College mourns passing of VP Adams

by Rebekah Rombom | 11/15/04 6:00am

Ruth Marie Adams, an administrator who oversaw Dartmouth's transition into coeducation, died Wednesday of natural causes in her home at the Kendal at Hanover retirement community. Adams was 90 years old.

Adams held notable titles in higher education throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She came to Dartmouth in 1972 as the College's first female vice president.

In 1972, President of the College John Kemeny handpicked Adams to join his administration and ease the transition of becoming a coeducational institution. She was one of a few female staff members at Dartmouth in the early 1970s, and her input, friends said, helped the overwhelmingly male administration anticipate and cope with the problems that came with integrating female students into College life.

Until her retirement in 1988, Adams also taught English at the College. She specialized in Victorian literature but was also an avid reader of both contemporary and classic literature.

Adams was highly regarded by friends and colleagues, who referred to her wit, wisdom and sense of humor.

Mary Kay Beach '76 was one of Adams' first advisees in 1972.

"She was a great role model -- competent, smart, funny," said Beach. "She was adventurous and she had no fear of the unknown."

As both a traditional and an extremely independent woman, Adams practiced her own brand of feminism. In addition to holding positions in the administrations of prestigious colleges and universities, "she smoked cigarettes and drank scotch," said Beach. "I know she and John Kemeny used to smoke cigarettes in a room until it was blue."

Adams was also known to be a gracious hostess with an extensive collection of opera albums.

Per her wishes, there will be no memorial service, but those who regularly attended her parties are planning to throw a similar gathering in her honor in the near future.

When she was asked to say a few words to the first entering female undergraduates in the fall of 1972, Adams referred humorously to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."

"The protagonist of that volume and its sequel is Alice, 'a reasonable young lady.' And in her adventures she encounters a number of fabulous beasts," Adams said then. "I belabor the point if I say that for myself and the others of my sex there is a kind of wonderland quality in coming to Dartmouth."

Prior to Dartmouth, Adams acted as an associate English professor and director of the honors program at the University of Rochester until 1960, when she became a professor and dean of Douglass College at Rutgers University. From 1966 to 1972, Adams held the position of president emerita at Wellesley College.

During her tenure at Wellesley, Adams met weekly with Hillary Rodham, who was then the head of her class. Rodham Clinton went so far as to deviate from her prepared speech at her graduation to speak of Adams.

Adams was born on July 14, 1914 in New York. She spent her childhood on Long Island but traveled extensively thereafter.

She received her bachelor of arts degree from Adelphi College in 1935. She taught high-school English for several years before getting her masters of arts degree at Columbia University in 1943. She was a housemistress at Radcliffe College and a teaching fellow and tutor at Harvard University in the 1940s.

Adams received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in 1951.