Susan D Huntington (1869-1946)

By Pilar Piñon Varela

Susan Huntington was a professor, director of educational organizations in institutions such as the University of Puerto Rico or the International Institute for Girls in Spain, promoter in the American Association of University Women (AAUW) or the Pan American Association of Women (PAWA). In addition to all this, she maintained a close link with the Board for the Extension of Studies and the Institute of the Spains of New York and was directly involved in one of its creations, the Spanish Cultural Institution of New York, of which she was president.

From the perspective of the International Institute for Girls in Spain, the meaning of its work is magnificently synthesized in these words by the president of that organization, William Allan Neilson -and of Smith College- pronounced on the occasion of the death of Susan Huntington:

Her knowledge of the whole Spanish background, her familiarity with the past activities of the Institute, her acquaintance with the personalities in Spain with whom we have had to deal – these where the basis on which we have built our policies. In addition to all this information, we have had for many years the benefit of Mrs. Vernon seal for the cause of women education, her tireless interest in individuals, and her eagerness to help all those who needed help.[1].

Indeed, one of the guiding threads of her life was her incessant support for advancing the cause of women's education, and specifically, the conditions of Spanish women in this field. One way to reinforce this cause was through educational exchanges between Spain and the United States, a task to which she devoted enormous energy and talent throughout her life. Her sincere appreciation for Spain was manifested in her permanent help to her Spanish students and friends, both in times of peace and after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. And above all, she was the core and backbone of a network of connections that on both sides of the Atlantic favored the internationalization of a notable group of Spanish women, both through institutional exchange agreements and through personal initiative. her.

Susan Huntington was born in Norwich (Connecticut) on November 25, 1869. She began her university studies in 1890 at Wellesley College, although she had to interrupt them shortly after because of her poor health. In 1895 she traveled to Spain to work as a volunteer professor at the International Institute, where she would remain until 1898. Probably her mother's link with the Women's Mission Board would be the way in which Susan Huntington came into contact with Alice's project Gordon Gulick in Spain. After her stay in Spain, Susan Huntington returned to the United States to resume her studies at Wellesley College, which she would finish in 1900. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a position at the University of Puerto Rico, where she worked for eight years, first as a professor of pedagogy and, later, as dean of the Women's College. She decided to cut her career short to return to college and in 1909 she earned a Masters of Arts degree from Columbia University.

In 1910 she accepted the position of director of the International Institute, a position she held until 1918, although from 1916 Mrs. Huntington ceased to reside in Madrid. Susan Huntington was an essential figure in the design of the International Institute project from 1910 onwards. She disassociated the Institute from its Protestant missionary origin and turned it into a center where “the teaching of any kind of religion was not practised”, thus opening it up to a very diverse student body. She considerably expanded the number of Institute courses and programs. Thus, among the options offered by the Institute in these years, there were the Teaching Program, the Baccalaureate Program, the Conservatory Program and the English education program. Also from a very early time a kindergarten functioned. In parallel, she made the International Institute a prominent place in Madrid's cultural life, and a meeting point for Spanish and North American intellectuals passing through Madrid. Beginning in 1917, she decisively supported, along with William A. Neilson—president of Smith College and the International Institute—the Institute's collaboration with the Board for Further Studies. Such collaboration materialized in two projects, the Instituto Escuela and the Residencia de Señoritas, and would mark the beginning of a new stage in the trajectory of the International Institute with a definitive impact on the institution. Susan Huntington returned to the United States in 1916 and, as a member of her Board of Directors, she remained actively involved in the life of the International Institute until her death. In 1919 she married Howard Wills Vernon. She decisively promoted the educational exchange between Spain and the United States in its earliest phase.

In 1925 she was elected member of the Institute of the Spains and, in 1927, president of the Spanish Cultural Institution. In 1932 she received a tribute from the Spanish government for her “material and moral” support for the foundation of the Residencia de Señoritas. In this act, held at Fortuny 53 —at that time the headquarters of the Residencia de Señoritas and previously of the Instituto Internacional (1903-1917)—, the building was baptized with the name of Susanna Huntington House .

Since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Susan Huntington's house in Brooklyn, New York, has been a refuge for a large number of Spanish exiles who, passing through New York, found friendship, help and, on several occasions, support to start a professional career in an American university. In June 1941 she was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Puerto Rico in recognition of her work on the island. On the occasion of her death in 1946, she received homage from her friends and students on both sides of the Atlantic. Columbia University established the Susan Huntington Vernon Award in her honor, which continues to be awarded today.

Pilar Piñon Varela

[1] “In Memoriam” by William Allan Neilson in the booklet published by the IIGS on the occasion of the death of Susan Huntington Vernon. AIIE

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