Mildred George Goertzel died in a Seattle,
Washington, nursing home on January 21, 2000, at the age of 94. She
had lost her memory several years before her death, and had no idea that
she had entered the 21st century, or that her husband, Victor Goertzel,
had died on May 23, 1999. She is survived by three sons: Ted,
John and Penn; by three grandchildren: Benjamin,
Mario and Rebecca; and by six great-grandchildren.
Born in Arcadia, Indiana, on June 30, 1905, Mildred
was the only child of Bert and Jesse George, who made their living on an
80 acre farm. She excelled in school, especially in English, and
went off to Ball State Teacher's College in Muncie, Indiana, with her parents'
best wishes but little financial support. She financed her college
education by writing for local newspapers and producing a weekly radio
show, as well as other odd jobs. She was acquainted with sociologists
Robert and Helen Lynd, who were researching their classic book Middletown
in Muncie at the time. When she graduated, her mother admonished
her "don't waste all that education by getting married!" She took
this advice, and settled into a career teaching in several public schools
in southwestern Michigan. She enjoyed poetry, particularly poets
who wrote of life in rural Indiana, and theater. She taught dramatic
reading, and was often called upon to produce plays. She also tried
her hand at creative writing, but without much success in getting published.
The radical intellectual and political currents of the depression era excited
her, and she became a supporter of the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas.
Mildred sought relief from the tedium of life as
an "old maid school teacher" by commuting into the University of Chicago
to take courses for a Masters degree in English. She never completed
the degree because she couldn't motivate herself to get through the required
course in Old English. But she did meet the love of her life, a strikingly
handsome and highly intelligent man nine years and two months her junior,
Victor Goertzel. Victor was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania,
and had spent most of his life with his father and step-mother in California.
He had graduated with a Masters in psychology from the University of California
in Berkeley, and had come to Chicago to seek help with a severe stuttering
problem. He was earning his living working in a grocery store, and
was active in Trotskyist politics. At the time the Trotskyists were
infiltrating the Socialist Party, forming what they called a "united front
from below." Victor and Mildred found they were voting on opposite
sides of most issues in Party meetings. Since their votes canceled
each other out, they decided they might as well drop out of the Party and
pursue a romance instead.
Victor's stuttering was worse in stressful situations,
and after meeting him Mildred's mother warned her: "he'll never earn
a living, if you marry him you'll have to support him." After
consultation with the expert Victor had come to Chicago to see (Edmond
Jacobson, the author of Progressive Relaxation), and based on Victor's
readings in psychology, they decided that his problem was rooted in unresolved
childhood feelings of rejection by his mother, who had given him up after
the divorce. Mildred helped Victor work this through by holding his
head on her lap and reading him stories. The stuttering came under
control, so they quit their jobs - in the middle of the depression - and
took off on an extended vacation to Mexico. Their leftist connections
enabled them to meet Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo, and others in their
circle. More important for their lives, however, they met Babette
Newton, the wife of the American Friends Peace Secretary Ray Newton.
They learned that the Quakers, a group that they had known of only in history
books, still existed. The Quaker values of nonviolence and absolute
fidelity to one's beliefs were appealing after their disillusionment with
socialist movements, and they became lifelong Quakers. On their return
to the United States, they joined the Berkeley Friends Meeting, where people
assumed they were married. Not wanting to draw attention to their
unmarried relationship, they arranged to be married by a Unitarian Minister,
not realizing that a marriage announcement would automatically appear in
the Oakland newspaper.
On their return to the United States, Victor went
on to obtain a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan.
Despite Jessie's concerns, he proved able to earn a comfortable living,
enabling Mildred to stay home and raise three sons - the first born when
she was 36 years old. Victor was a conscientious objector during
World War II, and they lived for several years at a relocation center for
Japanese Americans in Utah, where Victor worked as the high school guidance
counselor. After the war, they settled in the Detroit area where
Mildred was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom,
serving as President of the Detroit chapter for several years. She
continued this activity when they moved to Montclair, New Jersey in the
1950s. Both Victor and Mildred were active in the civil rights and
anti-war movements of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. They were also
active in founding the National Society for Gifted Children, of which Victor
served as President for a year.
Once her children were in school, Mildred took a
job as Director of the Forum School for emotionally disturbed children.
The school was a parents' cooperative, which led to problems as the parents
often conflicted with the teachers. When the parents voted to deny
the teachers access to the students' psychiatric records, Mildred resigned
and decided to write a book. The book was on the childhoods of famous
people, based on information from published biographies. Victor helped
with the book, and Mildred insisted that he be the senior author because
she thought it would sell better with a Ph.D. psychologist as author. Cradles
of Eminence was published by Little, Brown in 1962, and sold well thanks
to a favorable story in the New York Times. It became
a classic of the literature on childhood and creativity, and is still often
cited. A sequel, 300 Eminent Personalities, by Mildred, Victor
and Ted Goertzel, was published in 1978.
Mildred's other major literary project was a biography
of Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize winning chemical genius who received
a second Nobel Prize for his activism against nuclear bomb testing.
Mildred knew Ava Helen Pauling, Linus' wife, through the Women's International
League for Peace and Freedom. She and Victor interviewed relatives
and teachers of Pauling in his childhood home towns in Oregon, and she
wrote some excellent chapters on Pauling's childhood. She also wrote
well about his political struggles, particularly with the McCarthyists
in the United States Senate. She had a great deal of difficulty,
however, writing about Pauling's work in chemistry. Both she and
Victor also had very mixed feelings about his advocacy of Vitamin C, which
developed after they began their work. They became friends with a
young collaborator of Pauling's, Arthur Robinson, who was fired by Pauling
because of various disagreements. Victor and Mildred also disagreed
in their evaluation of the importance of Pauling's contribution to chemistry,
with Mildred believing that Pauling was little more than a popularizer
of the work of others. She refused to have her name on a young people's
biography of Pauling, which was published with Florence White as the sole
author, although it was based on Mildred's text. She thought White
had edited it to be too favorable to Pauling.
Mildred and Victor's oldest son, Ted, got involved
in trying to complete the biography, and an article critical of Pauling
was published in The Antioch Review in 1980. Both Victor and
Ted found it impossible to continue working with Mildred on the project,
however, and she continued to work on it on her own until her memory declined
to the point that she forgot what she was writing about. When Pauling
became terminally ill, Ted recruited his son Ben to help in revising the
manuscript. Ben is a mathematician and was able to understand Pauling's
very important chemical writings. Linus Pauling: A Life
in Science and Medicine by Ted and Ben Goertzel, with the assistance
of Mildred and Victor Goertzel, was published by Basic Books in 1995.
It contains several chapters that were much as they had been originally
written by Mildred. Sadly, by the time it appeared, Mildred had forgotten
who Linus Pauling was.