Wellesley, Mass. — Should the new president of Wellesley college jog past you on her way around Lake Waban with a group of undergraduates early some bracing fall morning, don't be surprised if you mistake her for one of them.
Nannerl Overholser Keohane, a lean, athletic 5 feet 11 inches, is just that vibrantly youthful, alive, animated. Her sandy blond hair tumbles even freer and closer to her shoulders now than it did on her graduation day here 20 years ago. Her million-dollar smile is even more radiantly happy.
It is this warm, personable manner, putting others immediately at ease, as much as her recognized scholarship, that already has made her well-liked among Wellesley's students and faculty.
Scholarship is a word that runs consistently through her life story. Born in Blytheville, Ark., the daughter of a -Presbyterian minister, reared in Texas and South Carolina, she came to Wellesley on a scholarship. Majoring in political science, she graduated as a Durant Scholar, Wellesley's highest honor, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Her two years at Oxford University, also on scholarship, earned her a degree with first-class honors in philosophy, politics, and economics.
On a fellowship at Yale University she received her Ph.D. in philosophy, politics, and economics in 1967. And there have been other honors.
Since then she has made the years count - double. She was a teacher of political science at Swarthmore College, -associate professor of political science at Stanford -University, as well as a scholar, author, wife, and mother. On Sept. 18 she was inaugurated as the 11th president of one of America's most prestigious colleges for women.
The way she combines and juggles the differing demands of professional and personal development make her typical of a growing class of dynamic American women in the '80s.
Of all her predecessors, Dr. Keohane and the other Dr. Keohane, her husband, Robert O., also an academician, are the first couple to move into the president's handsome residence overlooking Lake Waban with a full-blown family, brimming it with four children: one college-aged daughter and three school-aged sons.
Wellesley is the only major women's college in the nation that has had women presidents since its opening in 1875. In this sense Nan Keohane is part of a long tradition.
In another sense she is something quite new, one of those ''new girls,'' as one education editor calls them, who are small in number still, but gradually assuming the top leadership position not only of women's colleges but of co-educational institutions and in a few cases even large state universities.
Welcoming the inquiring reporter, of whom there have many since she began work here July 1, the new president strides briskly out of her office, thrusts forward a friendly hand and says, ''I'm Nan Keohane,'' pronouncing it just as George M. Cohan did. Her friendliness and informality are disarming.
Her dress, too, is casual - peacock-blue silk shirt, buttoned-down-the-front skirt, and the ubiquitous espadrilles. We settle down by a window in a snug corner of her office in Green Hall, the brick Gothic tower that is the most prominent landmark on this 500-acre lakeside campus.
What has this college been and where it is going in an increasingly technological era?
''In the past Wellesley has been known first of all as an excellent liberal arts college. Then, as an addendum to that, as a very good college for women. I think those are the things we want to have true for the future as well,'' the new president replies in her customary rapid-fire torrent of words bearing only the slightest hint of a Southern accent.
''What that means in the future will require us to rethink and get our arguments straight about the liberal arts in the 1980s and what it means to be a women's college today.
''I think it is going to be a particularly important aspect of liberal arts excellence in the '80s to be very careful about scientific training, technological literacy.
''One thing on my mind right at this moment,'' she continues, ''is the very special opportunity we have as a college in cooperation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So that we have not only the liberal arts curriculum here as the core of our mission, but we also have this opportunity to involve our students with the advantages of a major university that excels in science and engineering.''
Cross-registration between the two institutions allows Wellesley students to travel to MIT in nearby Cambridge for technological training, while men and women students from MIT may come to Wellesley for liberal arts courses. Buses shuttle hourly along the 12-mile route between the two campuses.
''This means,'' Dr. Keohane says, ''that we can maintain the strength in the sciences, which Wellesley has had from the very beginning, with the added dimension of the MIT exchange.'' The college also added a new Science Center in 1979.
To adjust to dramatic technological and social changes of this era, Wellesley felt no necessity to change its stripes and join the stampede of the '60s and ' 70s to go co-ed. The issue was thoroughly thrashed out on campus and a definite decision was reached in 1971 to remain a college for women, to keep its distance from the pack for a while and just see what happened.
