In 1960, Harvard’s sister college, Radcliffe, announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, a “messy experiment” in women’s education that offered paid fellowships to those with a PhD or “the equivalent” in artistic achievement. Five of the women who received fellowships—poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen—quickly formed deep bonds with one another that would inspire and sustain their most ambitious work. They called themselves “the Equivalents.” Drawing from notebooks, letters, recordings, journals, poetry, and prose, Maggie Doherty weaves a moving narrative of friendship and ambition, art and activism, love and heartbreak, and shows how the institute spoke to the condition of women on the cusp of liberation.
The Equivalents won the Marfield Prize for arts writing and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography.
“Rich and powerful. . . . A love story about art and female friendship.”
“This deft history charts the relationships among five of the earliest fellows. . . . Doherty relates their often fraught intimacies in detail, emphasizing how these dynamics prefigured currents in American feminism and culture. The women’s shared story shows both the potential and the limitations of a “room of one’s own” as a liberating force.”
—The New Yorker
“Reads like a novel, and an intense one at that. . . . The Equivalents is an observant, thoughtful and energetic account.”
—Margaret Atwood, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)