Nine years ago, Elaine Tuttle Hansen became Bates College’s seventh president, and the first woman to hold that position.

That was a milestone in the college’s history, but she said she has always been mindful of the fact that Bates founder and first president, Oren B. Cheney, saw to it that women were welcomed more than 150 years ago, making Bates the first coeducational college in New England that admitted students without regard to race, religion, national origin, or sex.

“I’m very proud to be a part of a college that was open to women in 1855,” Hansen said. She pointed out that it happened here generations before many major U.S. colleges and universities were making that change.

As president of Bates, Hansen said her principal goal has been “to be the best ambassador I can be for Bates and for Lewiston-Auburn, and to help them grow ever stronger into the future.”

That goal takes her all over the world, including a flight to London within the first couple weeks of 2011. She meets many Bates graduates in her travels and she said they fondly remember their Bates days and they ask about changes on campus and throughout L-A.

Hansen said there should never be any misunderstanding that a small college in a small community would not have much to do with the wider world. It certainly does, she asserted. That impact comes from the quality of the students and the Bates experience and philosophy.


Prior to coming to Bates, Hansen spent 22 years at Haverford College, a suburban Philadelphia liberal arts college of 1,100 students, where she served as provost. She earned her A.B. at Mount Holyoke College, her M.A. at the University of Minnesota, and her Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

Before coming to Haverford in 1980, she was an associate editor of the Middle English Dictionary at the University of Michigan and taught at Hamilton College.

She has taught a wide variety of courses in Middle English literature and in contemporary women’s writing and feminist theory, as well as introductory linguistics and first-year writing seminars. Before being named provost at Haverford, she served as chair of the English department and as coordinator of the Haverford/Bryn Mawr concentration in feminist and gender studies.

“The best connection between my work as a scholar of Chaucer and a teacher of Chaucer is really at the level of problem-solving skills.“ There really is a lot of cross-over with what’s needed as a college president, she said.

Hansen explained that Geoffrey Chaucer’s writing has a lot to teach us about attitudes of women and toward women in the medieval age. She said she studied his sometimes contradictory passages in “The Canterbury Tales” and his story of the Wife of Bath.

“It’s all about figuring out what is the right question to ask, doing your homework and then figuring out where you think the answer lies. The other part of that is how to translate from one era to another or from one group of people to another,” Hansen said. “So much of my job is translating the academic world of the liberal arts in Maine for audiences who may not have been to places like Maine,” and she added that it also includes communication with parents.

“I will always have an interest and affection for medieval literature,” Hansen said, but she said she is not involved in research, writing or teaching at this time because her position as Bates president requires full attention.

“I feel very lucky to have been born and brought up in a time when doors were opening for women,” Hansen said. “There are still many challenges for women.”

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