In search of Marion Facinger

Marion Facinger - image provided by Jane Freidson

Marion Facinger - image provided by Jane Freidson

A pioneering historian of medieval queenship only published one article on the subject. What became of her?

By Michael Evans

A few years ago, I was working on a book about the image of Eleanor of Aquitaine. As part of my research, I read the pioneering article written by Marion Facinger in 1968, “A Study of Medieval Queenship: Capetian France, 987-1237.” No academics really did queenship before the 1960s: the assumption that queens were merely passive consorts, valued only as wives and mothers, meant that the concept of queenship as an institution, involving female political agency, was largely discounted. Even today, MS Word flags “queenship” as a typo, emphatically underscored with a wavy red line. Facinger was one of the first scholars to take medieval queens seriously: historian Nina Verbanaz writes that she “first introduced a systematic study of queenship as an office.”

But who was Marion Facinger? Her article changed the study of medieval queens, yet she seemed never to have published again. The editors of a collection of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine (John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler) credited Facinger’s work, and a biography of Eleanor by Marion Meade, to the same author, one “Marion (Facinger) Meade.” Yet I found it hard to believe that Facinger’s scholarly article, and the romanticizing and slightly speculative biography by Meade, were from the same pen. Had Facinger changed direction to write a mass-market biography of Eleanor? It is one thing for a writer to change their style to write for a popular audience, quite another to reverse their entire interpretive approach. And Facinger’s married name was Freidson – maybe Meade was a nom-de-plume? To confuse matters further, Marion Facinger Freidson had also published on nineteenth-century Italian literature.

So I took to email; one of the editors of the Eleanor of Aquitaine volume assured me that yes, Marion Meade and Marion Facinger were the same person. However, Marion Meade told me that no, she was not Marion Facinger. And so the matter was resolved and became a footnote in my book.

I thought little more about it, but I must have mentioned the Mystery of the Missing Medievalist in the medieval graduate colloquium that I taught at CMU a few years ago. One of my graduate students sent me a link to the website of Marion Meade’s daughter, Jane Freidson, who is a ceramics artist in New York. Freidson has produced a series in honor of her mother called the “Ladies’ Room Project.” I had, patronizingly, thought of Facinger as a lost talent because she had not pursued a career in academia, but Freidson’s website reveals that her mother lived a full and active life before and after graduate school:

She served as an army nurse in North Africa and Italy, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. After the war, she entered the University of Chicago on the GI bill and achieved an M.A. and a Ph.D. in medieval history. Her doctoral thesis on French queens in the middle ages is still cited as an early feminist work. She married and became a housewife, raising two children, one of whom had special needs. After a divorce in the mid-1960's, she returned to nursing and worked for decades at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, NJ. She was elected to several terms on the Leonia (NJ) town council where she advocated for environmental issues and against nuclear armaments and war. She loved her family, nature, and intellectual conversation. She was an avid reader, a writer of letters, a gardener, seamstress, baker, birdwatcher, and much beloved by her friends and colleagues.

Like many talented women in the 1950s, Facinger saw her career take second place to that of her husband, the sociologist Eliot Freidson. Jane Freidson told me that after her mother’s time at Chicago they moved frequently, “finally to N.J. in 1957. All these moves were for my dad's career. So everything Marion did on her dissertation was long after she left Chicago - she must have been working from afar.” Facinger’s return to nursing “must have offered a higher salary without all the politics of the ivory tower.” Plus ça change…

In learning about Marion Facinger, I discovered the rich life of someone I had known previously only as the name attached to an article. She may not have made academia her career, but she demonstrates that the work of graduate students can change an entire field – or even create a new one.

I would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Jane Freidson, for giving me permission to use pictures from her website, and providing additional information about Marion Facinger’s life; John Carmi Parsons and Marion Meade for responding to my emails; Derrick English for informing me about Jane Freidson’s work.


