Beard, Mary Ritter 1876-1958

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BEARD, Mary Ritter 1876-1958

PERSONAL: Born August 5, 1876, in Indianapolis, IN; died August 14, 1958, in Scottsdale, AZ; daughter of Eli Foster (an attorney) and Narcissa (a teacher; maiden name, Smith Lockwood) Ritter; married Charles Austin Beard, 1900 (died 1948); children: one son, one daughter. Education: De Pauw University, B.A., 1897; attended Columbia University graduate school, 1904.

CAREER: German-language teacher at public schools until 1900. Secretary for National Women's Trade Union League, 1907.

MEMBER: National Woman's Party.


(With husband, Charles A. Beard) American Citizenship, 1914.

Women's Work in Municipalities, Appleton (New York, NY), 1915.

A Short History of the American Labor Movement, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1920, published as The American Labor Movement, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1969.

(With Charles A. Beard) The Rise of American Civilization, two volumes, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1930, second revised and enlarged edition, 1956.

On Understanding Women, Longmans (New York, NY), 1931.

(Editor) America through Women's Eyes, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1933.

(With Charles A. Beard) A Changing Political Economy as It Affects Women, 1934.

(With Martha B. Bruère) Laughing Their Way: Women's Humor in America, 1934.

(With Charles A. Beard) America in Midpassage, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1944.

Woman as Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1946.

The Force of Women in Japanese History, Public Affairs Press (Washington, DC), 1953.

(With others) The Making of Charles A. Beard: An Interpretation, Exposition Press (New York, NY), 1955.

(With Charles A. Beard) The American Spirit: A Study of the Idea of Civilization in the United States, Collier (New York, NY), 1962.

A Woman Making History: Mary Ritter Beard through Her Letters, edited by Nancy F. Cott, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1991.

Making Women's History: The Essential Mary Ritter Beard, edited by Ann J. Lane, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Editor, Woman Voter, 1910-12.

Beard's manuscripts are maintained at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College and at Smith College, Northampton, MA.

SIDELIGHTS: One of the first to actively define and promote "women's history," Mary Ritter Beard had a fairly conventional childhood in a comfortable home in what was then suburban Indianapolis. Her father was a Methodist minister and attorney, and her well-educated mother taught school. Beard was sixteen years old when she enrolled at DePauw (then Asbury) University, in nearby Greencastle, where her father had attended college. She would meet her future husband, Charles Austin Beard, at Asbury, where she was an exceptional student and concentrated on political science, languages, and literature.

Graduating in 1897, Beard taught high-school German until her marriage in March of 1900. The couple left immediately for England, where Charles was enrolled at Oxford and helping to form a workingmen's branch of the university. Beard, too, became involved in social movements during her stay in England, particularly women's suffrage and women's trade unions.

The Beards had a daughter and returned in 1902 to New York, where a second child, a son, was born five years later. During the time her children were small, Beard remained socially active: she was involved with protesting the city's infamous Triangle factory fire and helped to organize a women's shirtwaistmakers' strike. She also edited a suffrage newspaper The Woman Voter from 1910 to 1912 and became involved with a younger, more radical group of women suffragists under the leadership of the radical suffragist Alice Paul.

After writing a book in 1914 in collaboration with her husband, in 1915 Beard published her first solo work, Woman's Work in Municipalities. This was followed five years later by A Short History of the American Labor Movement. Although both of these volumes were well received, she and her husband are best known for their The Rise of American Civilization. This work was more attentive to women's roles and contributions than any comparable historical writing at the time. The books thesis—that women were, in fact, the architects of civilization through their creation of the arts of life and origination of thought about culture—would remain a central idea in all of Beard's later work.

In addition to the couple's collaborative work, Beard continued her research into women's roles throughout history. She published work on women's humor and on "understanding" women; her first full-length argument that women are the "elemental force" in the rise of civilization is On Understanding Women. She also spent much time trying to help organize a women's archive, but found herself again disappointed at the reaction of some female university administrators. Beard's belief that women's highest education came from outside the university—that college stifled the imagination—was controversial; in her Mary Ritter Beard: A Source Book Ann J. Lane commented that Beard "detested and fought the trap of imitation" that women in colleges seemed to accept.

Beard's most famous—and most criticized—work, Woman as Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities, repeats her contention that women created civilization and argues against the accepted wisdom that women were a subject class as a result of limited political rights. By her work and her life, Beard was a model for women who wanted a new kind of lifestyle and a more equitable marriage. Although criticized for some of her philosophic stands regarding women's power, she nevertheless refused to accept male-defined standards of success as her guidepost, arguing instead that woman-defined standards could be formed when women understood and accepted the realities of their past.



Lane, Ann J., Mary Ritter Beard: A Source Book, 2nd edition, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1988.

Turoff, Barbara K., Mary Beard as Force in History, Write State University (Dayton, OH), 1979.*