Elise Boulding Dead at 89

by Mary Lee Morrison

Elise Boulding died at 4:40 pm, June 24, 2010 in Needham, MA. Hailed as a “matriarch” of the twentieth century peace research movement, she was sociologist emeritus from Dartmouth College and from the University of Colorado and in on the ground floor in the movements of peace, women’s studies and futures and played pivotal roles in each.

Peace Education Pioneer

Her writings on the role of the family, women, spirituality and international non-governmental organizations have offered activists and educators new ways of conceiving the tasks inherent in making peace. Beginning in tandem with her late husband, economist and Quaker poet Kenneth Boulding and later on her own, she went on to build a life that encompassed research, writing and teaching, networking and building communities of learning.

Dr. Boulding is the author of over 300 publications and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Her theoretical work on the role of the family in educating toward social change, and the role women have played in peacemaking, together with her ideas on transnational networks and their relationship to global understanding are considered seminal contributions to twentieth century peace education thought. Prior to her scholarly career, which formally began for her at age fifty after receiving her doctorate from the University of Michigan, Dr. Boulding was making major contributions in other areas, most notably as a peace educator and prominent Quaker and as a leader in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), rising up to be International Chair.


She was a founder of the International Peace Research Association and later became its International Secretary-General. She was a co-founder the Consortium on Peace, Research, Education and Development. As an active opponent of the Vietnam War, Dr. Boulding ran for Congress in the 1960s on a Peace Platform in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She taught sociology and women’s studies at the University of Colorado, where she helped to found the peace studies program. She later taught sociology and helped to found the peace studies program at Dartmouth College. She took key leadership positions in the American and International Sociological Associations, worked on climate change, population, and arms control with the American Association of the Advancement of Science, was engaged with the American Futures Society, the World Policy Institute, the United Nations University in Tokyo, consultative work with UNESCO, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the only woman to sit on the Commission to establish the U.S. Institute of Peace. She was on the boards of the National Peace Institute Foundation, the Boulder Parenting Center, The Exploratory Project on Conditions for a Just World Peace, the International Peace Research Association Foundation, the Committee for the Quaker United Nations Office, and Honorary Chair of the National Peace Academy Advisory Board. Prior to her retirement from Dartmouth College, she was a Senior Fellow of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at that university. In 1993 Dr. Boulding represented Quakers at the inaugural gathering of the global Interfaith Peace Council.


Born in 1920 in Oslo, Norway, her status as an immigrant profoundly affected her life and work. A graduate of Douglas College (now part of Rutgers University), Dr. Boulding joined the Religious Society of Friends at age 21, Her sense of herself as a Quaker and her deep spirituality informed all of her subsequent work. Blessed with a very high energy level, at times she also sought out Catholic monasteries for times of retreat from her very heavily scheduled life as an academic, activist, author and speaker. In 1973 she spent a year in retreat in a mountain cabin outside Boulder, CO, where she began writing her seminal work on women, The Underside of History, a View of Women Through Time. Her last book, Cultures of Peace: the Hidden Side of History, is a celebration of the many ways peace is made in everyday places and hidden spaces and its writing was a culmination of her life’s work. Retiring from Dartmouth College in 1985 she returned to Boulder, Colorado. In 1996 she relocated to Wayland, MA and in 2000 she moved to a retirement home in Needham, MA.

Pre-deceased by her husband, Dr. Kenneth Boulding and her two sisters Sylvia Griffith and Vera Larson, she is survived by her five children and their spouses: Russell and Bonnie Boulding of Bloomington, IN, Mark and Pat Boulding of Englewood, CO, Christine Boulding and the late Gregory Graham of Wayland, MA, Philip and Pam Boulding of Olalla, WA and William and Liz Boulding of Durham, NC, 16 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be made to the National Peace Academy, PO Box 306, Shelburne, VT 05482 (please identify Elise Boulding Scholarship Fund, which was established to honor her life of dedication to peace, on check).  Russell Boulding (4464 N. Robbs Lane, Bloomington, IN, 47408, jrb-eeh@bluemarble.net) is collecting tributes/reminiscences of those touched by her to be complied, shared with the family and placed in the Elise Boulding Collection at the University of Colorado Archives, Boulder.

There will be a Memorial Service for her on her 90th birthday, 4:00 to 6:00 pm, Tuesday, July 6 at the Houghton Memorial Chapel, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.  This web page can be checked for the latest information about the service: http://www.earthenergyhealing.org/EliseBoulding1.htm Φ

Mary Lee Morrison is Elise Boulding’s biographer.

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