” she says. “I left the church at Harvard, and I’m certainly not religious anymore.”
Socially, Maddox was a misfit from the start, and at first did not have an easier time academically.
She concentrated in English, specializing in Anglo- and Irish-Literature, but failed the standard entrance exam for English majors on her first try.
By the end of her time here, she was elected into the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa and had written a thesis on Yeats.
Maddox says her struggle was for the best. In failing the entrance exam, she was forced to take the then-infamous “English A” course, in which she found a mentor who encouraged her to write.
Maddox also credits much of her journalistic and romantic success to a science course at Radcliffe, “Geology 1A.”
“When I later became a journalist, and science suddenly became news with Sputnik and everything happening, the editors asked us, ‘Who wants to write about this?” and I put up my hand,” she says. “I wasn’t afraid because I had taken all this science at Radcliffe.”
Science also led Maddox to her husband, John, a former physicist-turned-journalist, whom she met in 1958 at a science conference in Geneva, “after all of [her] friends were already married.”