Faust, Drew Gilpin

views updated May 17 2018

Faust, Drew Gilpin

Selected Writings

President of Harvard University

B orn Catharine Drew Gilpin, September 18, 1947,in New York, N.Y.; daughter of McGhee Tyson Gilpin (a horse breeder) and Catharine Ginna (Mellick) Gilpin; married Stephen Faust (divorced, 1976); married Charles Ernest Rosenberg (a professor), June 7, 1980; children: Jessica Marion (from second marriage), Leah (stepdaughter). Education: Bryn Mawr College, B.A., 1968; University of Pennsylvania, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975.

Addresses: Office—Office of the President, Harvard University, Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138.


U niversity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, seniorfellow, 1975-76, assistant professor, 1976-80, as sociate professor of American civilization, 1980-84, chairman of department, 1980-83 and 1984-86, professor 1984-88, Stanley Sheerr Professor of History, 1988-89, director of women’s studies, 1996-2000, An-nenberg Professor of History, 1989-2000; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, professor of history, beginning 2001, founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, beginning 2001, professor of Afro-American studies, beginning 2002, Lincoln Professor of History, beginning 2003, president, 2007—.


I n February of 2007 Drew Gilpin Faust was chosen as the 28th president of Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States whose founding even predates America’s as a nation. Faust had been at the school just a few years, having spent much of her academic career at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a professor of history and specialist in the U.S. Civil War period. She was 59 years old at the time of her new appointment, and had come of age in an era when women were not even allowed as full students at Harvard and the other schools of the Ivy League. “One of the things that I think characterizes my generation—that characterizes me, anyway, and others of my generation—is that I’ve always been surprised by how my life turned out,” she told New York Times writer Sara Rimer. “I’ve always done more than I ever thought I would. Becoming a professor—I never would have imagined that.”

Born in New York City in 1947, Faust was named after her mother, Catharine Mellick Gilpin, but her family called her by her middle name, Drew, from an early age. The Gilpins lived in Clarke County, Virginia, where her father, McGhee Gilpin, was a breeder of thoroughbred horses. It was an affluent county in the northern part of the state, known for its nineteenth-century architecture and picturesque estates. Faust grew up with three brothers, and had a difficult time adjusting to the different behavioral standards of the era that were demanded of Southern women, even young girls, who were expected to be quiet, demure, and remain close to home even as adults. She had memorable battles with her mother over these issues, and recalled that she was often told, “it’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” she recalled in the New York Times interview with Rimer.

Faust also began questioning the segregated nature of her Southern world when she was still very young, and recalled hearing a news report one day over a statewide movement in Virginia to reject the landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case, which outlawed segregated schools. Upon listening to the news report, she suddenly realized that she had no black classmates at her Millwood elementary school, and even asked one of her family’s African-American household employees that if she painted her face black, would that mean she would not be allowed into her school? His evasive answer let her know this was a topic on par with religion or sex—that is, never discussed in polite society— and her interest in the civil rights movement began to grow. She even sent a letter to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a fifth-grader in 1957 in which she voiced her support for integration. The letter wound up in the Eisenhower Presidential Library, and many years later Faust tracked it down. “Please Mr. Eisenhower please try and have schools and other things accept colored people,” she had urged, according to a 2003 article she wrote for Harvard Magazine.

In her teens, Faust attended Concord Academy, a private boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts, that was an all-women institution at the time. In the early 1960s, many of the nation’s elite schools remained closed to women, and she might have entered Princeton University as a “legacy,” meaning she had family members who had graduated—in this case, her father and several others—and was to be granted preferred admissions status, but the New Jersey school did not admit its first women undergraduates until 1969. This was a year after Faust graduated with an undergraduate degree in history from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, considered one of the top women’s schools of the era.

During her college years, Faust continued the social activism of her teen years, when she took part in civil-rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies. At Bryn Mawr, she and other students agitated to abolish what were known as “parietal rules” which, she explained in a commencement address she delivered at the school in 2001, “were the restrictions that required us to be back in the dorm by 2 a.m. and that did not permit men in the halls except during certain very limited hours,” she said in her speech, which appeared on the college’s Web site. “I take some satisfaction in the fact that not only was women’s freedom from these rules achieved but this is now so taken for granted no one even knows what parietals were.”

Faust went on to earn two graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, completing her doctorate in American civilization in 1975. Often referred to in its shortened form of Penn, this was also one of the eight “Ivy League” schools, along with Princeton, Harvard, and five other East Coast colleges, but had a longer record in admitting female students and hiring female faculty members. After earning her Ph.D, she remained at the school as a senior fellow, and was hired as an assistant professor in 1976. Four years later, she was promoted to associate professor of American civilization and the department chair, and her career began to flourish. She was active on several campus committees, made contacts off-campus in professional organizations, and began writing well-received books on life in the pre-Civil War South, such as 1982’s James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery, the biography of a slaveholder.

