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 America, 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, where she met teacher Will Durant. They were married in 1913 when Durant was 15 and he was 28. She later changed her name from Ida to Ariel, a nickname her husband called her because she reminded him of Shakespeare's sprite in "The Tempest."

The Durants co-wrote the extensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–75), a collection of influential books that document Western history. The popular books won two prizes: a Pulitzer 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, who was her sister Flora's child.

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 the Durants' A Dual Autobiography (1977), she 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. ... [M]y Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.”

She died two weeks before her husband in 1981. They are buried in Los Angeles.

“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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