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Beard, Mary Ritter (1876–1958) - U.S. Women’s History

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Mary Ritter Beard was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on August 5, 1876, to Eli Foster Ritter, a lawyer, and Narcissa (Lockwood) Ritter, a school teacher. At age sixteen Mary attended DePauw University in Asbury, Indiana, where she met her future husband, Charles Austin Beard. She graduated in 1897 and taught high school German in Indiana until her marriage to Beard in 1900. The Beards moved to Oxford, where Mary became involved in the women’s suffrage movement and Charles studied history and helped form the workingman’s college Ruskin Hall.

The Beards returned to New York in 1902, and Mary enrolled at Columbia University. She failed to graduate but spent the remainder of her life on self-study. While in New York, she continued her work with women’s suffrage and the unions, but in 1915 turned to writing and lecturing instead of activism. Her first book was a social study called Woman’s Work in Municipalities , and her second was historical, A Short History of The American Labor Movement . She soon became an expert on the history of women with On Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women’s Eyes (1933), Women’s Humor in America (1934), and Women as a Force in History (1946). She also became well known for a study guide called “A Changing Political Economy as It Affects Women” and a critique in 1942 on the omissions and distortions about women in the Encyclopaedia Britannica . In the 1930s she attempted to establish a World Center for Women’s Archives to preserve the records of women’s lives, but it failed because of lack of funds.

During this time, Beard was also collaborating with her husband on a variety of historical projects, including three textbooks. They wrote The Rise of American Civilization in 1927, a series of volumes on American history, as well as America in Mid-Passage (1939) and The American Spirit: A Study of the Idea of Civilization in the United States (1942).

Throughout her life, Beard faced hostility from male academics as well as professional women, but she continued to lecture and write to combat the hypothesis that history was only the story of men. Mary Beard continued to write into old age, and at age seventy, published Woman as Force in History . She outlived her husband by ten years and died of kidney failure in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1958 after a long illness.

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