Eleanor Duckett

Eleanor Shipley Duckett
Born (1880-11-07)7 November 1880
Bridgwater, Somerset, England
Died 23 November 1976(1976-11-23) (aged 96)
Nationality English[1]
Education MA, PhD
Alma mater University of London, Bryn Mawr College
Occupation Historian, philologist, writer, professor
Known for Gateway to the Middle Ages, The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages
Denomination Episcopalian[1]

Eleanor Shipley Duckett (7 November 1880, Bridgwater, Somerset, England[2] – 23 November 1976) was an English-born philologist and medieval historian who spent most of her career in the United States. For thirty years, she taught at Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts). Duckett published a number of books with University of Michigan Press, mainly on European history, religious history, and saints, and was a reviewer for The New York Times Book Review. Initially, Duckett was known for writing accessible historical books on the Middle Ages; later, she acquired a reputation as an authority on early medieval saints. A devout Episcopalian, Duckett was the lifelong companion of novelist Mary Ellen Chase.


Duckett received her BA (1903) and MA (1904), as well as a degree in pedagogy (1905), from the University of London, and taught classic literature in high school. After studies at Girton College, Cambridge, which allowed women but did not yet offer a doctoral degree, she went to the United States and on a fellowship attended Bryn Mawr College, where she received her doctorate in 1914.[3] In part, her move toward the United States was motivated by the lack of respect for women scholars in England. In 1964 she recalled how at Cambridge she showed the manuscript of her first book to "an eminent scholar," who asked her, "Do you want me to judge it on its own merits or as the work of a woman?"[1]

In 1914, Duckett attained a position at Western College for Women in Ohio, and in 1916 began teaching Latin at Smith, after 1928 as a full professor, where she would remain the rest of her career. In 1926, she met novelist Mary Ellen Chase, who was from Blue Hill, Maine. They lived together until Chase's death in 1973, and were honored by having adjoining halls named for them on the Smith College campus. In 1928 she was named the John M. Greene Professor of Classical Languages and Literature. She retired in 1949 and was named professor emeritus.[3] In 1952, she finally received her doctorate from Girton College on the basis of her four published books on early medieval history.[1]

Duckett continued to write and travel, mostly to Cambridge and Maine, where she and Chase stayed on the coast at a summer house called Windswept, a name which Chase was to use for one of her most popular novels. In 1973, after Chase died, Duckett lost the house in Northampton where she and Chase had lived since the 1920s and entered a nursing home. She died in 1976, and is buried next to Chase, near Windswept.[1]

Publications and research interests

Duckett began her career as a Latin teacher and philologist, but in the 1920s moved steadily toward the Middle Ages. At this time also, her writing style began to change — possibly under the influence of Chase — toward a more active, accessible, and engaging style, "with considerable wit and sympathetic insight into character." In 1938, she published Gateway to the Middle Ages, which proved an accessible and popular book and established her reputation as a writer for a general audience. Finding more and more popular and scholarly recognition, she continued to cultivate her acquaintance with the scholarly authorities of her time, aided also by her position as a reviewer for The New York Times Book Review.[1]

Select bibliography


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stuard, Susan Mosher (2005). "Eleanor Shipley Duckett (1880–1976)". In Jane Chance. Women medievalists and the academy. Madison: U of Wisconsin Press. pp. 213–26. ISBN 978-0-299-20750-2.
  2. "Birth register entry information". Retrieved 19 March 2011.
  3. 1 2 "Biographical Note". Eleanor Shipley Duckett Papers, 1904–1978. Five College Archive & Manuscript Collections. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  4. Parham, Phyllis (13 July 1957). "He Lived Worthily". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  5. Garth, Helen M. (4 October 1059). "When Saints Walked The Earth". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  6. "Book Reviews: Rev. of Duckett, The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages". The Calgary Herald. 19 December 1964. p. 7. Retrieved 9 March 2011.

External links

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