Faust became a full professor at Penn in 1984, and the Annenberg Professor of History five years later. She also served as director of the women’s studies program for a time in the late 1990s. Another book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, was published in 1996 to effusive reviews in the academic press, and then re-issued in trade paperback form a year later. In it, Faust drew upon the correspondence and diaries of 500 Southern women whose lives were drastically uprooted by the war and the end of slavery. Reviewing it for the Historian, Wendy Hamand Venet noted that Faust “provides convincing evidence that Confederate women, far from supporting Southern independence uncritically, resented the changes that the war forced upon them. Slavery became a burden, as mistresses reluctantly attempted to manage an increasingly unruly slave labor force in the absence of their husbands. Many had to cope with household drudgery for the first time in their lives when African Americans fled to advancing Union armies.”

Faust was recruited by Harvard University and joined its faculty in 2001 as a professor of history. She was also hired to serve as the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Radcliffe College was once the women’s school of Harvard, and when she arrived to head it the Institute was just a small, flagging unit on a campus rich with es- teemed academic organizations, such as its Center for European Studies. Over the next five years, Faust worked to turn it into a respected center of interdisciplinary scholarship for researchers on gender.

Faust became Harvard’s Lincoln Professor of History in 2003, and was named to head two separate task-force committees created by Harvard’s president, Lawrence H. Summers, in 2005 in the wake of his controversial remarks about women and their intellectual aptitude. Speaking at a conference of the National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER) in January of 2005 Summers’s speech discussed several possible reasons in response to the question of why there were so few female chairs of departments in math, engineering, and science. The difficulty presented by working extremely long hours in the first two decades of their careers, when many women were also new parents, was one reason they lagged behind the professional paces of their male colleagues, but Summers also noted that there was still ongoing research about “intrinsic aptitude,” meaning that women were simply not born with the same intellectual capabilities as men. Summers’ remarks made national headlines and rocked the Harvard campus and many others, too, where women had struggled to achieve the pay, perks, and respect commensurate with their achievements since the 1970s. Furthermore, it was not the first controversy in Summers’ tenure as Harvard’s president, and he was disliked by many faculty members for his autocratic style. Despite the creation of the task-force committees, whose goals were to hire and promote more women in the sciences, Summers was forced to resign in early 2006, effective June 30 of that year.

Faust’s name was one of several advanced as possible successors, including former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ANo-bel Prizewinning chemist, Thomas R. Cech, was also on the list of finalists, but when he announced he was removing himself from the final list of candidates, Faust suddenly emerged as the most likely choice of the Harvard Corporation board, a six-member panel that governs the school, and the announcement that she was to become Harvard’s next president was made over the second weekend in February.

Faust became the first woman to lead the school, which was founded in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Even the governing board, founded in 1650 and formally known as the “President and Fellows of Harvard College,” used a charter of governance that made it the oldest corporation in all of the Americas. Faust, noted Christian Science Monitor journalist Ben Ar-noldy, “will not only sit at the pinnacle of higher education, but will oversee a budget on a par with top corporations. Of the 20 female CEOs in the Fortune 1000, only one runs a firm with assets greater than Harvard’s.” Unusually, Faust was also the first Harvard president without a Harvard degree to hold the office since 1672.

Faust joined an illustrious list of women heading Ivy League schools: Of the eight colleges or universities, fully half now were led by female presidents. Her husband, Charles Ernest Rosenberg, is a specialist in the history of American medicine and teaches at Harvard, and their daughter, Jessica, is a Harvard graduate. As president, Faust had even more ambitious plans for the generation of students to come. “None of us imagined that, in our lifetimes, four out of eight Ivy League presidents would be women, let alone considered that those presidents would be us,” she was quoted as saying in an article by David Pluviose for Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Now it is all the more important that this expansion of opportunity be demonstrable for members of other groups who have been discriminated against throughout history.”

Selected Writings


A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840-1860, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

The Ideology of Slavery: The Proslavery Argument in the Antebellum South, Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery, Louisiana State University Press, 1982.

The Creation of Confederate Nationalism:Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South, Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War, University of Missouri Press, 1992.

A Riddle of Death: Mortality and Meaning in the American Civil War, Gettysburg College, 1995.

Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, University of North Carolina Press, 1996; Vintage Books, 1997.



Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 2007, p. 1.

Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 2007.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 22, 2007, p. 19.

Financial Times, April 27, 2007, p. 6.

Harvard Magazine, May-June 2003.

