Gladys Boone (31 January 1895–23 April 1982), economist, was born in Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England, the daughter of Frederick T. Boone and Florence Adams Boone. Both parents died when she was young, and she was raised in the industrial Midlands of England by an aunt and uncle. Boone was one of the few women who graduated from British universities in the midst of World War I. She received a B.A. in 1916 and an M.A. in history in 1917 from the University of Birmingham. For the next two years Boone worked as a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association in Birmingham in Britain's industrial heartland and thus began a long exposure and commitment to adult education and the workers' education movement, which in Britain had become a firmly established resource for the labor movement and for individual working men and women.
In 1919 Boone obtained a scholarship and traveled to New York to attend graduate school in economics at Columbia University. She thereby entered an intellectual milieu that had inherited from the Progressive era a sense of unlimited possibilities for social and economic change, and she found people who shared her desire to improve the living and working conditions of laboring men and women. Boone joined other strong-minded women activists determined to mitigate what they viewed as the inequitable consequences of industrialization and urbanization.
Boone devoted the next twenty years to undertakings related to labor reform and the burgeoning workers' education movement. She traveled widely and investigated and wrote about the plight of industrial workers in Europe and the United States. In 1920 Boone became an instructor in the Graduate Department of Social Economy and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, a post she probably used to support her graduate study. At that time M. Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr's president, was concerned with the education of working women and planning for the influential Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. Bryn Mawr's atmosphere of experimentation and commitment to improving women's educational opportunities shaped Boone's career in workers' education and in higher education for women.
In 1922 Boone became an assistant professor of personnel research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. A year later she moved to Philadelphia to become the executive secretary of the local branch of the Women's Trade Union League. Boone also taught at the Philadelphia Labor College, one of the few organizations in either the United States or Great Britain seeking to break down class barriers and promote the interests of working women by bringing middle- and working-class women together in a difficult and sometimes strained relationship. She stayed in Philadelphia for three years. In 1927 and 1928 Boone was a university fellow at Columbia University. During 1928 and 1929 she worked as assistant editor for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, but her own research remained her primary interest, and during summers she worked on her dissertation at her aunt's house in England. Boone's transatlantic focus remained clear, as evidenced by her frequent trips to Europe and attendance at international labor education congresses. This period of her life culminated in the publication of her 1941 Columbia dissertation, the work for which Boone is best known. The Women's Trade Union Leagues in Great Britain and the United States of America (1942) broke new ground in the history of the women's reform movement by documenting the efforts of women on both sides of the Atlantic to shape their own public as well as private worlds.
In 1931 Boone joined the faculty of Sweet Briar College. One of a growing number of highly educated activist women recruited by President Meta Glass, Boone taught economics at Sweet Briar until she retired in 1960. A proponent of integrated learning, she helped organize and was the first chair of a new social studies division. She helped shape a coherent liberal arts curriculum and compiled a record of strong participation in faculty and student work at the college. At Boone's death the Alumnae Bulletin recalled her as demanding but well liked. An energetic, outgoing faculty member who must have been anything but austere, she continued to tutor students long after her retirement.
Boone's lifelong commitment to reform causes did not wane with her move from the industrial and urban world of the Northeast. In 1934 she produced Labor Laws in Twelve Southern States, a research report for the National Consumers' League. Three years later Boone completed a study on household employment in Lynchburg for the Young Women's Christian Association and the Interracial Commission. This kind of research formed the backbone of the YWCA's efforts to promote protective labor legislation and ameliorate the condition of black workers in the South. At this time Boone was chair of the economic section of the Lynchburg Interracial Commission, and she probably served on the commission until the end of the 1930s. On the eve of World War II she was conducting research for the state Bureau of Public Administration that led to a joint work entitled Labor Laws of Virginia (1940). During the war Boone chaired a regional committee of the National War Labor Board adjudicating labor disputes. She also served as president of the Amherst County Health and Welfare Council for many years.
A committed community activist for causes ranging from public health reform to the amelioration of working conditions, Boone was part of a cadre of tough and dedicated women who provided new professional models and a tradition of reform that white women growing up in the post–World War II South built on in the 1960s. Her life demonstrates that a commitment to labor and racial reform existed in the mid-twentieth-century South, especially among college-educated women, despite the high barriers to change in either the racial mores or the labor laws of the New South. Like many other women of her generation, educational achievement, and career path, Boone never married.
On 23 April 1982 Gladys Boone died in a Lynchburg nursing home. Her body was cremated.
Rowland Andrews Egger, Raymond Uhl, and Vincent Shea, eds., Who's Who in Public Administration Research in Virginia (1938), 6; Durward Howes, ed., American Women: The Standard Biographical Dictionary of Notable Women (1939–1940), 3:93; Amherst New Era-Progress, 27 Apr. 1944; obituaries in Lynchburg News, 27 Apr. 1982, Amherst New Era-Progress, 29 Apr. 1982, and Sweet Briar College Alumnae Magazine (summer 1982): 18 (portrait); Richard Rowland, "Memorial Tribute to Gladys Boone," 1982 typescript, Dictionary of Virginia Biography Editorial Files, Library of Virginia.
Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Marion W. Roydhouse.
How to cite this page:
>Marion W. Roydhouse,"Gladys Boone (1895–1982)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Boone_Gladys, accessed [today's date]).
Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.