Michael Evans is an instructor in History at Delta College, and a former lecturer in CMU’s History Department. He is also the author of several works on medieval queenship including: Michael Evans, Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). For more information or to contact him visit the Delta Faculty page.

Wrapping it up with Thomas Aquinas

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As the semester and year come to a close sadly so does my time as the editor of [Re]collection.  Though there are still a few weeks before the end of the year, this is the last time that I will write a personal post on this blog.  Therefore thought I ought to give a few words of salutations before passing the torch to the more-than-capable Marcel Haas.  I have learned a lot in my six months as editor and have greatly appreciated all of the authors and readers that make this blog a point of interest. I could spend the rest of this post describing the mechanics that go into editing and managing a blog:  copy editing, working with peers and senior colleagues, managing deadlines, keeping an eye out for tone of writing, scrambling to get the final touches on a post, and much more.  But I am sure that many of you are familiar with this process already; in fact, I can imagine a great deal of our readers are academics themselves and are therefore all too familiar with these processes (and more).  So rather than spend any more time on these matters, I have decided I am going to share a parting story from my own research and teaching interests.  My hope is that this story will be interesting and serve properly as parting words for my time as editor.

In May of 1244, Thomas Aquinas decided to leave his cushy life assured of future ecclesiastical appointments and to join the Dominican order.  Perhaps this change of heart is all too close to some of our own lives – leaving a life of potential financial and professional success for headier pursuits (i.e. signing up to spend half a decade of your life getting a PhD).  As he left, Thomas utterly stunned his family who worked so hard to set him off on the right track.  Regardless, Thomas followed his calling and trudged on.  In fact, he did not trudge at all – he became one of the most prolific writers in medieval European history.  Historians estimate that, during his prime, he was producing two to three novel-length volumes per month.  Most readers will likely recognize Thomas’s name from his life’s work, Summa theologiae– a tome that addresses over 4,500 theological questions and was meant to replace the outdated Sentencesof Peter Lombard. Curiously, though, Thomas never finished his magnum opus.  This fact is curious because Thomas simply decided to stop writing seemingly out of the blue.

On December 6, 1273 (not that long from today’s date, albeit 745 years later), Aquinas is reported to have said, “After what I have seen today, I can write no more, for all that I have written is straw”. Historians are not sure exactly what it was that Thomas saw and why exactly he had such a dramatic change in perspective.  Dying three short months later in March 1274, some speculate whether it was some sort of medical diagnosis.  Nevertheless, Thomas stepped away from his enormously productive career at the height of his powers.  More critically though, he did not finish what seemed to be his life’s work. Thomas’s halt in writing has fascinated historians and theologians for years, and it remains puzzling to this day.

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I share this story not to draw any parallels between the theological giant Thomas Aquinas and my own time at [Re]collection. Nor do I plan to offer any new answers as to Thomas’s sudden stoppage of writing.  What I find most fascinating about this whole story is how Thomas continually displays what he thinks is a realistic perspective on his own legacy.  He is reflective and even self-deprecating as he halts his projects to engage in more contemplative pursuits.  This is especially true if he did not know that he would soon pass away just a few months after ceasing writing.  A general point of application that I draw from this story, and, by extension, offer to you as readers is to have the proper perspective as you reach the end of the year.  Whether it is with professional goals, writing projects, grading, or end-of-year holiday hustle, be sure to not overestimate how critical every detail is. Remember that you will always experience a mix of failure and success – perfectly embodied, I believe, in my time here as the editor.  If even Thomas Aquinas gives himself a thoughtful critique and reflection, so can you too.  So, as I wrap things up in the next few weeks, I hope that the posts over the past few months have been a little more than “straw”.  At the same time, I know that it has been a productive season.  Thank you all for all of your support – especially former editor Chiara Ziletti and everyone in the History Department at Central Michigan University.  Finally, I wish my colleague and future editor Marcel Haas all the best in the coming year – viel Glück mein Freund!