Historian, Spring 1998, p. 624.

New York Times, February 10, 2007; February 12, 2007.


“Bryn Mawr College Convocation Address by Drew Gilpin Faust, Saturday, May 19, 2001,” Bryn Mawr College, http://www.brynmawr.edu/news/2007-02-11/faust_speech.shtml (August 1, 2007).

—Carol Brennan

Faust, Drew Gilpin

views updated May 09 2018

Drew Gilpin Faust

In 2007 American scholar Drew Gilpin Faust (born 1947) became Harvard University's first woman president. A longtime scholar of American history and a specialist in feminist and American Civil War studies, Faust had spent her entire career in the academic world, and her appointment to the Harvard presidency became a benchmark moment in U.S. higher education. Among the eight schools of the Ivy League—the oldest, most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States—fully half were now led by women presidents. Just 50 years earlier, many of those same schools barred women from enrollment.

Born Catharine Drew Gilpin on September 18, 1947, in New York City, Faust was raised in the wealthy Shenandoah Valley area of northern Virginia. Her father, McGhee Tyson Gilpin (died 2000), was a thoroughbred horse breeder whose grandfather, Lawrence Tyson (1861-1929), had been a prominent senator from Tennessee. Her mother's family were denizens of Far Hills, New Jersey, a similarly elite enclave. Faust and her three brothers grew up in a part of Clarke County that had been home to several generations of Gilpins known for their prizewinning racehorses. Like most affluent families of the area, they had African-American employees in their household, and Faust recalled that at around the age of nine she became aware of the school segregation issue. The matter had been decided three years earlier, in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, but the state and local authorities in Virginia were still resisting the federal order. She recalled asking the family handyman whether if she painted her face black—as his was—was it true that she would not be allowed to enter her elementary school?.

Civil Rights Activist

The nine-year-old Faust wrote a letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) to voice her concern on the matter. Years later, as a scholar she wondered about her plea, and contacted the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. She was astonished when her letter was found and a copy returned to her in the mail. “Dear Mr. Eisenhower,” it began, according to an article Faust wrote on it for Harvard Magazine, “I am nine years old and I am white, but I have many feelings about segregation.” She urged the president to bring school segregation to an end, asserting that “colored people aren't given a chance …. So what if their skin is black? They still have feelings but most of all are God's people!”

The letter to the White House marked Faust out as a rebel at an unexpectedly early age. As she noted in the same Harvard Magazine essay, in Virginia in the 1950s, discussions about race in households like hers were tantamount to talking about sex—both were taboo topics. Her parents found out about the letter “only when a formulaic acknowledgement arrived from the White House,” she wrote. “They were stunned—both that I should have written to the president and that I should have expressed the thoughts that I did.”

Faust's independent streak continued in her adolescent and teen years, when she fought bitterly with her mother over the freedoms her brothers were permitted while she was expected to conform to an idealized notion of young Southern womanhood. The rules for her included wearing dresses, not jeans, adopting a demure manner, and being “presented” to society at a debutante ball. Her mother frequently reminded her that her protests were futile ones. “It's a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you'll be,” her mother often told her, as Faust recalled in an interview with New York Times reporter Sara Rimer.

Earned History Degree

Faust began to break free of some of the conventions of her upbringing when she entered the Concord Academy, a private boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts, at the time an all-girls school. She excelled academically, and had she been born a boy, she might have entered Princeton University, from which her father, two of her brothers, two uncles, and a great-uncle had earned degrees. But the Ivy League school did not admit women as undergraduate students at the time. Instead, Faust's options were limited to either state schools or one of the so-called “Seven Sisters” schools formed in response to that long history of discrimination. These were the septet of elite women's colleges in the Northeast, and Faust chose Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, which she entered in 1964. She was a rule-challenger there, too, and was active in the student campaign to repeal the campus's “parietal rules.” These rules governed the hours at which young women were expected to be inside their dormitories every evening, and they also restricted visits by men to the women's dormitories.

Faust went on to earn a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1971, and a doctorate in American civilization in 1975. She joined that school's faculty a year later as an assistant professor, and progressed to a full professorship there eight years later. Penn, as it was known, was one of the Ivy League schools, but had a much longer history of admitting women and of hiring them as faculty members. In 1996 she was named director of the school's women's studies program, which was the same year that her seventh work of scholarship, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, was published. She was also active in numerous faculty committees at Penn, as well as within the larger community of academic professionals. In 2001 she was hired by Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a professor of history.

Faust's new job came with a second title in addition to her duties as a researcher and teacher: that of dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Harvard had once been a single-sex institution, but its adjacent Radcliffe College—one of the Seven Sisters—had educated several generations of women before Harvard became a coeducational school. The remaining Radcliffe address on campus was the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and its focus was on postgraduate research on women in society and on gender issues. As director, Faust helped revive the fortunes of the Institute, raising funds and recruiting new names to its fellows program.

