Life Prints
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MARY GRIMLEY MASON, who lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, is emerita professor of English at Emmanuel College in Boston and a visiting research scholar at Wellesley Center for Research on Women. She has published articles on the theory and practice of autobiography, and co-edited Journeys: Autobiographical Writings by Women.

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Life Prints

A Memoir of Healing and Discovery
Mary Grimley Mason

At the age of six, Mary Grimley is the nation's first "poster child," dining with President Roosevelt at the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center and posing in her wheelchair for publicity shots. But a close look at photos reveals something other than the "cheerful invalid" that the abled expect: mouth closed in a frown, eyes defiant and proud, this bold child is less than impressed with the label of "poor crippled girl."

As a brilliant young scholar in the 1950s and 1960s, Mary Grimley Mason refuses to focus on her disability and instead makes herself privy to a revolution of ideas. At Radcliffe College and in graduate school at the University of Chicago and Harvard, she surrounds herself with writers and thinkers, plunging into the bohemian lifestyle of Cambridge cooperatives and radical intellectualism. But inchoate concepts of "normalcy" soon twist Mason's path, and she finds herself married to another scholar, supporting his studies, keeping house, and raising children. Even during several years in Paris, she is positioned to overhear rather than participate in conversations with scholars and writers such as Louis Massignon. Years of conflict result in a difficult realization: she has laid aside her own dream to become the dream of another—"the perfect wife of a writer," as Frank O'Connor predicted.

Mason spent her life struggling against prejudice toward disabled people; now she discovered an even more formidable enemy: the sexism of mentors, friends, family, and even herself. But she finds the courage to contend with both of the forces that seek to define and limit her. After undergoing years of physical therapy and social isolation, after forcing the strictures of disability behind her, she at last accepts her identity as a disabled person, abandoning "that double in my life—that consciousness or voice that tried to pass as able-bodied." At the same time, she moves beyond the limitations society has prescribed for women, embracing feminism—and discovering her life's work.

Specializing academically in women's autobiography, Mary Grimley Mason is unusually well-suited to narrate and interpret her own life, taking control of its representation with forthright determination.

"[Mason] became a brilliant scholar but then encountered formidable obstacles set up not only by 'able-ism' but also by sexism. Her triumph over both isms makes her memoir more than just readable."


"Mason's concise, clear, sensitive, and beautifully written memoir resonates with anyone trying to understand another human life."


"Highly recommended for all women's studies and disability studies collections."

Library Journal

"A compelling and evocative story of a woman’s life—her pleasures, work, passions, and losses. Mason’s focus on strength and healing tell a fresh disability story."

—Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extra-ordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature

"Life Prints brings home the point that scholars in the relatively young field of disability studies stress: like race, class, and gender, disability configures our experiences, identities, and cultures in fundamental ways. Absent a disability analysis, Mason's experiences sound very much like those of, say, Adrienne Rich, who has written of her years as a 'faculty wife,' and her awakening into feminism and out of institutionalized domesticity and motherhood."

Women's Review of Books