Partner Elizabeth Reynard, buried together

Queer Places:
Columbia University (Ivy League), 116th St and Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Brearley School, 610 E 83rd St, New York, NY 10028, Stati Uniti
Barnard College (Seven Sisters), 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027
St Matthew, 382 Cantitoe St, Bedford, NY 10506, Stati Uniti

Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve (October 3, 1877 – July 7, 1965) was an American academic, the long-time Dean of Barnard College, and the sole female United States delegate to the April 1945 San Francisco United Nations Conference on International Organization, which negotiated the UN Charter and created the United Nations. Seven women from Britain made the ocean voyage to New York in the autumn of 1918 to visit 46 universities and colleges over six weeks and produce proposals for productive British–US exchanges. Unfortunately, two of them, Caroline Spurgeon, the first female university professor in Britain at Bedford College in London, and Rose Sidgwick, an English lecturer at Birmingham University, caught flu (this was during the 1918–19 flu epidemic) on board ship. Sidgwick died, but Spurgeon survived, convalescing in the home of New York college dean Virginia Gildersleeve, with whom she formed an intimate personal and professional attachment for the rest of her life.

Virginia Gildersleeve was born in New York City, she attended the Brearley School and following her graduation in 1895 went on to attend Barnard College, a member of the Seven Sisters affiliated with Columbia University. She completed her studies in 1899 and received a fellowship to undertake research for her MA in medieval history at Columbia University. She taught English part-time at Barnard for several years. She declined a full-time position and took a leave of absence to undertake her Ph.D. in English and comparative literature at Columbia for three years. When she completed her studies in 1908 she was appointed a lecturer in English in 1908 by Barnard and Columbia; by 1910 she had become an assistant professor and in 1911 was made dean of Barnard College.

In 1918 Gildersleeve, Caroline Spurgeon, and Rose Sidgwick met while the two English women were on an academic exchange to the United States. They discussed founding an international association of university women, and in 1919 founded the International Federation of University Women. Gildersleeve shared an "intimate" relationship with the British Spurgeon, with whom she annually shared a rental summer home.[1]

Following World War I she became interested in international politics. She campaigned for Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War II she chaired the Advisory Council of the navy's women's unit, the WAVES and following the war she was appointed to the United Nations Charter Committee. She was involved in the reconstruction of higher education in Japan. For this work she received France's Legion of Honor.

Throughout her tenure as Dean of Barnard College, Gildersleeve worked to advance women's rights by championing their access to Columbia' professional school and to the best professors. This included hiring Charles A. Beard, a young Columbia instructor in 1914 to teach Barnard's first course in American government so that Barnard graduates would be eligible to attend the Columbia School of Journalism. At the beginning of World War I, she hired the head of Columbia's anthropology department, Franz Boas, when he was threatened with being fired because of his objections to World War I. Professor Boas was a German Jewish immigrant and a Socialist. Among the Barnard undergraduates, Boas found several of the century's most outstanding anthropologists, including Margaret Mead.[2][3]

Barnard had only a few African-American students during Gildersleeve's tenure. Zora Neale Hurston was a pioneer in 1925, who attended Barnard with assistance from her literary mentor Fannie Hurst and Barnard College co-founder Annie Nathan Meyer.[4] In the early 1940s, Dean Gildersleeve paid for the full scholarship of at least one African-American student from Harlem out of her own pocket.

Gildersleeve opposed religious exclusivity and refused to openly categorize her students, but took steps to reduce the number of Jewish students. In the 1930s, roughly 20 percent of Barnard students were Jewish, compared to 6 to 10 percent at most other women's colleges, although Jewish enrollment at Columbia College had reached 40 percent before World War I. According to Gildersleeve's biographer Rosalind Rosenberg, both Columbia and Barnard began recruiting students from outside New York City, evaluating applicants on the basis of psychological tests, interviews, and letters of recommendation, as well as academic criteria, thereby lowering the number of Jewish applicants accepted. In the two decades before World War II, this process of selective admissions reduced the percentage of Jewish students at both Columbia and Barnard to 20 percent.[3]

Gildersleeve encouraged faculty and students to engage in all the political movements of the day even though the Barnard College Board of Trustees believed that "marching in a parade would be a shocking and shameful thing" for female students to do, and some school administrators considered political activism "unladylike" and "too sordid for a refined woman,".[3]

During World War I, Gildersleeve contributed vigorously to wartime civil defense activities in New York City. She was an early and strong supporter of the formation of the League of Nations. On February 22, 1918 Gildersleeve called for "some ordered system of international government, backed by power enough to give authority to its decrees".[5]

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Gildersleeve, was a strong interventionist.[6]

In 1942, early in World War II, Gildersleeve was instrumental in founding the WAVES ("Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service"). Its second in command was Gildersleeve's companion, English Professor Elizabeth Reynard; and all of its members - 90,000 in all-were college graduates.[7]

