Author and historian Eleanor Flexner was born in New York City on October 4, 1908, the daughter of Abraham and Anne (Crawford) Flexner. Her father, a prominent author and education reformer, was instrumental in the founding of the Lincoln School at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University; her mother, a playwright, was especially noted for her dramatization of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch . EF attended Lincoln School, which was one of the outstanding progressive schools of the time. After graduating from Swarthmore College with high honors in English and history in 1930, she attended Somerville College at Oxford University for one year. Back in the United States, she held a series of promotional and editorial positions in the theater and with the Institute of Propaganda Analysis, the Foreign Policy Association, and Hadassah. In 1938 she published a book of dramatic criticism entitled American Playwrights, 1918-1938, and in 1957 moved from New York to Northampton, Mass.
Her classic account of the "first wave" of American feminism, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, was published in 1959; it was based on a pamphlet she had published in 1954. "The story," she said in her original preface, "deserves telling"; CS was notable in demonstrating that the topic was worthy of serious scholarly and analytical study. Flexner was particularly prescient in her use of race, gender, and class in interpreting the struggle for women's equality. Her analysis was a source of inspiration for "second wave" feminists and laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of women's history scholars.
A consultant to the three-volume Notable American Women, 1607-1950, EF wrote a dozen biographies for NAW, including those of Leonora Barry, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Anna Howard Shaw, Antoinette Shuler, Maria Stewart, Augusta Troup, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Maud Younger. Other publications included Woman's Rights: Unfinished Business (1971) and Mary Wollstonecraft: A Biography (1972). EF was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Swarthmore College in 1974. With her health failing, and following the death of her companion, Helen Terry, EF moved from Northampton to a retirement community in Westboro, Mass. She died on March 25, 1995, in Worcester, Mass.
From the guide to the Papers, 1895?-1995, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)