What happened was the women's liberation movement, with women moving into leadership positions in many fields previously open only to men.
Dr. Keohane regards her alma mater's decision as eminently wise. ''The reasons for it, I believe, have been vindicated with hindsight. By deciding on grounds which were mainly traditional - 'This is a formula that has worked well for many women for many years; we've done it well; let's not give it up too easily,' the door was left open to things that Wellesley now can take advantage of in the 1980s.
''Because with an expanding sense of what it means to do scholarship on women , and the new responsibilities women are undertaking in the world today, I think there is a new set of reasons for being a women's college which were not as clear in 1971 as they are today.''
The Wellesley College Research Center on Women, established in 1974 by a Carnegie Corporation grant, conducts studies of women's educational, work, and family needs. President Keohane regards this new center as ''a big asset for the college.'' Her only complaint is that its location down the road a short piece from the campus has caused ''a bit of a disjunction between its activities and those of faculty and researchers on campus.'' So she is moving to integrate the two and to broaden the work of the center with programs designed for people in the whole Boston area community.
Mrs. Keohane is a feminist. But hers is a balanced concept of the term which different people define quite differently. ''I define it,'' she explains, ''on three levels, all of which I feel are important. I think a feminist is someone who:
''Is sensitive to the special situation of women in the past, interested and curious about what life was like for women in all sorts of cultures and societies;
''Cares about fighting for equal opportunity for women in the present so that particular kinds of disadvantagaes or discriminations can be overcome, giving women full opportunity to realize their goals and talents as individuals;
''And is concerned to work for a future society in which both men and women will be able to take advantage of social opportunities and push to fulfill themselves without barriers of discrimination by sex.
''That's a definition which makes it possible for men to be feminists, too. I think that's important.''
In the past many Wellesley alumnae have made their mark in various professional fields. The college is well known for its strong pre-medical program. Its Page Nursery School, equally noted, is now called the Child Study Center.
But as recently as a generation ago, the graduate of this or any other women's college more often than not turned out to be the wife who played a supporting role for her professional husband.
''One of the things that didn't happen when I was here,'' alumna Keohane recalls, ''was that I didn't have the sense that I was being prepared to think about making choices that would combine more than one thing. My memory is that I got the sense that one chose either a career or traditional -married life. It was probably only my setting up of barriers, but somehow the message didn't get through to me.
''It isn't easier now than then because you still have hard choices to make, but I hope we are giving students now the sense that they have choices that involve flexibility of patterns and that they can try to combine different parts of a full and happy life.''
Mrs. Keohane is living proof it can be done. A ''full and happy life'' is the immediate impression one gains from the Keohane family. She and her husband were both divorced parents when they met as teachers in the political science department of Swarthmore. Today they have Nathaniel, an 8-year-old son of their own, plus two 14-year-old boys her son, Stephen Henry, and Robert's son, Jonathan - both born astonishingly enough on the very same day - and his daughter, Sarah, a sophomore at Williams College.How in the world does she do it all?
''Not by myself,'' President Keohane emphasizes. ''We have a very cooperative family life so that the kids are also involved in thinking about what we are doing.''
But mainly it's a question of my husband and I doing it together, so that it's not just the woman making all the hard choices and all the decisions but both of us thinking about our lives as a couple with these dimensions brought in together. I don't see how anybody can do it otherwise. But with a liberated husband, a supportive husband, it becomes at least something a couple can think about doing, even if it's not easy.''
Last winter when Mrs. Keohane was elected to Wellesley's presidency, Dr. Keohane, then chairman of the Political Science Department at Stanford, gave the idea his wholehearted backing, cooperating fully in trying to work out the family's new living arrangements. He thought of taking leave for a while or even commuting. But shortly he himself was offered attractive opportunities in the Boston area. Today he is a tenured professor at Brandeis University and a fellow at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs.
