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Nicolson, Marjorie Hope

Marjorie Hope Nicolson

The brilliant scholar and author, Marjorie Hope Nicolson was born on February 18, 1894 in Yonkers, New York. She went on to study and teach at some of the United States’ most prestigious institutions before returning to New York City, where she died at the age of 87, on March 9, 1981.

From an early age, Nicolson was committed to a life of hard work and learning, due to her Calvinist principles and work ethic. She first began to teach high school students in 1914, while working in Saginaw, Michigan and later Detroit. Her love of teaching lead her to receive her both her B.A. with Phi Beta honors in 1914 and her M.A. in 1918, from the University of Michigan. She continued her pursuit of higher education with her Ph.D. from Yale in 1920. At Yale, she was the first woman to receive the John Addison Porter prize. Marjorie Nicolson taught first at the University of Michigan and was granted an assistant professorship before continuing her graduate study at Johns Hopkins College from 1923-1926. While at Johns Hopkins, Nicolson continued to teach at Goucher College. In 1926, she left for England to study as one of the early Guggenheim fellows.

After her studies in Europe, Marjorie Nicolson returned to the United States to continue her research and to teach at Smith College. She was first an associate professor from 1926-1929, before becoming a professor of English literature and Dean from 1929 until 1941. During her time at Smith College, Nicolson was a strong ally of President Neilson and defender of women’s right to have a real academic education. She left Smith College for Columbia, in order to become the first woman to hold a full professorship at a prestigious graduate school. She became the chair of the English and Comparative literature department. Nicolson, or Miss Nicky ,as she was intimately know by a few special students, became a much admired professor and scholar, who inspired many doctoral candidates while at Columbia. She was awarded the Columbia Bicentennial Silver Medallion in 1954. She left Columbia in 1962 as the Peter Field Trent Professor Emeritus, but still did not retire from the academic arena.

In 1963, she spent one year as the Francis Bacon chair at Claremont Graduate school. Following this year, she traveled to Princeton where she became the visiting scholar at the National Institute for Advanced Study. Throughout her busy career in academia, Marjorie Nicolson found time to publish many short essays and books. She wrote throughout her life, and was awarded the British Academy Crawshay prize in 1947, for one of her early works, Newton Demands the Muse. She also wrote noted works like A World in the Moon, The Microscope and the English Imagination, and Voyages to the Moon.

Beyond even Nicolson’s active life as a writer, she was also honored in her many other fields of interest. She became president of the Modern Language Society of America, an active and honored member of the American Philosophical Society, consulting editor of the publication the “American Scholar”, and most importantly the first woman and the first person to serve multiple terms as the president of the National Phi Beta Kappa association. Before the end of Miss Nicky’s prestigious career spanning over fifty years, she garnered accolades and honorary degrees from over 17 colleges.

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