Passing meets The House of Mirth in this "utterly captivating" (Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House) historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar, who successfully passed as white--until she let herself grow too attached to the wrong person.Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country's most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise "Lottie" Taylor, the scion of one of New York's most prominent families. Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie's sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it's like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman--the person everyone believes her to be--and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It's only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita's brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister's, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita's college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret. Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal--and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.
- ISBN-13: 9781501110450
- ISBN-10: 1501110454
- Publisher: Washington Square Press
- Publish Date: June 2016
- Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.7 pounds
- Page Count: 400
A landmark college career
In 1897, Anita Hemmings was a senior at Vassar College alongside some of the best and brightest girls in the country. She was a member of the Glee Club and a fierce debater, but Hemmings also held a secret that should have banned her from admission: She was an African American. In The Gilded Years, Karin Tanabe fictionalizes the story of the real-life Hemmings, who graduated from Vassar more than 40 years before Vassar allowed African Americans to enroll.
The daughter of a Boston janitor and the descendant of slaves, Hemmings was light complexioned enough to pass as white, and she was even voted class beauty. She kept a distance from her classmates, but in her senior year, Hemmings roomed with wealthy and well-connected Lottie Taylor. As she befriends the adventurous Lottie, Anita finds herself enjoying life as a privileged white woman. But when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Anita’s secret faces a serious threat.
A Vassar graduate, Tanabe first learned about Anita Hemmings from an article in the alumni magazine. This engaging novel, set in a time of conflict between old money and new ideas, captures both the bravery and the heartbreak of Anita’s decision. Though the writing at times lacks nuance, the story is a captivating one. Readers won’t soon forget Anita Hemmings or the choices she made.