Harvard President Scorned

Faust advanced to the Lincoln Professor of History chair at Harvard in 2003. In early 2005 a serious controversy erupted involving remarks made by Harvard's president, Lawrence H. Summers (born 1954). In a speech before a conference of the National Bureau of Economics Research, Summers addressed the issue of why there were so few women who served as chairs of science, math, and engineering departments at U.S. colleges and universities. Summers discussed several theories, one of which mentioned research into “intrinsic aptitude”—or the idea that women simply did not possess the same intellectual abilities as men. His remarks spread first throughout academia and then made national headlines, most of them centering around the inflammatory idea that the president of the most prestigious college in the United States did not believe that women were as smart as men. Women in academic positions across the country voiced vehement protests in the media, recounting the challenges and biases they had faced in their professional careers.

Harvard students and professors of both genders voiced criticism of the school's president for his remarks, and Summers subsequently chose Faust to head two newly established committees charged with the task of attracting more women to the sciences and to academia's top ranks. The rancor on campus continued, however, and Summers— who had been an unpopular leader even before the controversy—announced his resignation in 2006. A nationwide search for his replacement was launched, and Faust became the surprise frontrunner among several wellqualified candidates. In February of 2007, Harvard made the announcement that Faust was to become its next president, effective the following October. “Faculty members and officials familiar with the search said Dr. Faust's leadership style—her collaborative approach and considerable people skills—would be vital for soothing a campus ripped apart by the battles over Dr. Summers, whom many accused of having an abrasive, confrontational style,” noted Rimer.

“Education Is the Engine”

Faust's promotion once again thrust Harvard into the headlines, this time favorably. The appointment of a woman to lead the first institution of higher learning in the United States, founded in 1636, was deemed a historic turning point for American higher education. She was also the first Harvard president without a degree from the school in 335 years. Faust was sworn into office on October 12, 2007, and just weeks later she issued a new policy that again made positive headlines for the school: Harvard announced a new financial aid package that would provide tuition help to a much greater number of students, not just academically gifted ones from the lowest income households. “We've all been aware of increasing pressures on the middle class,” the New York Times quoted her as saying. “We hear about this in a number of ways—housing costs, both parents working, the difficulty of amassing any kinds of savings, just the increasing pressures as middle class lives have become more stressed …. Education is the engine that makes American democracy work. And it has to work, and that means people have to have access.” Harvard was able to take such steps in part because of its massive endowment of nearly $35 billion. (Endowments are donations made by alumni, and Harvard's had been wisely invested over the years).

Faust took office at Harvard just as her latest book was going to press. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, was published by Knopf in January of 2008, and received more media coverage than had her previous titles. Its focus was on the 600,000-plus casualties of the U.S. Civil War, and how such an enormous death toll impacted American society. Newsweek writer Malcolm Jones explained, “The Victorian idea of the ‘good death,’ in which the dying faced their demise with a peaceful frame of mind and in the company of loved ones, was intrinsic to beliefs about the primacy of home. Then, suddenly, the unthinkable—the notion that a son or husband could die hundreds of miles distant—became the reality.” During the Civil War, neither the Union nor the Confederate side had any identification system for its soldiers, nor were there any rules or guidelines in place about burying the war dead. In many cases, fleeing armies had to leave fallen comrades behind on the battlefield.

Years later a federal effort was made to establish national cemeteries in several states near famous battle sites, such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; the government also began to provide pensions for veterans and war widows. At the time, these actions reflected a major step in the responsibilities that the federal government assumed with regard to its citizens. During interviews about her book, Faust related that reading the letters of soldiers who had managed to write a letter back home as they lay dying was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of her research, but that “in some ways I don't find this book a depressing book,” she told Jones. “I find it an inspiring book, as I watch people struggle to deal with extraordinarily difficult circumstances and retain their humanity and affirm that humanity in the face of suffering and loss.”

Faust is married to Charles Ernest Rosenberg, an authority on the history of American medicine who teaches at Harvard. Their daughter, Jessica, is a Harvard graduate. Faust has often thought about her mother's words to her as a young woman, that the world was not a fair place, and considers herself fortunate to have been witness to such immense changes. As she told Rimer, “I think in many ways that comment—‘It's a man's world, sweetie’—was a bitter comment from a woman of a generation who didn't have the kind of choices my generation of women had.”


Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 2007.

Harvard Magazine, May-June 2003.

Newsweek, January 21, 2008.

New York Times, February 10, 2007; February 12, 2007; December 11, 2007.