From the Archives: Caroline Ware, Historian and Environmentalist

August 14, 2012

Today is the birthday of Caroline Ware, a social scientist, New Deal reformer, and former chair of the AAUW Committee on Social Studies from 1939 to1945. Although Ware isn’t a household name, AAUW women viewed her as an authority on the nation’s urgent consumer problems, labor issues, and social welfare questions of the day. Ware held many positions in the federal government under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was called upon as the resident expert in the field of consumer protection. She also led AAUW in the fight to establish a consumer agency in the federal government and testified on behalf of AAUW on consumer interests and fair-housing issues.

Caroline Farrar Ware was born in 1899 in Brookline, Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s and doctoral degree in history from Radcliffe College. Although she found many universities reluctant to hire female faculty, Ware managed to break through this barrier and held positions at Vassar College from 1925 to 1934, at Sarah Lawrence College from 1935 to 1937, at the American University Graduate School from 1936 to 1945, and at the Howard University School of Social Work from 1945 to 1961.

Ware was trained as a historian and authored several books, including The Modern Economy in Action, which she wrote with her husband, well-known economist Gardiner Means. She was also sole author of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s six-volume History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind. Throughout her writings, Ware advocated for a new study of history from the bottom up. We are all familiar with this commonly used style of research today, but in Ware’s days, this approach was well before its time. This approach to history includes the study of all members of society and considers the roles of ordinary individuals as influential factors in shaping history.

In 1936, Ware and Means purchased 70 acres of land and a log cabin in Northern Virginia, where they raised sheep dogs and grew wheat. During that time, they were also part of group of New Deal intellectuals who were trying to reform government. “The Farm,” as they called it, took on a greater significance as they entertained visitors and dignitaries for study and lively discussions about the pressing social and political issues of the day.

Means and Ware were also environmentalists before there was such a term. In 1980, in hopes that their land would represent their legacy, they donated the acreage to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Their farm is now Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. Visit the park if you are ever in Northern Virginia, and as you enjoy the breathtaking scenery, take time to think about the owners, their gift, and how it is significant to the history of AAUW, to women, and to the nation.

Ware could have rested on her laurels, but throughout her life she remained active and committed to the many causes in which she passionately believed. Despite being born into a life that afforded her many advantages, she never rested and never wavered from her commitment to service.

This post was written by AAUW Archivist and Records Manager Suzanne Gould.

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