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Book Cover for: Separate Lives: Uncovering the Hidden Family of Victorian Professor Mary Rippon, Silvia Pettem

Separate Lives: Uncovering the Hidden Family of Victorian Professor Mary Rippon

Silvia Pettem

Mary Rippon was a pioneer woman educator in the male-dominated world of nineteenth-century academia. As the first female professor at the University of Colorado, she is believed to have been the first woman in the U.S. to teach at a state university. Mary received wide acclaim for her teaching, but Victorian society forced her to lead two very separate lives. "Miss Rippon," as she was always called, was both a professional woman and a mother in an era when these two roles could not be combined. In order to keep her job, she hid her husband and child behind a Victorian veil of secrecy that spanned two continents. Now, for the first time, the full story of the conflicts between this extraordinary woman's public and private lives is revealed.

Readers will follow Mary from her small midwestern hometown to the great centers of culture in Europe. In January 1878, after several years of education in Germany, France, and Switzerland, the soft-spoken twenty-seven-year-old was welcomed at the newly opened University of Colorado in the then-small frontier town of Boulder. The growth of her lengthy career paralleled the early growth of the university, where she worked her way up from first female faculty member to the university's first female professor, eventually chairing the Department of German Language and Literature.

The truth of Mary's separate lives was not revealed until nearly a century later, in 1976, when her elderly grandson revealed to a university librarian that he was Mary's descendant. In 2006, Mary received a posthumous honorary degree from the University of Colorado, and a scholarship was recently endowed in her name. Silvia Pettem's carefully researched biography weaves together the story of Mary's private life with her professional career: not to tarnish Mary's well-deserved reputation, but rather to uncover the human side of a woman whose circumstances clashed with the mores of her times.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Lyons Press
  • Publish Date: Aug 6th, 2024
  • Pages: 256
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00lb
  • EAN: 9781493079353
  • Categories: WomenEducatorsUnited States - State & Local - West (AK, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT

About the Author

Silvia Pettem is a Colorado-based historical researcher, writer, and author of more than twenty books on history, biography, missing and unidentified persons, and true crime. She also has a knack for pulling intriguing women out of the past.

Separate Lives: Uncovering the Hidden Family of Victorian Professor Mary Rippon is set in the late nineteenth century. Pettem's other nonfiction narratives on women focus on later time periods. In Search of the Blonde Tigress: The Untold Story of Eleanor Jarman (2023) exposes and expands upon a true crime story from the 1930s, while Someone's Daughter: In Search of Justice for Jane Doe, Updated Edition (2023) follows a murder investigation (and identification of the victim) from the 1950s.

Pettem lives with her husband and two cats in the mountains west of Boulder, where she continues her research and writing. She can be reached through her website,

Praise for this book

"An engaging juxtaposition of late 1800s morality and millennial openness."

--Clay Evans, Boulder Daily Camera

"Pettem has done an excellent job of reconstructing Rippon's secret life and turning it into an absorbing narrative."

--Sandra Dallas, Denver Post

"This book is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. A real page-turner."

--Nancy Carter, Colorado Libraries

"Charmingly written and carefully documented. . . . Americans everywhere with an interest in the fortunes of women of the west should delight in this gem unearthed by Silvia Pettem. Separate Lives humbles and uplifts us at the same time."

--Adrian del Caro, author of Nietzsche contra Nietzsche; professor of German and former chair, University of Colorado

"In these pages you will find an amazing woman who lived life to the fullest, shattering the mold in which nineteenth-century men wrapped women. Beautifully written and carefully researched and told, this story is vivid and unforgettable."

--Tom Noel, author of many books on Colorado; professor of history, University of Colorado at Denver

"With skill and compassion, Silvia Pettem has revealed a previously unknown side of a remarkable educator. . . . This absorbing biography is the story of a modern-minded woman trapped in the mores of the Victorian age."

--Jane Valentine Barker, author of Mari: A Novel