Patricia Auspos

Published On


Page Range

pp. 329–404


  • English

Print Length

76 pages

5. Having It All

Lucy Sprague Mitchell and Wesley Clair Mitchell

  • Patricia Auspos (author)
Among these five couples, Lucy Sprague Mitchell (1878-1967) and Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874-1948) most successfully combined professional accomplishments with a fulfilling marriage and a rich family life. When they married in 1912, they left their jobs at the University of California at Berkeley, and moved to New York City, which offered more professional opportunities for Lucy. A brilliant teacher and gifted administrator, Lucy became a pioneering force in the progressive education movement. She founded and led the organization that became the celebrated Bank Street College of Education. Wesley, one of the foremost economists of his generation, helped to develop the science of national statistics and launched and directed the National Bureau of Economic Research. They had four children, two of whom were adopted.
Finding the right balance of marriage, work, and family involved much trial and error and frequent recalibration on both Lucy’s and Wesley’s part. Lucy did most of the childcare (with the help of many servants), but Wesley did more than most men of his era, and decided not to take one particular job because he felt it would take too great a toll on his family. Eager to show that wives and mothers can have careers when their husbands support their efforts and help to raise their children, Lucy published Two Lives, The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, in 1953, five years after Wesley’s death. Her message – as relevant today as it was in the 1950s – was that both wives and husbands need to adopt new behaviors to make such marriages work.
Determined to have careers, both Lucy and Beatrice rejected prevalent stereotypes of masculinity and romantic love and made calculated, “rational” choices about whom to marry. Like Beatrice, Lucy came from a privileged background, married a man outside her social class, and used her inherited wealth to support their lifestyle. Like Beatrice, it took her years to appreciate that the man she initially found too weak and passive was a tower of quiet strength and a model husband for an ambitious woman.
Like Sidney, Wesley supported his wife’s career with ongoing, ungrudging, unambiguous enthusiasm. As a result, neither Lucy nor Beatrice suffered the marital pressure – or the guilt – that made it so difficult for Alice and Grace to maintain their independent careers. Nor did they experience the intellectual and emotional isolation that undermined Elsie’s marriage. In the end, both Beatrice and Lucy felt richly rewarded for the unconventional choices they made.


Patricia Auspos


A graduate of Barnard College, Patricia Auspos earned a Ph.D. in Modern British History from Columbia University and taught at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She researched and wrote about social policy issues and programs as a staff member at MDRC and the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, and as an independent consultant. Breaking Conventions is her first book. She lives in Jackson Heights, New York City.