Drew Gilpin Faust


She is the outgoing president of Harvard and one of the best Civil War historians working today.  Here is Colleen Walsh’s Harvard Gazette interview with Drew Gilpin Faust:

Q: You wrote a letter to President Eisenhower when you were 9 urging him to support integration. Does it strike you now, looking back, that you had such a strong opinion about right and wrong at such an early age?

A: I would explain it as a product of being a pretty intellectual, rational kid and being told one set of values in Sunday school and at school about what America was, and then seeing just enormous contradictions with what was going on in the world around me.  There’s a way in which the clear-eyed sight of a child doesn’t have the nuance to erase contradictions. It seems very stark. And I think it just seemed stark and contradictory to me. I was pretty outspoken on stuff. And I think maybe having to struggle for my own rights as a little girl made me think, “Who else is being excluded or treated unfairly?”

Q: You talk about being intellectual from a young age. Did that come from one parent or the other, or both?

A: My father graduated from Princeton and was, I think, really smart. And my grandmother, his mother, who lived near us, was really smart and read a lot. Daddy was not intellectual. He read trashy books, but he was always very amusing and verbal and smart. My mother never graduated from high school. I think she was dyslexic. Two of my brothers are dyslexic. One’s a lawyer and the other has a Ph.D. in geology, so they’ve overcome it. But they had to have a lot of attention in school.

My mother was led by emotion, not reason. That’s why I fought with her all the time, because I’d come up with these syllogisms of this is true, that’s true, therefore it is true that I should be allowed to do X. And she’d look at me and blow up and say, “I don’t care. Argue away. You’re going to do it because I said you are.”

Read the entire interview here.