cover image The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

Maggie Doherty. Knopf, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3305-6

Harvard University lecturer Doherty debuts with an elegant, novelistic history of the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study and its influence on the lives and careers of five female artists and the women’s movement at large. Founded by the president of Radcliffe College in 1960, the institute accepted women with PhDs or “the equivalent,” providing them with a stipend, library access, a private office, and “a community of the like-minded.” Doherty centers her account on a group of friends and collaborators who attended the institute from 1961 to 1963: poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, writer and communist organizer Tillie Olsen, painter Barbara Swan, and sculptor Marianna Pineda. Though the complex yet creatively fruitful relationship between Sexton and Kumin takes center stage, Olsen emerges as “the most politically conscious” member of the group, a forceful critic of the institute’s premise that motherhood and intellectual work were mutually sustaining, who anticipated emerging fault lines within the women’s movement at the intersections of race, class, and gender. Doherty’s prose dazzles, and she skillfully integrates her copious research into the narrative while toggling between biographical, creative, and political matters. This empathetic, wide-angled portrait will resonate with fans of the individual artists as well as feminists and readers of women’s history. (May)