Submitted by Holly R. Saltrelli

April 28, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations


AMHERST, Mass.—Martha Saxton, professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Amherst College, has been awarded a prestigious Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship in support of her work. The honor will enable her to use the research collections and online resources of the New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library in Manhattan to finish a forthcoming book on George Washington’s mother Mary Ball Washington, tentatively titled The Widow Washington.

“For the 10th consecutive year, we are delighted to welcome an extraordinary class to The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers,” said Paul LeClerc, president of the library. “The center continues to be place for creativity and innovative ideas, offering fellows a collegial environment in which to nurture ideas.”

Saxton will take leave from Amherst this fall and spring and join just 14 other fellows in residence at the center from September 2008 through May 2009. She will receive a stipend, office space in the center’s quarters on the second floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library and the assistance of the organization’s curatorial staff in researching her manuscript.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” said Saxton. “The library is an extraordinary institution, and having colleagues there will be a great pleasure.”

Saxton’s interest in Mary Ball Washington stemmed from previous research she conducted on widows and their sons in late 18th-century Virginia. While analyzing the relationships of such mothers with their boys, she was struck by the widely differing treatments of Washington. Accounts of Washington’s maternal skills by historians in the 1800s are generally positive and full of praise, explained Saxton, but 20th-century writings describe the widow much more critically. In addition to reconstructing the outlines of Washington’s life, Saxton said she will more broadly examine the transformation of biography in the past 200 years and its implications for stories told about women.

Saxton, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Columbia University, was appointed to the Amherst faculty in 1997.

The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers fosters creative and scholarly conversation both within the library and in the larger cultural context of New York through informal lunches, public evening programs and the publications of its alumni. Many fellows have published critically acclaimed, award-winning books based on their work at the Cullman Center. Some include Andrew Delbanco’s Melville: His World and Work (Knopf, 2005), Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases (Knopf, 2007) and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Chatter: Inside the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping (Random House, 2005).

This year, the center received 218 fellowship applications from around the world. A committee composed of scholars, public intellectuals and writers from across a spectrum of fields selected the fellows. For more information, visit

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 34 fields of study.