During the summer President Keohane had time to ponder the Wellesley of the future. One aspect that caught her eye is the college's relationship to its community and to what is often called ''continuing education.''
As she sees it, ''a college has a double stance in the world. One is as a kind of special place apart where people can come and have an opportunity and space to develop their minds and personalities. . . .''
But a college also has a responsibility for satisfying the hunger of people who are not a part of this group set apart in a residential way, but who have an interest and need for talking about ideas, being mentally refreshed, excited, and stimulated by the things a college stands for. To me, both stances are important.''
It is easier, she thinks, for a residential college than an urban commuter college to forget its second responsibility to those who live within its range and yearn for more education.
Wellesley has always reached out to its community in various ways. Men and women living in the town of Wellesley may audit two courses a semester at a modest $25 per unit. Wellesley senior citizens may do so free of charge. Citizens of surrounding communities pay $40 per unit per semester for this privilege. The college's art gallery and botanical greenhouses are open to the public, as are many lectures, concerts, and other events on campus.
While President Keohane wants these opportunities to continue, she already is looking for new ways in which the college can reach out and embrace the mature learners in its midst.
Continuing education here has meant offering the college's basic liberal arts curriculum to women who are not in the 18-22 age group who are returning to school to pursue traditional studies for a degree or just personal refreshment.''
But separate from that,'' Dr. Keohane says, ''is what I call nontraditional education, which we are just beginning to think about at Wellesley.''
For example, a number of special programs have already been developed for this type of adult student by the Career Services Center, the Center for Research on Women, and by the just-opened Stone Center for Developmental Studies where developmental psychology and counseling studies will be continued and strengthened. These programs include such topics as ''The Situation of Women Today,'' ''Families -Today,'' or preparation for some particular career.
President Keohane is thinking of seminars on such topics. Bridging various disciplines and drawing on the faculty's scholarship, these subjects would be designed to appeal to the particular educational needs of people in the community - not only women but men. Wellesley already has a few young men on campus who are MIT and other exchange students, as well as a few retired men who audit courses.
The subject of young men and women studying and living on campus raises the much debated issue of what responsibility, if any, a college has for supporting a moral atmosphere among students.
President Keohane says she thinks Wellesley has two responsibilities which do not fall under the old heading of ''in loco parentis,'' which she and everybody else no longer feel is appropriate:
''First, to make sure that our students are provided with the support, counseling, and sympathy for thinking through hard moral problems, which allow them to reach their own best considered solutions. . . . They (should) recognize that the college knows it is important to make moral decisions, to have moral principles, and to stick to them.
''We want to make sure students are encouraged in this and have opportunities to do it as members of dormitory groups as well as individually in conversation with counselors.''
Second, we want to make sure students are protected against other people's choices in the old-fashioned notion of individual rights and liberties, so that people who make certain kinds of moral decisions are not radically inconvenienced or threatened by other people's ways of life . . . so that people do have privacy, a sense of wholeness about themselves morally, and stand firm on their own decisions, and do not feel somehow encroached upon by other people's life styles.''
Are these rights being protected now at Wellesley? ''As much as we can,'' Dr. Keohane replies. ''We are certainly very much aware of them. . . .''
It is clear there are ways in which the college years confront students with hard moral choices. But they always have - when we were in college, and always. The settings were different when you and I were here. And in some ways we were protected from certain options, and therefore our choices were different. But we had to make hard choices and the college didn't make them for us. And there were always people who felt the colleges were not being sufficiently supportive or sufficiently stringent.
''I think that is something that's likely to be true in any era, because it is a time of passage. When a person comes in from a home environment and goes out into a single living situation or a marriage or living with somebody or whatever, those four years in between are going to be crucially used for thinking through these things, just as they were for us. The way in which the questions are posed may be different, but the experience, I think, feels very much the same. And the college's role of support and protection for individual rights is at bottom the same thing the college tried to do when we were here.
''So even though there may have been a lot more rules, I think maybe that wouldn't be as important to focus on as the sense that these four years are crucial ones for finding your own moral identity. People may do it slightly differently now, but it's still the same kind of experience it was for us.''