Matina Horner

Biographical notes:

Matina Souretis Horner, psychologist and college president, was born July 28, 1939, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to Greek parents. She attended Bryn Mawr College where she began her studies in experimental psychology, graduating in 1961. It was at Bryn Mawr that she met and married Joseph L. Horner, a future research physicist, in 1961. They both attended the University of Michigan for graduate studies and Matina Horner earned her Ph.D. degree in 1968.

Horner's research concentrated on intelligence, motivation, and achievement. She hypothesized that high anxiety levels found in women she tested were caused not by fear of failure, but by the possibility of success. Horner reasoned that women developed high anxiety levels because they could not reconcile their desire to excel with society's view that women who were very intelligent, independent, or ambitious were unfeminine. Horner's "fear of success" theory became a potent tool in the women's movement. In 1969 Horner joined the faculty of Harvard University as a lecturer in the Department of Social Relations. The following year she was named assistant professor in the Department of Psychology.

In 1972 Horner was named the sixth (and youngest) president of Radcliffe. She inherited a complex relationship with Harvard. Under her predecessor, Mary Bunting, this relationship had evolved into what was known as the "non-merger merger." Responsibility for students had largely been transferred to Harvard, though women students were still admitted to Radcliffe by a separate Admissions and Financial Aid Office. Radcliffe had delegated some business operations (payroll, accounting, dining halls, library, and buildings and grounds) to Harvard, but had retained control of and administered its own educational, research and alumnae programs. The non-merger merger had stopped short of corporate merger and had left an ill-defined relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe.

In 1975 the separate Harvard and Radcliffe Offices of Admissions were merged and the quota for women students was abolished. In 1977 Horner negotiated a new agreement with Harvard that reestablished Radcliffe's financial independence, with its own administration, governing board, research programs, and redefined an oversight role and special programs for undergraduate women. Additionally Horner renovated space in the Cronkhite Graduate Center for the Radcliffe Seminars, Radcliffe's continuing education program; built the Radcliffe Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center specifically for use by students who lived at the Radcliffe Quadrangle; and encouraged the joint Harvard and Radcliffe Office for the Arts, housed in Agassiz House.

In her inaugural address, Horner spoke of a broad mission for Radcliffe: "to do the right thing for its undergraduates, its alumnae, and for women generally" and she succeeded in bringing a new focus at the college to the concerns of women and women's rights. The Radcliffe Institute, renamed the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute in 1978, sponsored research by women and offered fellowships to women that created a pipeline and enabled them to flourish in the creative arts and academic institutions. The Institute moved to a new, enlarged campus in 1988. The Schlesinger Library's resources on women's history grew and the library was renovated and expanded (1989). The Radcliffe Research and Data Center (renamed the Murray Research Center after Henry A. Murray in 1980) was established in 1976 to collect social and behavioral data on the study of lives over time and of issues of concern to American women. All data sets were amenable to secondary analysis. "In terms of the physical facilities the Schlesinger Library, Bunting Institute and Murray Center at Radcliffe," wrote Mariam Chamberlain in Women in Academe (1988) "are the foremost centers, and their combined resources for research about women are unmatched anywhere in the United States if not in the world."

Horner served on the boards of Time Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Liberty Mutual Insurance Co,. and on the boards of foundations and educational organizations including the American Council on Education, New England Board of Higher Education, National Institute of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, New England College Fund, Twentieth Century Fund, National Science Foundation Advisory Council, United Nations Association advisory panel on U.S.- China Relations, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, American Enterprise Institute advisory committee, and Council on Competitiveness. President Jimmy Carter in 1979 appointed Horner to the President's Commission for the National Agenda for the 1980s and the following year asked her to serve as chairperson of the Task Force on the Quality of American Life.

Despite her many administrative duties at Radcliffe, Horner maintained direct contact with students by holding weekly conferences and teaching several classes. As a scholar, administrator, and mother of three children, Matina Horner was a role model for young women who wished to combine traditional roles with a professional life. She received the Catalyst award (1979), awards from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Conference of Christians and Jews (1981), and honorary degrees from Dickinson College, the University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College, the University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, Smith College, Wheaton College, the University of Hartford, the University of New England, and the University of Michigan.

Since her retirement as president of Radcliffe in 1989, she was named to the Boards of Directors of the Neiman Marcus Group and the Boston Edison Company; was executive vice-president of TIAA-CREF in New York; was on the Board of Trustees for Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (becoming chairman in 1995); and received the Distinguished Bostonian Award in 1990 and the Ellis Island Medal in 1990.

From the guide to the Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1972-1989, (Radcliffe College Archives, Radcliffe Institute)

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  • Affirmative action programs--United States

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