Oil portraits by Gardner Cox, 1969 and 1942
Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger’s obituary in the New York Times noted, “In her 20’s Mrs. Schlesinger marched as a pre–World War suffragette; in her 80’s she marched with her granddaughters in Vietnam War protests.”
After graduating from Ohio State University in 1910, Elizabeth (1886–1977) taught high school history and English until 1914, when she married Arthur Meier Schlesinger, whom she’d met at college. She moved with him from Ohio to Iowa and, when he joined the Harvard history faculty in 1924, to Cambridge, where she was involved in civic affairs for the next 50 years. Both she and her husband became deeply involved in the new Woman’s Rights Collection (WRC) at Radcliffe, serving on its advisory board together. She presented papers on women’s history there and published widely on women in journals and magazines. She was also a contributor to the first volumes of Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (1971), sponsored by Radcliffe and the Library, which was renamed in honor of the couple in 1965.
In his 1922 book, New Viewpoints in American History, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. (1888–1965) chastised his fellow historians for ignoring women in their writing of history. So it wasn’t surprising that, some 20 years later, when he was a member of Harvard’s history department, he would be a strong champion of the WRC at Radcliffe. He and then–Radcliffe President Wilbur Jordan were advocates for expanding the scope of the WRC, and they enlisted the help of the historian Mary Beard, who responded enthusiastically. The resulting Women’s Archives, with Arthur as chair of its advisory board, went beyond Maud Wood Park’s woman’s rights and suffrage focus, but stopped short of Beard’s hope to encompass all women in all cultures at all times.
In 1965, the Women’s Archives were renamed for Arthur, who died that year, and Elizabeth Schlesinger, who shared and spurred on her husband’s interest in women’s history. The change of name coincided with the planned move of the archives from Byerly Hall to the former college library building, vacated upon completion of Hilles Library, where it thrives today.
Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, 1969, by Gardner Cox; Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Sr., 1942, by Gardner Cox