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Blunt, Katharine (1876–1954)

Blunt, Katharine (1876–1954)

American educator and first woman president of Connecticut College. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 28, 1876; died on July 29, 1954; daughter of Stanhope English (an army officer and author of technical articles) and Fanny (Smyth) Blunt; attended "The Elms" and Miss Porter's school in Springfield, Massachusetts; received B.A. from Vassar College; attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology; received Ph.D. in organic chemistry from University of Chicago.

Selected writings:

(in collaboration with Florence Powdermaker) Food and the War (1918); (with Ruth Cowan) Ultra-Violet Light and Vitamin D in Nutrition (1930); many articles on food chemistry for technical journals.

Katharine Blunt, the third president (and first woman president) of Connecticut College, was a dynamic and driving force in the institution's formative years. In a college publication called Chapters in the History of Connecticut College, she is called "a woman of judgment, of social instinct, of snap and vigor; sometimes imperious, sometimes flashing fire … a woman able to do a man's work with the encouragement a man needs, or without it." As a female college president in 1929, she was no doubt well served by her feisty nature.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Vassar College, Blunt went on to receive a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. Beginning her teaching career at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, in 1913, she was then appointed to the home-economics faculty at the University of Chicago, where she remained until 1925. Blunt became chair of the department and raised the study of home economics to the graduate level, providing high quality, specialized study. During World War I, she worked for the Federal government as an expert on nutrition, writing leaflets on food conservation. In 1918, Blunt collaborated with Florence Powdermaker on a series of lesson plans for colleges called Food and the War, which was published by the U.S. Food Administration. During this time, she also became active in the American Home Economics Association, serving as president of the Illinois chapter, as national vice president, and as national president from 1924 to 1926.

When Blunt was appointed president of Connecticut College in 1929, it was the only college in the state offering a four-year course for women. As the first woman and only the third president of the young institution, she built up the college's faculty and increased financial resources. Blunt is credited with the construction of 18 building from 1929 through 1942, during which time she kept a constantly escalating budget in check. She increased research revenue and upgraded faculty salaries and benefits. She expanded the curriculum, helped develop and finance more scholarships, provided campus accommodations for resident students, and instituted apprenticeships in public affairs, economics, home economics, and business.

Blunt was also responsible for a number of innovative summer institutes, beginning in 1941, with the Latin American Institute. Organized at the request of Nelson Rockefeller (then coordinator of Inter-American Affairs), the institute examined Latin American trade relations, economics, and politics. A secretarial school also met for a six-week session that summer, and in 1942 the college held an eight-week summer "War Session" for the training of secretaries, chemists, accountants, statisticians, and nursery-school teachers. In addition to the summer institutes, Blunt encouraged college-sponsored lectures, conferences and concerts. The Institute of Women's Professional Relations, established in 1929 as a informational clearinghouse for business and professional women, was also headquartered at the college.

In 1943, Blunt retired, age 67, but was called back two years later when the succeeding president, Dr. Dorothy Schaffter, returned to nonacademic work. Blunt served until June 1946, when she retired for a second time. In addition to an honorary LL.D. from Connecticut College, she was awarded honorary degrees from Wesleyan University, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Chicago. Blunt believed that women could shape the world around them and that they should be encouraged to participate in every field open to them. In the Journal of the Association of American University Women, she directed teachers to provide their students with the "contacts with life which vitalize the theory and destroy 'ivory tower isolation'." Katharine Blunt died on July 29, 1954.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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