2004 NEH Medalist - Gertrude Himmelfarb, Historian Who Defended Victorian Virtues, Dies at 97

(January 1, 2020)

Gertrude Himmelfarb, a prominent historian who praised Victorian virtues and argued for their relevance to current political debates over poverty and other social issues, died Monday at her home in Washington. She was 97.

Dr. Himmelfarb, a prolific author and professor emeritus of history at City University of New York, challenged the notion that the Victorian era could be dismissed as a period of hypocrisy and prudery. Though she acknowledged that era’s many shortcomings, she wrote that Victorian virtues were “based upon firm ideas of right and wrong,” and contrasted them with what she described as the relative and subjective values of more recent times.

She was the wife of the conservative intellectual Irving Kristol, who died in 2009, and the mother of William Kristol, another influential conservative commentator. She was the author of more than a dozen books and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

In 2004, she received the National Humanities Medal. In making the award, the National Endowment for the Humanities cited her “critical analysis of history, which has yielded insights into Victorian England and the foundations of our culture.”

Wall Street Journal