Elizabeth Topham Kennan bigraphy, stories - American college president

Elizabeth Topham Kennan : biography

1938 -

Elizabeth Topham Kennan (born 1938) is an American academic who served as the 16th president of Mount Holyoke College from 1978–1995. She also served as president of the Five Colleges consortium from 1985–1994.


Kennan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After Kennan received her B.A. (summa cum laude) in history from Mount Holyoke in 1960. On a Marshall Scholarship she pursued a second B.A. (subsequently M.A.) at Oxford University, more specifically St. Hilda's College, which she completed in 1962. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1966.

Personal life

Kennan is married to Michael Burns, the former actor and professor emeritus at Mount Holyoke. They presently reside near Danville, Kentucky, where they have restored the Cambus-Kenneth Estate, a thoroughbred horse farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Kennan was professor of medieval history at Catholic University from 1966 – 1978 before joining Mount Holyoke as president 1978 – 1995. As president of Mount Holyoke, she was a proponent of single-sex education, stating to the Los Angeles Times in 1994: "Single-sex education for girls is a proven method for ensuring that they reach their fullest potential. I will be the first to call for coeducation at Mount Holyoke, the country's oldest women's college, when our society grants young women equal status in coeducational settings". Kennan was also president of the Five Colleges consortium for nine years (1985 – 1994) while at Mount Holyoke. Upon her retirement from Mount Holyoke in 1995, the Kennan Faculty Chair and Lectureship was established.

She has also served as a trustee of the University of Notre Dame, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, and on the oversight committee of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Among the corporate boards on which Kennan has served as director or trustee are Bell Atlantic, Shawmut Bank, and Putnam Investments.

Mystery author

In 2000, Kennan co-authored the mystery novel, Overnight Float, with Jill Ker Conway (former president of Smith College). The novel is published under the nom de plume "Clare Munnings" and was their first venture into the mystery genre.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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