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How Lucy Maynard Salmon changed history

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Past is the Past! But no, it is not past, In us, in us, it quickens, wants aspires, And in our hearts the unknown dead have cast The hunger and thirst of their desires. . . . We write THE END where fate has scarce begun And no man knows the things that he has done. Lawrence Binyon HAD Lucy Maynard Salmon written this poem with which she headed a chapter in her book ``Historical Materials,'' she would probably have changed the last line so that it read, ``And no human knows the things that he or she has done.'' Miss Salmon's interest in history was stimulated when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in the early 1870s. President Grant was in office. Appalled by the stories of corruption that surrounded many of his appointees, she began looking into the ways other presidents had used this power of filling positions of public trust. On graduating, she had to put this interest on hold while she spent five years teaching at a country school.

When she was able to return to Ann Arbor for a year, she immersed herself in the history section of the library, taking ``the appointing power of the presidency'' as her thesis.

At the same time she helped to establish the American Historical Association, of which she was a charter member. She read an abridged version of her thesis at one of the meetings. It was so highly acclaimed that the decision was made to publish it in full.

In the wake of the Grant scandals, magazines and newspapers seized upon her book as the most thorough study of the subject ever made. There was amazement that it was done by a woman, someone who didn't even have the right to vote! It was proclaimed one of the strongest instruments in the struggle for civil service reform.

The success of the book opened doors. Lucy Salmon was offered an instructorship at Wellesley College, which she turned down in favor of a fellowship at Bryn Mawr. In 1887, she was invited to join the faculty at Vassar -- and though she was to become ``famous'' (a term she disliked) and to lecture at universities across the country, Vassar and the neighboring city of Poughkeepsie were to be home base for the rest of her life.

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