In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt named Gildersleeve – the only woman named – to the U.S. delegation to write the United Nations Charter. They were instructed to address two issues: 1) the need to prevent future wars through the creation of a Security Council; and 2) the need to enhance human welfare, which they accomplished through the establishment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Gildersleeve sought and received drafting responsibility for the work of this second Council—the one, as she put it, in charge of "doing things rather than preventing things from being done." She was able to insert into the Charter the following goals for people around the world: "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development." She also persuaded the delegates to adopt the following aim for the United Nations: "universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." She insisted that the Charter require the appointment of the Commission on Human Rights, which under the direction of Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights three years later.[3]

In March 1946, having been invited by General Douglas MacArthur, Gildersleeve served as a member of the U.S. Educational Mission to Japan. She was respected in Japan for having been the only American woman delegate at the San Francisco founding conference.[8]

Some historians consider Gildersleeve to have been "the most influential leader" of the Christian "anti-Zionist lobby" of her era.[9] Gildersleeve wrote that "after (her) retirement from the Deanship at Barnard, (she) devoted (her)self mainly to the Middle East,"[10] describing herself as "struggling ardently against" the creation and, later, the continued existence of the Jewish State.[11] She blamed her failure to prevent the creation of the State of Israel on "the Zionist control of the media of communication."[12]

Gildersleeve repeatedly testified before congressional committees and lobbied members of Congress and President Harry Truman to deny American political, military, and financial support to Israel.[9]

Gildersleeve was a trustee of the American University of Beirut and a leading figure in the Christian opposition to Israel's statehood in 1948. She helped found and chaired the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land, which merged into the American Friends of the Middle East.[13] According to historian Robert Moats Miller, of the University of North Carolina, the group was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and ARAMCO.[14] Miller states that Gildersleeve's "sympathies were indeed overwhelmingly with the Arabs." [14]

Gildersleeve was an early advocate of paid leaves of absence for female faculty members. In 1931 she raised the matter with Columbia President Butler, who "looked a little startled." But, Butler agreed, saying "We should have women teachers with fuller lives and richer experience, not so many dried-up old maids" Gildersleeve recorded this remark in her memoir without comment. She persuaded the Barnard Board of Trustees to enact a maternity policy that provided one term off at full pay or a year off at half pay for all new faculty mothers. In the first year three women took advantage of this new policy. [3]

In 1915, in a speech to the Columbia Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa she challenged the commonly held belief that the education of women was a detriment to society, arguing that improved public health and the declining infant mortality made it unnecessary to breed as many children as once had been the case. In the modern world women could have the same ambitions as men.[3]

Rosalind Rosenberg, Gildersleeve's biographer, has argued that "Through her work Gildersleeve and other pioneers like her provided the essential conditions necessary to winning for women full equality with men in American society and throughout the world. … In broadening women's scholarly horizons, Gildersleeve laid the groundwork for some of the most innovative scholarship of the twentieth century. And in helping to draft the charter of the UN, Gildersleeve assured that the issues to which she had devoted her career on Morningside Heights would be addressed throughout the world in the decades that followed. By insisting that women have the right to every educational opportunity open to men, and by fighting her whole life to secure that opportunity, she helped establish the bedrock on which feminists have been building ever since." [3]

In her 1954 memoir, Gildersleeve protested the "particularly cruel and unwholesome discrimination against unmarried women," like herself, who chose to spend their lives living with other women. She attributed this trend to "the less responsible psychologists and psychiatrists of the day," who voiced "disrespect for spinsters in the teaching profession as 'inhibited' and 'frustrated.'" Gildersleeve never identified herself as a lesbian, preferring instead the adjective "celibate." For several decades she lived with companion Professor Caroline Spurgeon. Later she lived with Barnard English Professor Elizabeth Reynard and they are buried together at Saint Matthew's Episcopal Churchyard, Bedford (town), New York.[3]Gildersleeve and Spurgeon met just after the First World War ended when a delegation of British educators came to the United States. Caroline Spurgeon, a highly respected Shakespeare scholar who published many books and papers about both Chaucer and Shakespeare, taught at Bedford College for Women, part of the University of London. Together they worked to establish an organization that would foster international cooperation among like-minded academic women. Gildersleeve imagined an organization built on the model of the American Association of Collegiate Alumnae and the British Federation of University Women. In 1919 they created the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), housing it in London with a second home in Paris at Reid Hall. For two decades, between World War I and World War II, Gildersleeve worked through the IFUW (www.ifuw.org) to keep alive the spirit of international understanding, even as isolationism gripped her country.[3] They believed that the women of the world could make change by talking to and learning from each other.[1]

My published books:

See my published books


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Gildersleeve