Reinhardt, Aurelia Henry (1877–1948)

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Reinhardt, Aurelia Henry (1877–1948)

American educator, college president, and first female moderator of the American Unitarian Association . Born Aurelia Isabel Henry on April 1, 1877, in San Francisco, California; died on January 28, 1948, in Palo Alto, California; daughter of William Warner Henry and Mollie (Merritt) Henry; graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in June 1898; Yale, Ph.D., 1905; married Dr. George Frederick Reinhardt (founder and director of the University Health Service in Berkeley), on December 4, 1909 (died June 1914); children: George Frederick (b. 1911); Paul Henry (b. 1913).

Born in 1877 in California to parents of New England heritage, Aurelia Henry Reinhardt was the second of six children. She attended the "Boys' High School" in San Francisco for two years before her family moved south to booming San Jacinto in 1890. Aurelia's mother Mollie Henry , however, disliked the local schools and "culture" there and soon sent her two eldest daughters back to San Francisco. By 1885, her mother had opened a boardinghouse in Berkeley, and, with her sisters, Aurelia worked there cleaning and serving meals while she attended the University of California.

In 1898, even before she had officially received her bachelor's degree, Reinhardt landed a position at the University of Idaho teaching and coaching dramatics. She taught there for three years before beginning her English graduate studies at Yale in 1901. An energetic woman with a forceful personal presence, she thought of becoming a professional actress but eventually decided in favor of a career in education. At Yale, she enjoyed the study of classical, medieval, and modern languages; her first published work was an English translation of Dante's De Monarchia. After receiving her Ph.D. from Yale in 1905, Reinhardt studied abroad on a fellowship for a year, primarily at Oxford and in Italy, before returning to teach in Idaho for three years. While working in Idaho, she made plans to marry but her mother thwarted them, and Aurelia returned to Berkeley in 1908.

At the end of 1909, she married the prominent physician George Reinhardt, an old family friend eight years her senior. They had two sons, George Frederick and Paul Henry, and when her husband died suddenly in 1914 the young widow immediately returned to teaching to support her children. She lectured in English at the University of California extension from 1914 to 1916 before accepting a position as president of Mills College in Oakland, California. Reinhardt's dynamic 27-year administration transformed Mills from an unstable establishment into an important, internationally known institution. Although her leadership was sometimes seen as erratically personal and even dictatorial, she won the admiration of her colleagues and the loyalty of her students.

Aside from her duties on campus, Reinhardt was remarkably active in many community and civic affairs. She gave countless speeches, served as president of Oakland's City Planning Commission in 1919, was national president of the American Association of University Women from 1923 to 1927, and was department of education chair for the General Federation of Women's Clubs from 1928 to 1930. She served on several national councils and boards and was active in many other organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Dante Society. A lifelong Unitarian despite her mother's Quaker faith, she became the American Unitarian Association's first female moderator in 1940. Intensely interested in politics, Reinhardt was a Republican elector for California in 1928 and strongly opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal economic program. She continued to publish scholarly books and articles, and spent her free time collecting books and studying the flora and fauna of the environs around Mills College.

A serious educator who left a lasting impression on those who knew her, Reinhardt believed that the "amazing objective triumphs of science" of her time did not provide all the answers to her students' questions about life. On campuses everywhere, she observed, "interest in philosophy and religion is on the increase." Meeting foreign students and teachers on her journeys to Europe and elsewhere reinforced her belief that democracy was rooted in and interdependent with religion. After her retirement from Mills College, Reinhardt traveled extensively. In the late 1940s, while visiting her son Fred, who later became an ambassador to Italy, she developed a heart condition and returned to the United States. She died in the home of her son Paul, a physician, on January 28, 1948.


Current Biography 1941. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.


Mills College holds an extensive collection of Reinhardt's papers, including correspondence, manuscripts, and public addresses.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Reinhardt, Aurelia Henry (1877–1948)

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