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Sydnor H. Walker

Sydnor H. Walker worked with the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM) and the Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) Division of the Social Sciences, helping to shape research in the social sciences over the course of two decades.

Walker was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1891. She received an A.B. in economics from Vassar College in 1913 and an M.A. from the University of Southern California in 1917.

She returned to Vassar in 1917, where she served as an instructor in economics. A colleague commented that Walker was appreciated by the students for “her quick wit and gaiety...although she could be sharply critical of the careless and the dilatory.”[1] In 1919 Walker left her teaching position to join an industrial relations consulting firm headed by Beardsley Ruml. She subsequently went abroad to Vienna and Russia to aid in European relief with the American Friends Service Committee.

Upon her return to the U.S. in 1924, Walker was recruited by Ruml to work for the LSRM as a research associate. She was a staunch advocate of using scientific and standardized methods to conduct research in the social sciences. While working for the LSRM, Walker continued her studies at Columbia University, receiving her Ph.D. in economics in 1928. Her dissertation, “Social Work and the Training of Social Workers,” was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1928.

When many of LSRM’s programs were consolidated with the RF in 1929 and a new Division of the Social Sciences created, Walker became Assistant Director of the division. She was promoted to Associate Director in 1933 and Acting Director in 1937. Among her interests at the RF, she was a proponent of improving the teaching of social work and the administration of social welfare programs. Her grant-making extended to many southern universities. She also contributed to the development of the social sciences outside the U.S., working with grantees in Europe and Latin America.

Resigning from the RF in 1943 for health reasons, she worked on a report for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, “The First Hundred Days of the Atomic Age,” which was published in 1945.

She served as a trustee for Vassar College from 1939-1943 and was appointed assistant to the president of Vassar College in 1948, a position she held until 1957.

Sydnor H. Walker passed away in 1966. Former Vassar College President, Sarah Blanding, called her “a brilliant woman who never lost her zest for life nor her interest in things of the mind.”[2] Her officer diaries are available to researchers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) and additional papers are in the Biographical Collection at the Vassar College Libraries.

 

 

[1] Josephine Gleason et al. “Sydnor Harrison Walker: A Memorial Minute,” Vassar Faculty Meeting, December 1966, Biographical Files Collection, Vassar College Archives, Vassar Libraries.

[2] Gleason et al.