Woloch, “Note on VCG Biography” (2015)

Nancy Woloch — WHY VIRGINIA GILDERSLEEVE PRESENTS PROBLEMS TO A BIOGRAPHER AND WHY (MAYBE) SOME OF THESE PROBLEMS MIGHT BE OPPORTUNITIES

 

  1. The Progressives are a problem (anyone shaped by the Progressive Era)

The Progressives are troublesome for historians

They are LIKE us (and they are high achievers)

But they are ALIEN to modern sensibilities (racist, eugenicist, anti-Semitic, elitist etc )

In the past few decades historians have set about denouncing the Progressives

That is, their achievements have shrunk and their deficits have ballooned

For the biographer: An exercise in judgment—that’s a challenge

Also an opportunity

 

  1. VG had an outstanding set of achievements

A main one: she understood the use of POWER

She achieved power young (an empty field), enhanced it, and held onto it (4 decades!)

She achieved great things for women (grad school and professions)

“Boring From Within”—entered male power structure–great tactic—2 meanings

a narrow set of achievements but terrific

Her grasp of power CAN be problematic (“grasp” has 2 meanings). Distant, off-putting

As an executive, a player, she left not much in writing for intellectual history

This can be an advantage: She left enough. I love her essay of 1899 as Barnard senior on her fellow students. She spotted the entry of wealthy young women into what had been the realm of the scholarly. She understood power elites in the university

“Women and Leadership” course. “Boring from Within.” A TRULY interesting tactic!

 

  1. VG was CONNECTED

This is typical among Progressive women who were high achievers

VG’s father was a state supreme court judge, the family was connected

So typical: Jane Addams daughter of a state legislator in Illinois, confused him with Lincoln; Florence Kelley was the daughter of a congressman from Philadelphia; most high achievers had male relatives in positions of power. M. Carey Thomas (comparison)

These women felt “entitled: academic life entitled them further.

A problem for the biographer? No, roll with it. Interesting.

 

  1. A COLD FISH—even among her fellow Progressives, a tough breed

Same-Sex relationships; role of lesbians in the power elite

Colleges and the professions a haven for same-sex relationships

There was probably a lesbian subculture among women faculty at women’s colleges.

Problem: VG never outed herself. (M Carey Thomas more flamboyant)

Possibly an opportunity here

 

  1. Reputation for ANTI-SEMITISM – fascinating

Critique by Mira Komarovsky

Pivot point of college admissions, a great focus of recent scholarship

Here VG was right in the swing among her fellow administrators at the men’s colleges

She accepted the assimilated Jews, rejected the rest (great quotes on this)

Accepted a few African Americans (but not in the dorms)

 

Jerome Karabel, THE CHOSEN shows the context in which VG operated

Is there evidence about college admissions under Gildersleeve?????

Here is a great opportunity to analyze college admissions (1900-1940s), an area of mounting interests and contemporary relevance

 

  1. VG CONTINUED her achievements at the UN in the late 1940s

Brought her skill in power politics TO the UN

Human Rights (use ER as comparison)

Anti-Zionism

Stephen Turner finds her anti-Zionism an achievement

Here lie some problems – the biographer has to know international relations

 

 

Many problems, Many possible opportunities

Caroline Niemczyck’s solution: Combine biography with institutional history

Ros Rosenberg: Does well with straight narrative

Stephen Turner: Compare VG with contemporaries (he used lawyer Crystal Eastman)

 

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