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Himmelfarb, Gertrude (1922–) - History of Victorian England

poverty university american brooklyn

Gertrude Himmelfarb was born August 8, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Max and Bertha (Lerner) Himmelfarb. She graduated from Utrecht High School in Brooklyn and then Brooklyn College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1942. She then attended the University of Chicago, earning a master’s degree in 1944 and a Ph.D. in 1950. Her dissertation, later published as Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics , established her reputation as a scholar and as a conservative thinker.

During the 1950s, Himmelfarb worked as an independent scholar, with funding from the American Association of University Women, the American Philosophical Society, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She took a position as professor of history at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, in 1959. She is currently professor emerita of history at the City University of New York.

Himmelfarb’s work on poverty in the nineteenth century has drawn a great deal of interest. The Idea of Poverty , published in 1984 and widely praised by reviewers, explores the Victorians’ evolving perceptions of poverty as a social problem. More recently she wrote Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians , in which she argues that the late Victorian theorists of poverty need to be reread and listened to for insights relevant to our day.

Himmelfarb has been critical of modernist and postmodern ideas about the past and the present, in particular the notion that there is not one solid truth. One of her most recent publications, a collection of essays entitled On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society , is dedicated to the idea, as she puts it, that “there are such things as truth and reality.” Himmelfarb has long been engaged in a philosophical battle with those who deconstruct literary and historical canons and write works that explore multiple truths. She argued in an early article that a strong military defense, a strong economy, and strong family ties make for a healthy society, and much of her work is written in defense of the Victorians who practiced such behavior and in support of contemporary writers and politicians who promote the same. Himmelfarb has participated in and generated a great deal of debate in the profession, with an address at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association as well as in her many writings and public presentations.

Himmelfarb has received many honors and awards, among them a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholarship, a Woodrow Wilson International Center fellowship, and an American Council for Learned Societies fellowship. She also served as an overseer to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.

Gertrude Himmelfarb married Irving Kristol, also a noted neoconservative speaker and scholar, in 1942. They have two children, a daughter, Elizabeth, and a son, William, who served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush administration.

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