Article abstract: The first woman to serve as American Ambassador to the United Nations (1981-1985), Kirkpatrick also wrote one of the first books on women and American politics, giving that new field of scholarship legitimacy.
Jeane Duane Jordan was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, a small town forty miles from Texas where her father was an oil business contractor and her mother kept books for the family business. She was born November 19, 1926; her brother Jerry was born eight years later. Like most Oklahomans, the Jordans were Democrats and avid supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jeane’s grandfather Jordan, a Texas justice of the peace, had a collection of law books that Jeane found fascinating. Jeane’s mother loved to read and inspired her daughter’s lifelong love for reading and writing.
When Jeane was twelve, the family moved to Illinois. By the time she entered high school, Jeane had become an accomplished pianist and had developed a love for literature. She was a straight “A” student at Vandalia High School, edited the school newspaper, and acted in plays. In her senior year, she wrote an essay about George Eliot, the British nineteenth century woman writer who used a male name in order to publish her work. Although Jeane’s mother encouraged her daughter to pursue whatever goals she chose, her father wanted her to get married. She chose college.
Jeane embarked on her college years with enthusiasm, focusing on the liberal arts courses at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, then moving on to be graduated in 1948 from Barnard College in New York with a degree in political science. She told friends that her goal in life was to be a spinster teacher at a women’s college. Her favorite author was Virginia Woolf. Then, daring to do what was quite untraditional at the time, she completed a master’s degree from Columbia University and would have continued with doctoral studies had her father not decided it was time for her to support herself. She went to the nation’s capital, political science degrees and references in hand, seeking a job. The doctorate would come later.
Jeane was successful in finding jobs in Washington, D.C., including one at the State Department, where she met Evron Kirkpatrick. She also won a fellowship that enabled her to spend a year studying communism in France, and a research position at George Washington University gave her an opportunity to explore Chinese communism while developing research techniques she would use later in life. At the Economic Cooperation Administration, she helped to write a book about the Marshall Plan. Her satisfaction in the work was marred by the author’s failure to acknowledge her contributions.
By 1955, Jeane and Evron Kirkpatrick had been dating for about five years. The two intellectuals married, spending their honeymoon at a political science convention near Chicago. Jeane continued working at George Washington University until the first of her three sons was born in 1956. At that point, based on her motto “refuse to choose,” she combined motherhood with her career.
During the early 1960’s, Kirkpatrick combined her at-home academic work with Democratic Party politics. She and her husband actively supported John F. Kennedy’s candidacy in 1960. In 1962, their youngest son entered nursery school and Kirkpatrick took a part-time teaching position at Trinity College, a small women’s college near Washington, D.C. While teaching there, she completed her first book, The Strategy of Deception: A Study in World-wide Communist Tactics, a collection of essays that analyzed the rise of communist governments outside the Soviet Union.
In 1968, Kirkpatrick completed her Ph.D. at Columbia University. Her dissertation about Perónist politics in Argentina was later published by the MIT Press. Deciding that her children were old enough for her to return to full-time teaching, she applied for and won a position in Georgetown University’s political science department. She was to become only the second woman in the university’s history to win tenure. It was the beginning of an illustrious career that spanned the academic, political, and journalism professions.
Jeane Kirkpatrick’s disillusionment with the Democratic Party began during the late 1960’s. During that period, riots took place following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, a 1968 presidential candidate. It was a time of extreme frustration, violence, and urgent demands for change in cities and on campuses around the nation. Some of the worst violence took place at the August, 1968, Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. Students demonstrated at Columbia University, too, making it difficult for Kirkpatrick to deliver her dissertation to Columbia’s library.
Kirkpatrick supported Hubert Humphrey’s Democratic Party candidacy in 1968, which he lost to Richard Nixon. In 1972, however, she voted against Democratic challenger George...
(The entire section is 2076 words.)