Alison Rickie Bernstein

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Alison Rickie Bernstein

Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, Kings County, New York, United States
Death: June 30, 2016 (69)
East Hampton, Suffolk County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Robert Bernstein and Beverly Bernstein
Partner of Private
Mother of Private and Private

Occupation: Activist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Alison Rickie Bernstein

Alison R. Bernstein, a higher education pioneer who had been a vice president for knowledge, creativity, and freedom at the Ford Foundation, died at home in East Hampton last Thursday, in the company of her dog as well as friends, her partner, and her daughters. She was 69 and had had cancer for some 18 months.

While at the Ford Foundation, Ms. Bernstein was the architect of an extraordinary number of initiatives intended to open doors for diverse and historically underserved populations. She funded a number of women’s studies programs in higher education, seeking to anchor feminist scholarship into academic cultures of teaching and research.

Ms. Bernstein’s colleagues at Ford said she cultivated the talents of others and prized original thinking, making hers a powerful voice for justice within higher education circles, both nationally and internationally.

Five years ago, Ms. Bernstein became the director of Rutgers University’s Institute for Women’s Leadership, where she focused on issues related to women, health, media, and technology. Over the last two years, she led a campaign to create and endow the Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies there.

 With her trademark jaunty and ebullient style, Ms. Bernstein wrote or co-wrote four books on topics related to diversity in South Africa and the role of philanthropy in higher education. Her partner, Johanna Schoen, a history professor at Rutgers, recalled that during moments of passionate conviction, Ms. Bernstein would often remove her eyeglasses, usually perched atop her head, using them to gesticulate for emphasis.

She was born on June 8, 1947, to Robert Bernstein and the former Beverly Bereznick. An only child, she grew up in Roslyn. In 1969, she graduated from Vassar College, and, at 22, became the youngest person named to Vassar’s board of trustees. Alan Simpson, formerly Vassar’s president, said of her appointment: “If anyone can mediate between hairy youth and hoary age, it is Alison Bernstein.” Shortly after graduating from Vassar, she enrolled at Columbia University, where she earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history.

In 1974, while working on a dissertation about federal policy and Native Americans, she became a program and planning officer at the federal Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, beginning a lifelong career devoted to education and educational policy.

In 1980, she left the fund to serve for two years as a dean at Sangamon State University, which was later acquired by the University of Illinois at Springfield. In 1983, she joined the Ford Foundation, headquartered in Manhattan, where she spent the bulk of her professional life.

Besides her life as a scholar, Ms. Bernstein was among the first women in New York City to raise children in an openly lesbian relationship. She adored her twins, Emma and Julia, and taught them to be progressive feminists. Since their childhood, the family had spent summers and weekends in East Hampton, with Ms. Bernstein finally buying a house here nearly 20 years ago. She also knew how to have fun, whether throwing a party or organizing international travel with friends. Described as curious, perceptive, and ferociously intelligent, Ms. Bernstein cultivated a wide array of interests, particularly all things cultural, including the theater, Broadway, and the opera.

Her daughters, Emma Brown-Bernstein of Atlanta and Julia Brown-Bernstein of Los Angeles, survive, as does her partner, who lives here and in New York City.

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Alison Rickie Bernstein's Timeline

June 8, 1947
New York, Kings County, New York, United States
June 30, 2016
Age 69
East Hampton, Suffolk County, New York, United States