Why did I write a book about John Simmons?
He founded a women’s college in Boston, MA that I graduated from twice, first with a BA in English and Art History, later with an MBA. I didn’t give John much thought, however, until my early forties.
Two experiences returned me to this radical nineteenth century tailor, making me proud of, grateful for, and curious about this man and his mission. Before and after the Gulf War, I worked in Saudi Arabia and experienced the gender restrictions similar to those faced by my American Simmons foremothers decades earlier. I realized how lucky I was to have an exceptional college education that led to very rewarding work and play opportunities and I wanted to know more about the man who had made this possible.
Tragically, in 1992, my college classmate, Betsy McCandless, was murdered by her ex-husband at a time when domestic violence was perceived as a private matter. Yet Simmons College responded rightly by stepping up and instituting “Betsy’s Friends”, the first relationship violence peer prevention program on a college campus. My admiration for this institution grew.
In 2011, I received a grant to study biography at the Norman Mailer Writing Center then in Provincetown, MA. I spent three years researching and writing about John, a
modest clothing manufacturer with two daughters, a man who had the foresight to leave his fortune to endow a women’s college so that female scholars could enjoy “an independent livelihood.“ John’s biography is a labor of love and an expression of my gratitude for a man I never met, but one I feel I now know a bit better. My hope is that you will come to appreciate not just John Simmons the man, but the long reach of all those who came before us and made our world a better place.
~ Denise Doherty Pappas