Cam, Helen M. (1885–1968)

views updated

Cam, Helen M. (1885–1968)

English university professor and historian. Born Helen Maud Cam on August 22, 1885, in Abingdon, Berkshire, England; died in 1968; one of nine children of William Herbert (an educator and rector of two parishes) and Kate (Scott) Cam; schooled at home; attended Royal Holloway College; granted B.A., University of London, 1907; attended Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia, 1908; granted M.A., University of London, 1909; never married; no children.

Calling herself a scholar by choice and a teacher by necessity, historian Helen M. Cam was appointed to a full professorship on the faculty of Harvard University in 1948, the first woman honored with such an appointment in the history of the institution. She was chosen by a committee representing 11 Harvard departments after a distinguished teaching career at Girton College of England's Cambridge University.

Cam was born into a family of modest means on August 22, 1885, in Abingdon, Berkshire, one of nine children of William Herbert Cam, an educator and rector of two parishes, and Kate Scott Cam . Because there was no day school available and they could not afford boarding schools, her parents educated all their young at home. By age 19, Helen qualified for a scholarship to Royal Holloway College of the University of London. After receiving her M.A. in history in 1909, she took a position as assistant mistress in history at Ladies' College, Cheltenham. From 1912 to 1921, she held teaching positions at Royal Holloway College, after which she was appointed a lecturer in history at Girton College, Cambridge, where she remained until 1929. That year, she accepted a post at the University of Cambridge, where in addition to lecturing on English medieval constitutional history, she tutored and conducted research. In 1940, she returned to Girton College where she was director of studies in history and law. At Harvard, Cam taught medieval English history to both Radcliffe (the university's women's affiliate) and Harvard students.

Cam was a well-published scholar, issuing a book every few years, notably Local Government in Francia and England, 768–1934 (1912), Liberties and Communities in Medieval England: Collected Studies in Administration and Topography (1944), and Law Finders and Law Makers in Medieval England (1962). She also contributed articles to magazines such as the English Historical Review, History, Speculum, and the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. In 1937, she was awarded a Litt. D. degree at the University of Cambridge on the basis of her published works.

Cam, who was a member of Britain's Conservative Party in her college days, became an energetic campaigner for the Labor Party. In addition to her political allegiance, she was widely traveled, having visited India, Burma, Persia, Iraq, Palestine, as well as most of the countries on the Continent. She was a member of many learned and public-service organizations, holding offices in nearly all of them. She also held honorary doctorates from Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, North Carolina University, and Oxford. Described as "vigorous-appearing," she relaxed by walking and painting with watercolors.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts