Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to speak at Quick Center


Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ph.D., a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, political commentator and unabashed baseball fanatic, will speak at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m. Her talk is part of Open VISIONS Forum, a program of University College, formerly the School of Continuing Education.

In a career spanning more than three decades, Dr. Goodwin has worn many hats. She has been an aide and confidante to President Lyndon Johnson, a Harvard University professor, an award-winning presidential biographer and a thoughtful commentator on such diverse issues as the World War II and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Her books, including "Lyndon Johnson & The American Dream" (St. Martin's Press, 1976) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Home Front During World War II," (Touchstone Books, 1995) offer a compelling portrait of American leaders during some of the country's most turbulent times.

"I'm a historian," she wrote of her work in Time magazine. "With the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am. And there is nothing I take more seriously."

Born in Rockville Centre, N.Y. in 1943, Dr. Goodwin's early life was consumed by another passion, baseball. Some of her earliest memories are of sitting on her front porch waiting for her father, a fellow Dodgers fan, to come home from work so she could give him the play-by-play of the day's game.

"No doubt my love of history was planted in those nightly sessions when he sat by my side in seemingly rapt attention as I recounted in excruciating detail the entire history of that afternoon's game," she said in a commencement speech at Dartmouth University. "In fact, for many years my father never told me that all of this was actually described in the newspapers the next day. So I thought that without me he would never know what happened to our beloved Brooklyn Dodgers."

Dr. Goodwin's love of learning and documenting history served her well in her education. She graduated magna cum laude from Colby College, where she was also Phi Beta Kappa. From there, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in government from Harvard University, where she was the Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

Another sort of education began when she took her first job in government. At a ball to celebrate the selection of the White House fellows, President Johnson discovered that a 24-year-old White House intern named Doris Kearns had been involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement and had penned an article titled "How to Dump Lyndon Johnson." Rather that throw her out of the program, Johnson took her on, saying, "If I can't win her over, no one can."

So it was that Dr. Goodwin served with President Johnson for the last year of his term, and then accompanied him to his Texas ranch to help write his memoirs. Her experiences with the president led her to write "Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream," which a New York Times reviewer called "the most penetrating political biography" the reviewer had ever read.

While she was busy with her research, Dr. Goodwin also spent 10 years as a professor of government at Harvard, teaching, among other things, the course on the American presidency.

In 1975, she married writer Richard Goodwin, a former advisor to John and Robert Kennedy and the investigator who uncovered the quiz show scandal of the 1950s. Mr. Goodwin helped her gain access to the people and papers that would be the cornerstone of her research for "The Fitzgeralds & The Kennedys," a New York Times bestseller that was later made into a television movie.

By the late 1970s, the busy professor/writer knew she had some decisions to make. She had three young sons and she didn't feel she could give her all to raising her family, while both writing and teaching. She left Harvard and started working from home.

"I've never regretted it," she said of the decision. "Of course when I was single I could work at night, or in the summers. But once I had the kids I was too exhausted at night and in the summers. They were home!"

After 10 years of research, Goodwin released "The Fitzgeralds & The Kennedys," in 1987. The book was in the news earlier this year, when reports surfaced which alleged she had plagiarized limited passages of the book.

After determining she had made some mistakes when she read through her notes, Dr. Goodwin faced the charges head on. She published an explanation in Time, resigned from the Pulitzer Prize Board, pulled all unsold copies of the book from store shelves and took an indefinite leave of absence from PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," where she had been a frequent commentator. She has also revised her note-keeping methods to guard against future problems.

"I am still the same fallible person I was before I made the transition to the computer, and the process of building a lengthy work of history remains a complicated but honorable task," she wrote in Time.

In the years that followed "The Fitzgeralds & The Kennedys," Dr. Goodwin's reputation as an astute political commentator has made her a popular guest on talk shows and a frequent media source. She has been an NBC commentator and on-air personality for PBS documentaries, including works on President Johnson, the Kennedy family and Franklin Roosevelt and Ken Burns' "The History of Baseball."

In 1997, Dr. Goodwin combined her passion for history with her passion for baseball in "Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir." The New York Times bestseller brings the 1950s to life through the eyes of a little girl obsessed with our national pastime.

Dr. Goodwin has received many accolades for her work, including the National Humanities Medal and the Sara Josepha Hale Medal. She is a member of the Society of American Historians.

Now a Massachusetts resident, she was also honored to be the first woman journalist to ever enter the Boston Red Sox locker room.

Tickets to Dr. Goodwin's lecture are $18, with discounts available for seniors and students. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396 or visit the website, www.quickcenter.com. A post-lecture reception is planned as a benefit for The March of Dimes of Fairfield County. For special patron tickets contributing to The March of Dimes, call (203) 849-9800.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 20, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 71