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The Life and times of Carolyn Gold Heilbrun

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun
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Today to continue with my series on women and in particular feminist women we will look at the life and times of Carolyn Gold Heilbrun. She was born in East Orange, New Jersey on January 13, 1926 and died on October 9, 2003. In between that time she became a prolific feminist writer and academic.

As a pioneering feminist of her time, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was versatile in that she wrote scholarly work and also wrote mystery novels under the name of Amanda Cross. The public may be more familiar with Amanda Cross than her real name which is often the case with it comes to academic and feminist writers.


Carolyn Gold Heilbrun received her Ph.D in English from Columbia University. Towards the end of her life she wrote about her early male mentors at Columbia University in her book, When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My Teachers Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling (2002).

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun taught British history at Columbia University for over 30 years. During that time she was able to get in some of her feminist teachings. She was interested in The Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers who wrote on the ideology of the day and feminism in the early 20th Century. These writers were both female and male and included such noted individuals as John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf.

“Her academic books include the feminist study Writing a Woman's Life (1988). In 1983, she co-founded and became co-editor of the Columbia University Press's Gender and Culture Series with literary scholar Nancy K. Miller. From 1985 until her retirement in 1992, she was Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia.”

According to the New York Times archives, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was best known as the author of nine scholarly books, including ''Toward a Recognition of Androgyny,'' ''Reinventing Womanhood'' and ''Writing a Woman's Life,'' and scores of articles that interpreted women's literature from a feminist perspective, and as the author of the Kate Fansler mysteries. Her heroine, like her creator, was a professor of literature and a feminist.

The New York Times goes on to say, “Even if Carolyn Gold Heilbrun hadn’t been a scholar of Virginia Woolf—“Carol created Bloomsbury,” Anne Olivier Bell, Woolf’s niece, once said—there would nevertheless be something about her suicide, on October 9, that would resonate with women’s lives, much as Woolf’s life did in The Hours. Heilbrun is one of the mothers—perhaps the mother—of academic feminism, laying the groundwork for women’s struggle over the past decades with what they called the “patriarchy.”

Her suicide

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun believed that committing suicide was the right of any individual. She quietly took her own life by placing a paper bag over her head. Like her mentor Virginia Woolf she choose to end her life even though she was not sick in anyway. She believed her time had come. However, later on there were rumors of some developing illness.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge she did not have a mental illness. However, she never saw a therapist since she was very much against Freudian psychology and how it negatively viewed women.

Nevertheless, there were hints of her suicide in her writings but nothing that caused her public any alarm at the time.

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was very adamant about being able to make chooses and if one could not then according to her they were a useless person and she never wanted to be a useless person. Perhaps in time the mystery of why she took her life at this time will become available but for now feminists worldwide can celebrate her life and her contribution to feminism and women’s gender issues and psychology.

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