Abbott, Elizabeth 1946-

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Abbott, Elizabeth 1946-
(Elizabeth Louise Abbott)


Born 1946 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of William Richard and Margaret Langley (Griggs) Abbott; children: Ivan. Education: Sir George 3 Williams University, B.A., 1963; McGill University, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1971.


Home—44 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2E2, Canada. Office—Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1HS, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]


Centre d'Etude du Québec, Concordia University, research director, 1966-84; Dawson College, Montreal, Québec, Canada, professor of history, 1972-84; Reuters, Haiti correspondent, 1986-88; Chronicle Publications, editor-in-chief, 1989-91; Urban Pet magazine, editor-in-chief, 1991-93; Trinity College, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, dean of women; St. Hilda's College, University of Toronto, dean; Trinity College-Mount Sinai Hospital Pet Therapy Programme, coordinator.


Canadian Writers' Union.


Lt. Governor's Silver Medal in history, 1963; Arthur C. Tagge fellowship, 1964-65; McConnell fellowship, 1966-70; National Magazine Award, 1991, for environmental writing.


(Compiler, with others) Bibliographie pour Servir à L'Etude de l'Histoire du Canada Français, Sir George William University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1966.

(Editor) Racism or Responsible Government?: The French Canadian Dilemma of the 1840s, Nish (Toronto, Ontario, Canada),1967.

L'inventaire de la Collection Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, 1968.

(Editor) Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada, 1841-1854, Volumes 1-19, 1970-83.

Tropical Obsession: A Universal Tragedy in Four Acts (play), Edition Deschamps (Port-au-Prince, Haiti), 1986.

Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.

All Heart: Notes on the Life of Dr. Maude Elizabeth Abbott, M.D., Pioneer Woman Doctor and Cardiologist, E. Abbot (Saint Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada), 1997.

The Reluctant P.M.: Notes on the Life of Sir John Abbott, Canada's Third Prime Minister, E. Abbott (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1997.

A History of Celibacy: Experiments through the Ages, HarperFlamingoCanada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999, published as A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

A History of Mistresses, HarperFlamingoCanada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Globe & Mail and the Ottawa Citizen.


Elizabeth Abbott is an educator, writer, editor, and dean of women at Trinity College, University of Toronto, where she also teaches history. Her books span a wide range of topics, including the history of Canada, biographies, Haitian political history, and the history of celibacy and mistresses.

As the sister-in-law of Henri Namphy, the leader of the coup d'etat that overthrew the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, Abbott was in an ideal position to write Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. Jean-Claude Duvalier was the son of Francçois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who came to power in 1957 during a period of instability that had begun long before with France's exploitation and mass murder of black Haitians, which ruined the economy and created racial tension that lasted for decades. A contributor to the Economist noted that Abbott talked with the survivors of the Duvalier regimes, who "told her many lurid, bizarre, and violent tales of death, torture and starvation, of conspiracies and savage reprisals, of corruption in high office, of voodoo and the nature of evil. Her riveting book is crammed with it all." A Kirkus Reviews writer called the book "history with a human face, effective, moving, written with surprising and admirable restraint."

A History of Celibacy: Experiments through the Ages, published in the United States as A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher, is an exploration of people who chose celibacy as a way of life, as well as a history of voluntary and involuntary celibacy over time. Abbott, who has been twice married and divorced, explains why she has chosen celibacy for herself.

"Abbott clearly can write well and engagingly," commented Frank Kirkpatrick in the Journal of World History. "She can tell stories with verve and flair, even humor… . She also invests a great deal of herself in the text, even confessing that celibacy has given her respite from household burdens that she had borne in a previous relationship. This degree of intimate knowledge of an author is rarely found in strictly scholarly texts, and I found it, up to a point, refreshing. But … Abbott sometimes finds it difficult to bring herself back into the protective cover of dispassionate analysis."

Abbott is particularly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and the pope's stand on celibacy. In a National Post interview with Linda Frum she said, "I think the current Pope, who has reaffirmed all the old errors, has brought untold suffering on his church. You have so many people who spend their whole time fighting with lust when they could be having a good relationship in which their sexuality is expressed and their godliness is expressed. And all the figures about the lack of priests in Latin America and Africa—and about how priests in the majority are not celibate, and therefore are overtly not practicing what they preach—I don't understand the Pope's position at all. I think he is very wrong."

Included in the book are commentaries on celibacy within religions and as a method for enhancing performance sometimes practiced by athletes. Mary Beard wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "stories of celibacy become most interesting when they are really stories about sex. If Mahatma Gandhi had slept alone, his chastity would have been unremarkable. It is the fact that he chose to display his abstention by sharing his life (and his bed) chastely with nubile young women that gives his story its edge."

A History of Mistresses presents portraits of mistresses through history, including Chinese concubines, the sexual companions of celibate clergy, and the mistresses of European royalty, such as Camilla Parker-Bowles, the long-time mistress of England's Prince Charles, who ultimately became his second wife. Karin Marley noted in Quill & Quire that the book "sets out to determine whether the reality matches the mystique." Reviewing the book in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Susan Swan thought not. Though they may have shared sexual intimacy with men, mistresses most often did not share in their partner's social status or material wealth. Their illegitimate children had no rights, and when mistresses grew old, they were discarded and left impoverished. Abbott notes some exceptions to these general rules, including William Randolph Hearst's mistress, the actress Marion Davies, and Roxelana, a concubine for the Ottoman sultan Suleiman. Swan concluded that Abbott "is on a useful mission here in treating women's lives outside the official history as a subject of study" and called her research "a necessary archival function" even though "the bleak truth of women's history is old news now."



Booklist, May 1, 2000, Danise Hoover, review of A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher, p. 1629.

Economist, November 5, 1988, review of Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy, p. 103.

First Things, November, 2000, Spencer Lewerenz, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 64.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 19, 2003, Susan Swan, review of A History of Mistresses.

Insight on the News, February 4, 2002, Julia Duin, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 28.

Journal of World History, June, 2003, Frank Kirkpatrick, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 248.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1988, review of Haiti, p. 1369.

National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2000, Michael Ted Bradley, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 12.

National Post, March 20, 1999, Linda Frum, interview with Elizabeth Abbott.

New Yorker, September 18, 2000, Rebecca Mead, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 146.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1988, review of Haiti, p. 70.

Quill & Quire, January, 1999, Lorna Jackson, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 35; April, 2003, Karin Marley, review of A History of Mistresses, pp. 42-43.

Saturday Night, May, 1999, Mordecai Richler, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 47.

Times Literary Supplement, March 1, 1991, Amy Wilentz, review of Haiti, p. 7; November 16, 2001, Mary Beard, review of A History of Celibacy, p. 47.


BookPage, (June 17, 2006), Eliza R.L. McGraw, review of A History of Celibacy.

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