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Making History

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Dartmouth honors Professor Marysa Navarro with portrait

She was the first female faculty member to be awarded tenure under Dartmouth's current system, and the first woman to serve as an associate dean of the faculty. She taught the first Dartmouth course on the history of women and helped found and was the first chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Program. The first person to study Argentine First Lady Eva Perón from a historical perspective, she is the author of the only biography of Perón written by a historian.

navarroThis portrait of Marysa Navarro, a member of the history faculty since 1968, was unveiled in February and will hang in Baker Library. From left: President James Wright, Susan DeBevoise Wright, Navarro, and portrait artist Ying-He Liu. Of her subject, Liu says: "She is beautiful, strong, and intelligent. My duty was to reflect that." (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

And Marysa Navarro, the Charles Collis Professor of History, may have yet more firsts ahead. "I will never retire, I will graduate! I still have many projects to do," she told the crowd gathered for a Feb. 20 unveiling of her official portrait. The painting by artist Ying-He Liu was commissioned by the College and will hang in Baker Library after Navarro retires in 2010.

President James Wright; Professor Carol Folt, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and Gene Garthwaite, professor of history and the Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies, all spoke at the event.

Navarro joined the faculty in 1968, one year ahead of President Wright and four years before Dartmouth adopted coeducation. "As a new faculty member in the history department I was pleased to find such an exceptional colleague in Marysa," said Wright. "It was clear why Dartmouth had invited her to join the faculty. Smart and engaging, she was a talented teacher and scholar.

"Marysa spoke openly about the importance of coeducation and the valuable ways women could-and would-contribute to the learning environment," he continued.

Navarro recalled that during the debate over coeducation, one idea was women would be admitted to Dartmouth, but that they would attend a separate women's college across the Connecticut River in Norwich, Vt.

She was opposed to this concept. "It was the model of the 19th century, where you have a Harvard and a Radcliffe, a Columbia and a Barnard. I said we should not jump into the 19th century, we should jump into the 20th century and admit women to the College. I put a motion to the faculty that said women should be admitted to the College as it is. And that is what the faculty voted on and recommended to the Board of Trustees," she said.

Wright noted that the impact of Navarro's efforts to advance coeducation is evident throughout Dartmouth today. "We have a student body equally comprised of both men and women, and female students occupy numerous leadership roles across campus. Dartmouth now boasts one of the highest percentages of tenured and tenure-track women in the Ivy League. And, women faculty have held nearly every academic administrative role-carrying forward Marysa's legacy of leadership."

However, being at the forefront meant that Dartmouth was not always been a comfortable place for Navarro. "I have had a hard time loving this institution which I adore," she said. "Dartmouth made it difficult for me to love."

But as she worked to bring about change, the College offered her great opportunities-to teach, conduct research, and be an activist. "I have been very lucky to have taught here for the last 40 years. I would not change it for any other place in the world," she stressed. "I have been able to do exactly what I wanted to do in my life because of this place."

Carol Folt spoke about Navarro's teaching and prolific scholarship, which includes 10 books, 40 articles, and 25 book chapters. Her work has covered topics such as right-wing thought in Argentina, women's rights, women's studies, and the relationship between the state and religion.

"Marysa told me that always going against the grain is the coherence to her long academic career," said Folt. "She seeks to ask questions that no one else would ask, and she's always looking at those questions from a completely different perspective. That is the heart of a true scholar and intellectual."

Folt also spoke about Navarro's connection with her students, recounting that when she follows Navarro in the faculty procession at Commencement, the graduating students reach out to Navarro, call to her, and give her flowers. "I have walked behind an icon," said Folt.

Navarro said that she loves the "conversation" and "argumentation" of teaching. She added, "There is nothing nicer than to have been the professor of a student, who then wants you to be the teacher of their own children. It is the kind of extended family that doesn't exist in many other places. I think Dartmouth nurtures that kind of teaching, and that is the kind of teaching that I like to do."

Navarro expressed her deep appreciation to the College, to President Wright, to artist Ying-He Liu, and to her many colleagues and students for recognizing her in this way.

"I feel like my life has made a difference," she said. "I feel very good."

By SARAH MEMMI

 

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Last Updated: 2/27/09