On Friday 16 March 2018 during the Singularity and Solidarity: Networks of Women at the LSE, 1895–1945 seminar, Rozemarijn van de Wal talked about her ongoing research into economic historian Eileen Power. After having found some new materials in American archives, she shared some of her initial findings in researching Eileen Power’s relationship with the United States of America.
Eileen Power’s connection with the US started as early as 1920, when she was Director of Studies at Girton College, Cambridge, prior to her arrival at LSE. On 7 June 1920 she wrote a letter to Graham Wallas at LSE, telling him she had been awarded the Albert Kahn Fellowship, enabling her to travel around the world for one entire year. She sent the letter expressing her excitement but added that:
Oddly enough by the same post I got an offer from Vassar to exchange their history professor with me for the following year 1921-2 but I cannot get off for two years running, so I am refusing. I shall try & pick up something for a future occasion while I am in America. I aim at frequent leaves of absence to keep my soul alive! (Power to Wallas, 7 June 1920)
So, although she refused this initial offer to come to America, she did set out to make full use of the networking opportunities the Kahn Fellowship provided her with, not just in the Far East but in the West as well. It seems Eileen Power met up with Ferris Greenslet, the literary advisor and director of Houghton Mifflin. This was an American publishing company that in subsequent years would publish American editions of several of Eileen Power’s books, including those she wrote with her sister, children’s author Rhoda Power.
Despite numerous publications on the importance of Power’s Kahn travels, little is written about the last few weeks of her fellowship when she visited America, travelling across Canada and then down towards New York. She did not leave a lot of information about what she did when there, but her diary and narrative journals nevertheless do contain some references to meeting up with various people. In addition, the personal papers of for instance Amy Lowell – American poet in the imagist movement – contain references to Power visiting her in 1921. Both women subsequently became friends and kept up their correspondence until Lowell’s death in 1925.
After her Kahn travels Eileen Power returned to England to start her new job as a lecturer at LSE. In the late 1920s she started planning her next leave of absence. She wanted to undertake what she referred to as her “Central Asian Journey”, travelling along medieval trade routes. Despite making extensive use of specifically her American network and connections to secure the necessary funds for travelling, the political situation in the region was deemed too unstable and the trip was called off.
In the meantime, the dean of Barnard College and co-founder of the International Federation of University Women, Virginia Gildersleeve, had sent Eileen Power an offer to come and do a term of teaching there, and, with the Central Asian Journey cancelled, Eileen Power found herself glad to accept. She decided on first vacationing in the far East, followed by her term at Barnard where she arrived late January 1930.
During the next months, Eileen Power completely submerged herself in college life at Barnard while invitations arrived from all over the US. She ended up doing a course of lectures for Vassar, visited most of the seven sister colleges, lectured at Cornell, addressed the International Federation of University Women at Rochester and even spoke to the Medieval Academy of America. Eileen Power proved to be incredibly popular and she soon became the person everyone wanted to see. Or in Power’s own words:
There was one entire month during which Miss Abbott [housekeeper] assures me that I never dined at home (Power to GIldersleeve 6 August 1930)
When Gildersleeve returned from her own leave of absence and discovered the level of enthusiasm for Power at Barnard, she decided to offer her a post. She suggested arranging a professorship of History at Columbia University, providing a salary of $7,500 a year and even added that Eileen Power could lecture on the subjects that she liked best. This was quite a remarkable offer, but Eileen Power felt unable to accept; at least for now. She felt an obligation to stay with LSE for at least two more years as she was tied up in various projects, but did ask if Gildersleeve could inquire again in a few years time.
This however, never happened. Within a year, Eileen Power became the second woman to be appointed Professor in Economic History and remained with LSE until her death. Yet, this did not mean the end of her popularity in America. She was made corresponding fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 1936, she received an honorary D Litt from Mount Holyoke in 1937 and she kept up her correspondence with numerous American friends. The Eileen Power Memorial Fund that was founded after her death both in Britain and in America, is testament to just how extensive both of her networks were and signifies her continued popularity in the US.
Eileen Power clearly knew the importance of networking and used her skills to get connected with various important people, not just in Britain and the Far East, but in America as well. These networks played a significant role in Eileen Power’s remarkably successful career. When she was appointed professor in 1931, three specific reasons were mentioned: (1) Her contributions by research to the advancement of social and economic history; (2) her known powers as a teacher; and (3) her high standing as a social and economic historian (Power Personnel file, LSE). In my opinion, her immense popularity in America, significantly added to her high standing and position as a historian and, as a result, helped her achieve the level of success that she did.
Contributed by Rozemarijn van de Wal (PhD student, University of Groningen)
Rozemarijn van de Wal obtained her MA in cultural history in 2014 and her thesis on Beatrix Potter was awarded a Conference Scholarship by the Beatrix Potter Society in 2016. Her PhD is part of project SPICE: Scientific Personae in Cultural Encounters, an international research project that works with the concept of ‘scientific’ or ‘scholarly persona’, understood as what it takes to be seen and recognised as a credible, trustworthy scholar. Van de Wal researches this concept on an individual level by writing a biography on British medieval historian Eileen Power (1889-1940). In her biography, van de Wal tries to understand how Eileen Power, as a woman, was able to achieve the degree of success that she did.
 The Virginia Gildersleeve papers are kept at Barnard Archives and Special Collections in New York. The letters between Power and Gildersleeve are part of file BC05.01 Dean’s Office Records, series 4.
Interested in women’s history? See Women at LSE