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Voices Online Edition -- Vol. XXII, No. 1
Eastertide 2007

In Memoriam - Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Elizabeth (Betsey) Fox-Genovese was a member of the Editorial Board of Women for Faith & Family’s Voices until her death on January 2, 2007. She was the Eléonore Raoul Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at Emory University, where she had taught since 1986, and the founding director of the Institute for Women’s Studies. She was the wife of the noted historian Eugene Genovese, professor emeritus of Emory University.

Her writings on women’s issues, as well as contemporary culture, education, and social issues, are widely known. Among these are Women and the Future of the Family (2000), “Feminism is Not the Story of My Life”: How the Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch With the Real Concerns of Women (1996), Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism (1991), and Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988), which received the C. Hugh Holman Prize of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature, the Julia Cherry Spruill Prize of the Southern Association of Women Historians, and was named an outstanding book of the year by the Augustus Meyer Foundation for the Study of Human Rights. She co-edited Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a Historical Society (1999) with Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, and also served as an expert witness for the VMI and Citadel cases.

She was born in Boston May 28, 1941, the daughter of historian Edward Whiting Fox. During her childhood and teens, she lived in Washington, DC, Ithaca, New York, Princeton, New Jersey, and Paris, France, attending both public and private schools, including North Country School in Lake Placid, New York, Le Collège Cévénol in Le Chambon sur Lignon, and Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1963, she received her BA cum laude from Bryn Mawr College with a double major in History and French literature, having also spent a year at Cornell University and a year at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris.

She completed her graduate training in history at Harvard University, from which she received an MA (1965) and Ph.D. (1974), and where she taught for three years. In 1969, she married Eugene D. Genovese and moved to Rochester, New York, and, in 1973, joined the faculty of the University of Rochester, where she received tenure in 1976. In 1980, she accepted a job at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and, in 1986, she moved to Emory University to become the founding director of the Institute for Women’s Studies. She resigned this position in 1991, and devoted her time to teaching and writing.

She received a Doctor of Letters from Millsaps College, and was a Visiting Scholar-in-Residence at American University (Spring 1991); Eudora Welty Professor at Millsaps College (February 1990); and Visiting Humanities Scholar at Auburn University (April 1987); and Directeur associé d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

In December 1995, Dr. Fox-Genovese was received into the Catholic Church -- to the surprise (and sometimes dismay) of her non-believing colleagues. In an account of her “conversion” published in First Things in April 2000, she observed:

… it is not surprising that both hostile and sympathetic observers expect conversion stories to be dramatic. Like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, the convert is generally expected to have experienced a moment of blinding illumination followed by a radical change of life. This expectation testifies to a widespread sense that the tenets of faith and those of the world are in conflict.… I did not myself experience conversion as a radical rupture with my past. This is not to say that I did not experience the journey to belief as what my students call “life-changing”; in essential ways, I did. Nonetheless, in other ways I did not. In many respects, my conversion fit neatly -- almost seamlessly -- into the continuum of my life, and, from this perspective, it was a natural stage in the journey rather than a new departure.

After entering the Church, she served on the Board of Trustees of the American Academy for Liberal Education, the Board of Governors of The Historical Society and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the Board of Consulting Scholars of the Society of Scholars of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University (of which she is the founding chairman). She was on the advisory boards of the Women’s Freedom Network, the G. K. Chesterton Institute, Center for Religion and Democracy, Institute for Faith and Reason, Christi Fideles and the Association of College Trustees and Alumni. In 1998 she and her husband, the historian Eugene D. Genovese, helped found the Historical Society at Boston University, and she was the founding editor of its publication The Journal of the Historical Society (2000-2005). She was also a member of the editorial board of Books and Culture, Comparative Literature Studies, and the editorial advisory board of First Things, as well the editorial board of WFF’s Voices.

In 2002, she was appointed by President Bush to the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in November 2003, she received the National Humanities Medal (pictured on page 11).

In September 2003 Dr. Fox-Genovese received the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars’ Cardinal Wright Award, given annually to a Catholic scholar who has done outstanding service for the Church.

Her last book was co-authored with her husband, Eugene Genovese, and published in 2005: The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (Cambridge).

Betsey Fox-Genovese will be long remembered for her intellectual integrity, her fidelity to truth, her fearless defense of all human life, and her courageous public witness to the Catholic faith. Concluding her “Conversion Story” published in First Things, she wrote:

God’s love for us forever exceeds our control and challenges our understanding. Like faith, it is His gift, and our task is to do our best to receive it. The knowledge, even when partial and imperfect, that He loves us also opens us to new responsibilities and obligations. For if He loves us all, He also loves each of us. And recognition of that love imposes on us the obligation to love one another, asking no other reason than God’s injunction to do so. As fallen human creatures, we are nonetheless likely to continue to search for human reasons that justify our loving service to those in whom we find little or no obvious redeeming value. And the best human reason may be found in the faith that God has freely given us: our non-judgmental love of the other remains the condition of God’s love for us. For, knowing how little we merit His love, our best opening to the faith … lies not in the hope of being better than others, but in the security that His love encompasses even the least deserving among us.

“Caught in the Web of Grace”, another account of her entry into the Catholic Church, first published in Crisis (November 1997), appears in this issue of Voices, with the kind permission of her husband.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

— Helen Hull Hitchcock
for the Staff of Women for Faith & Family,
and the Editorial Board of Voices

Voices articles by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese online

Feminism and the Unraveling of the Social Bond - Addresses some of the fundamental problems with feminism - by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Michaelmas 2004

Faith, Fashion, and the Vocation of the Laity in a Secular, Postmodern
Pentecost 2003 Vol. XVIII, No. 2

What Can We Hope to Accomplish? The Prospects for Evangelization in Dangerous Times Advent/Christmas 2002 Vol. XVII, No. 4

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