Shouse, Kay (1896–1994)

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Shouse, Kay (1896–1994)

American philanthropist responsible for Wolf Trap. Name variations: Mrs. Jouett Shouse; Catherine Filene Shouse. Born Catherine Filene in 1896 in Boston, Massachusetts; died in Naples, Florida, in December 1994; daughter of A. Lincoln Filene (a Boston philanthropist and department store owner) and Therese Filene; Wheaton College, B.A., 1918; Harvard University, M.Ed., 1923; became second wife of Jouett Shouse (a former Kansas congressional representative, newspaper publisher, and assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury), on December 2, 1932. Jouett Shouse was first married to Marion Edwards Shouse ; they had two children.

Called "the most extraordinary woman I have ever known" by opera great Beverly Sills , Kay Shouse was born in 1896 in Boston, where her father A. Lincoln Filene built upon the family fortune by establishing Federated Department Stores. She attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts, and while there set up a series of conferences among students and deans from women's colleges for the promotion and study of employment opportunities for women. Graduating in 1918, she joined the U.S. Employment Service as an assistant to the head of the women's division. Two years later, she published Careers for Women (rev. ed. 1932), marking the start of an eventful decade that would also see her receive the first master's degree in education awarded to a woman by Harvard University (1923). Appointed by President Calvin Coolidge as chair of the first federal prison for women, Shouse focused on rehabilitation and created a job-training program for inmates. She was also actively involved in the Democratic Party, serving on the Democratic National Committee as the first woman delegate from Massachusetts and in 1922 co-founding the Women's National Democratic Club with Florence Jaffray Harriman .

In 1930, Shouse bought about 56 acres of land in Fairfax County, Virginia, in an area near the stream commonly known as Wolf Trap Creek, to which she would add a little over 100 acres more in the next three decades. She married Jouett Shouse, a former Democratic congressional representative and newspaper publisher, in 1932, and a few years later began organizing chamber music concerts for a local Washington, D.C., museum. The couple lived primarily in the Georgetown section of D.C., but spent much time at their Wolf Trap Farm, where Shouse raised farm animals and late in the 1930s began breeding dogs. She organized the army's General Clay Fund for German youth after World War II, and in 1956, after the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution, she organized and raised half a million dollars for the Washington Hungarian Relief Fund. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her to the board of trustees of the newly created National Cultural Center—later the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—on which she would serve until 1980, when she became an honorary board member.

Shouse is perhaps best known for Wolf Trap Farm Park, the only national park for the performing arts in America. Searching for some way to preserve her land in Virginia, in 1965 she donated 100 acres of the farm, as well as money for construction of an amphitheater, to the National Park Service on condition the park be used for the promotion of the performing arts. The donation was accepted by Congress the following year, and in 1971 Wolf Trap Farm Park opened to the public. It is now a worldrenowned arts center both for performing and for education in the arts. Shouse remained actively involved in managing Wolf Trap until near the end of her long life.

Shouse's contributions to education and dedication to philanthropy won her numerous national and international honors over the years. Among these were the Commander's Cross of Merit from Germany (1954), being made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II (1976), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award (1977), being made an Officier dans l'Order des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest civilian award (1985), the Medal of Honor from Austria, and the National Medal of the Arts (1992). She was also the recipient of over a dozen honorary doctorates, and the Catherine Filene Shouse Career Center at Hood College was named in her honor, as was Wheaton College's Filene Center for Work and Learning. She died in 1994.