Scholar and administrator Matina Horner (born 1939) did early research into women's fear of success. She later became the youngest president of Radcliffe College during a period of redefining its relationship with Harvard University.
Matina Souretis Horner was born July 28, 1939, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to Greek parents who decided to remain in the United States after World War II broke out in Europe. While attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania she became interested in experimental psychology and studied "need achievement" in Greek and Jewish subculture groups for her honors thesis. She obtained her BA degree cum laude in 1961. It was at Bryn Mawr that Matina Souretis met Joseph L. Horner, a future research physicist. The two were married in 1961 and in the autumn of that year both went to the University of Michigan for graduate studies. Matina Horner completed her Masters of Science degree in 1963 and earned her Ph.D. degree in 1968.
Horner possessed unusual intelligence and ambition. Even as a child in kindergarten she tutored other children in arithmetic and spelling. In 1960 she was a research assistant under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. At the University of Michigan, Horner served as research assistant in the Department of Psychology, held a teaching fellowship, and was a lecturer in the university's Department of Social Relations.
During Horner's early research into intelligence, motivation, and achievement she became aware that much of the research paid little attention to women's motivation toward achievement. She decided to concentrate her motivation research on that, and while her co-researchers concluded that high anxiety levels found in women they tested were caused by their fear of failure, Matina Horner reasoned that their anxiety might well have been caused by the possibility of success instead. To verify her hypothesis Horner conducted a study of 90 female and 88 male students at the university in 1964. Males were asked to complete a story about John, a struggling male medical student, while females were to finish a similar story of Anne, a female student. Ninety percent of the men finished their story with John as happy, successful, and prosperous. However, 65 percent of the females saw Anne's future in negative terms. From their comments Horner concluded that women developed high anxiety levels because they could not reconcile their desire to excel with society's view that women who were very intelligent, independent, or ambitious were unfeminine. Horner's "fear of success" theory became a potent tool in the women's movement.
In 1969 Horner joined the faculty of Harvard University as a lecturer in the Department of Social Relations. The following year she was named assistant professor in that department's Personality and Development Wing. She was popular with Harvard and Radcliffe students, both at the undergraduate level and in graduate seminars.
Just three years after her appointment to the Harvard faculty Horner was selected by the Radcliffe board of trustees on May 15, 1972, to become the sixth and youngest president in its history, in which position she remained until 1989. She inherited the complex and continuing Radcliffe-Harvard relationship. When Radcliffe was started in 1879, its purpose was to offer women "equal access" to Harvard and its outstanding faculty. But only when World War II decimated the number of male students were Radcliffe women allowed into Harvard classes, and it was 1967 before women were permitted to use Harvard's undergraduate library. Men and women were allowed to have a joint commencement at Harvard first in 1970. When Mary Bunting, Horner's predecessor, resigned her post saying that there was not enough trust and not enough respect between the two colleges, the debate over whether Radcliffe College should be merged with Harvard was at its peak. Some believed that financial considerations would necessitate their merger, but Horner thought it important that Radcliffe retain its corporate independence in order to determine its own priorities.
Another problem facing Horner was the admission policy. Although Harvard had agreed to lower the percentage of men in its total student body from about 80 percent to 70 percent, it was still short of "equality." Some doubted that the young, soft-spoken Horner could gain any more concessions because of the fear that alumni donations would drop off if more women replaced men in Harvard's classes. Horner explained later that she listened to all the arguments and then said it was "interesting that all of the evidence seemed to indicate that Harvard alumni had only male children." It must have been an effective point since in 1975 it was declared that both Radcliffe and Harvard would no longer have limits on the number of women students who could be admitted.
Horner was also concerned that so few women were among Harvard's tenured faculty. To ameliorate the problem she used Radcliffe's independent status to encourage junior faculty women to publish by establishing the Radcliffe biography series, a special book publishing program. In 1978 one of its first publications, entitled Women of Crisis, became a bestseller.
President Jimmy Carter in 1979 recognized Horner's special talents when he appointed her to the President's Commission for the National Agenda for the 1980s. The following year he asked her to serve as chairperson of the Task Force on the Quality of American Life.
Despite her many administrative duties at Radcliffe, Horner maintained direct contact with students by reserving time for weekly conferences with them and by teaching several classes. As a scholar, administrator, and mother of three children, Matina Horner became an important role model for many young American women who wished to combine the traditional feminine roles with a professional life.
Since her retirement as president of Radcliffe, she was named to the Boards of Directors of the Neiman Marcus Group and the Boston Edison Company; was executive vice-president of TIAA-CREF in New York; was on the Board of Trustees for Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (becoming chairman in 1995); received the Distinguished Bostonian Award in 1990, the Ellis Island Medal in 1990; and was an active member in NOW (National Organization for Women).
Further Reading on Matina Souretis Horner
Biographical information for Matina Horner is available in the March 20 and May 29, 1972, issues of Time. Further data is in Barbara Rose's "Success: You Can Learn To Love It, " Vogue, June 1973. A brief history of Radcliffe College and Horner's role in that institution may be found in "Fair Radcliffe at One Hundred, " Time, March 19, 1979. In Kathleen Hirsch's "My Side: Matina Horner, " Working Woman, January 1984, Horner reflected on advances for women and what the future may hold for them.