Trinity College Student Earns Second Master’s Degree – 50 Years After Her First

Emily Leonard, 87, Says, ‘Being with Young People was the Icing on the Cake’

​Hartford, Connecticut, May 10, 2016 – Even as she is about to receive her second master’s degree, 87-year-old Emily Leonard has no plans to end her academic career. Leonard is a graduate student receiving a master’s in American Studies from Trinity College this May, and hopes to pursue a Ph.D.

​Emily Leonard
​Emily Leonard
Leonard grew up in New York City and spent the last 40 years in Gramercy Park. She earned her first master’s degree – in communications – from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1966, and spent the next 30 years as PR executive with national non-profits and a Fortune 50 corporation. In 2012, she moved to a retirement community in West Hartford and decided to pursue her second master’s degree at Trinity. “This has been absolutely the best four years of my life,” she said of her time at Trinity. “I have never been happier.”

The soon-to-be graduate said that she has enjoyed being immersed in the academic environment. Leonard said that the most exciting part of being back in school is the work itself: “Researching, making connections between seemingly irrelevant facts and writing a convincing argument,” she said. “Being with young people was the icing on the cake.”

Leonard’s thesis is a 600-page transcription and annotation of a 10-year, 466-page journal kept by Edward Watkinson Wells. Leonard described Wells as “a self-satisfied, self-contained, disinterested chronicler of daily life in antebellum Hartford as experienced by people ‘of the better sort.’” Her project, “The Bard of Prospect Street: The Journal of Edward Watkinson Wells, 1841-1851,” substantiates the theory that the very institutions founded by extended families like Edward's replaced the kinship group in meeting most of its economic and social needs. Leonard’s thesis adviser is Andrew Walsh, associate director of the Greenberg Center and Coordinator of the Program on Public Values.

Her thesis also explores rapid technological advances of the time, including the railroad, the telegram and gas light. These advances led to major changes in the ways of life of Connecticut citizens. For example, Leonard said, the new railway system fostered the standardization of time.

Knowing that the entries in this journal had never been seen by scholars before, Leonard was excited to transcribe the writings and make them available electronically. “It was the ultimate exercise in empiricism,” she said, “allowing me to have the first word on what I fear will never be really argued.” It is unlikely that many people would have the time or patience to explore the lengthy, tedious journal, she added.

Leonard hopes to continue her studies by transforming her thesis into a book. “It’s nice to say at the end of my life I did something significant,” Leonard said.

To her fellow classmates, Leonard offers this advice to live by: “Be good to your spouse, don’t spoil your children, and always vote the straight Democratic ticket.”

Leonard’s thesis is available online through Trinity’s Watkinson Library. To explore her work, click here.

Commencement Weekend at Trinity College is May 21-22.

Written by Liz A. Boyhan ’18