About Julia Vida Dutton Scudder
(Julia) Vida Dutton Scudder (December 15, 1861 - October 9, 1954) was an American educator, writer, and welfare activist in the social gospel movement. She was one of the most prominent lesbian authors of her time.
She was born in Madurai, India, in 1861, the only child of David Coit Scudder and Harriet Louise (Dutton) Scudder. After her father, a Congregationalist missionary, was accidentally drowned in 1862, she and her mother returned to the family home in Boston. Apart from travel in Europe, she attended private secondary schools in Boston, and was graduated from the Boston Girl's Latin School in 1880. Scudder then entered Smith College, where she received her BA degree in 1884.
In 1885 she and Clara French were the first American women admitted to the graduate program at Oxford, where she was influenced by York Powell and John Ruskin. While in England she was also influenced by Leo Tolstoi and by George Bernard Shaw and Fabian Socialism. Scudder and French returned to Boston in 1886.
Academic career and social activism
Scudder taught English literature from 1887 at Wellesley College, where she became an associate professor in 1892 and full professor in 1910.
When French died in 1888, Scudder joined the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, a group of Episcopalian women dedicated to intercessionary prayer and social reconciliation. Also in 1888, she joined the Society of Christian Socialists, which, under the Rev. William Dwight Porter Bliss, established the Church of the Carpenter in Boston and published The Dawn.
She was one of the founders, in 1890, along with Helena Dudley and Emily Greene Balch, of Denison House in Boston, the third settlement house in the United States. Scudder was its primary administrator from 1893 to 1913.
In 1893 Scudder was a delegate to the convention of the Boston Central Labor Union. Later, she helped organize the Federal Labor Union, a group of professional people who associated themselves with the American Federation of Labor.
Having received a leave of absence from Wellesley for 1894-96, Scudder spent a year in Italy and France studying modern Italian and French literature.
In 1903 Scudder helped organize the Women's Trade Union League. The same year she became director of the Circolo Italo-Americano at Denison House.
Moving farther to the left, in 1911 she co-founded the Episcopal Church Socialist League and joined the Socialist Party. Scudder attempted to reconcile the conflicting doctrines of Marxism and Christianity. She became controversial in 1912 when she supported striking textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and spoke at a strike meeting, but Wellesley resisted calls for her dismissal as a professor. In 1913 Scudder ended her association with Denison House and moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts, with her elderly mother, who died in 1920.
Unlike Eugene Victor Debs and other Socialist leaders, Scudder supported President Woodrow Wilson's decision to intervene in the First World War in 1917. In 1919 she founded the Church League for Industrial Democracy.
From 1919 until her death, Scudder was in a lesbian relationship with Florence Converse. In Wellesley they resided at 45 Leighton Road.
At Wellesley College the poet Katherine Lee Bates developed an intimate partnership with fellow poet Katharine Coman, the professor of economics and dean of the college. They jointly wrote English History as Taught by English Poets. Their “Boston Marriage” of living together for twenty-five years ended in Coman’s cancer death at age 57. Bates, in her agony, published Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance celebrating their love, common labor in education and literature and their involvement in social reform with their colleague Vida Scudder.
In the 1920s Scudder embraced pacifism. She joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1923, the same year she gave a series of lectures before the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Prague.
Scudder retired from Wellesley in 1927 and received the title of professor emeritus. She became the first dean of the Summer School of Christian Ethics in 1930 at Wellesley. In 1931 she lectured weekly at the New School for Social Research in New York.
She published an autobiography, On Journey, in London in 1937, and a collection of essays, The Privilege of Age, in New York in 1939.
Scudder had received the degree of LHD from Smith College in 1922. From Nashotah House, an Episcopalian seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin, she received an LLD degree in 1942.
Vida Dutton Scudder died at Wellesley, Massachusetts, on October 10, 1954.
Scudder is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on October 10.