Ariel Durant

On this date in 1898, Ariel Durant (neé Chaya Kaufman) was born in Proskurov (now Khmelnitsky), Ukraine. (However, May 10 may not be her actual birthday. While immigrating to the United States, Durant and her four sisters were all registered as being born on May 10.) She moved to New York in 1901 along with her large family to meet her father, who was already living in the U.S. and working as a newspaper vendor. She began attending the Ferrer School in New York when she was 13 years old, where she met teacher Will Durant. They were married in 1913, when Durant was 15. She later changed her name from “Ida” to “Puck” and then “Ariel,” two nicknames that her husband called her because she reminded him of Shakespeare’s sprites. Will and Ariel Durant co-wrote the extensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–1975), a collection of influential books that document Western history. The popular books won two prizes: a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967), and the Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for The Age of Louis XIV (1963). In 1965, Durant was named Woman of the Year by The Los Angeles Times. Durant had one daughter, Ethel, and an adopted son named Louis.

Durant was raised in a Jewish family, but she and her siblings gradually lost their faith. Her uncle Maurice was not religious, and his views influenced Ariel. In A Dual Autobiography by Ariel and Will Durant (1977), Ariel wrote: “We never deserted our faith for any other, but we lost most of it as we rubbed against a harsh and increasingly secular world . . . my Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.” D. 1981

“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.” 

—Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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