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Department of History


Marcia G. Synnott

Title: Emeritus Faculty
Department: History
College of Arts and Sciences


  • B.A. Radcliffe College
  • M.A. Brown University
  • Ph.D. University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Taught undergraduates and graduate students in the History of American Women and United States History with a focus on the twentieth century. She also taught a graduate course on Historic Site Interpretation.


Professor Synnott's research focuses on two main areas: higher education and American women’s history. Her first book dealt with access to and discrimination in higher education: (1) The Half-Opened Door: Discrimination and Admissions at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, 1900-1970 (Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, Inc., 1979); re-published with author’s new introduction (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ, 2010). .Dr. Synnott updated her research on this topic with three subsequent publications: (2) “The Evolving `Diversity Rationale’ in University Admissions: From Regents v. Bakke to the University of Michigan Cases,” presented at the February 28, 2004 “Symposium “Revisiting Brown v. Board of Education” and published in Cornell Law Review 90:2 (January 2005); (3) "A Friendly Rivalry: Yale and Princeton Universities Pursue Parallel Paths to Coeducation," in Going Coed: Women's Experiences in Formerly Men's Colleges and Universities, 1950-2000, ed. Leslie Miller-Bernal and Susan L. Poulson (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004); and (4) “The Changing `Harvard Student': Ethnicity, Race, and Gender," in Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History, ed. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Dr. Synnott incorporated these articles and significant additional archival research in a new book (5)Student Diversity at the Big Three: Changes at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton since the 1920s (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers 2013).

Since living in South Carolina Dr Synnott has researched and published on desegregation in higher education, for example, (6) "Federalism Vindicated: University Desegregation in South Carolina and Alabama, 1962-1963," Journal of Policy History I:3 (July 1989); and (7) “African American Women Pioneers in Desegregating Higher Education,” Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement: White Supremacy, Black Southerners, and College Campuses, ed. Peter Wallenstein (University Press of Florida, 2008). Research on desegregation led her to examine the role of a white woman civil rights activist, Alice Norwood Spearman Wright, who served as executive director of the biracial South Carolina Council on Human Relations from 1954 to 1967. The two most recent of her four published essays on Wright are (8) “Alice Buck Norwood Spearman Wright: Civil Rights Activist,” South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 3, ed. Marjorie J. Spruill, Valinda Littlefield, Joan Marie Johnson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012); and (9) “Moderate White Activists and the Struggle for Racial Equality on South Carolina Campuses,” Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s, ed. Robert Cohen and David Snyder (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). These essays will form the core of her almost finished political-social biography of Alice Spearman Wright. Dr. Synnott also  presents papers at historical associations, reviews manuscripts for university presses, and is editing the over fifty interviews she conducted, from 1980 to 1995, on desegregation of state universities in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, which she donated to the South Caroliniana Library’s Oral history Program.

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