Kathryn Wasserman Davis (1907-2013, USA, PhD 1934)

(Mrs Shelby Cullom Davis)
Chairman and Trustee of The Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation and Partner of Shelby Cullom Davis & Company.

Mrs Davis was a noted philanthropist and supporter of the arts, education, genetic science, conservation and the environment, global peace initiatives and representative government.

Mrs Davis earned a Ph.D. from the Institute in 1934 at the same time as her husband, Mr Shelby Cullom Davis, who was US Ambassador to Switzerland from 1969 to 1975. On the occasion of a visit to Geneva a selection of her paintings was shown in the lobby of Villa Barton.

How did you arrive at the Institute?

After graduating from Wellesley College in 1928 and then earning my Master's at Columbia, Shelby and I were married in NYC in 1932. We had met on a train ride to Geneva in 1930, when I boldly asked this obviously shy young man, "Is Geneva the next stop?" Of course, it was the only stop listed.

1932 was the depth of the Great Depression and job prospects were slim so Shelby decided it was a good time to get his Doctorate. Then, he thought, it would be a good time for me to get my Doctorate. His thinking was that while hiking the Alps, we could discuss world events and study along the way. I loved Geneva, having been there with family many times. We both loved the Institute, the people and the City.

What was the Institute like at that time?

"While hiking the Alps, we discuss world events."

The Institute was a new entity ideally located in the center of the European political action. The professors were all top-notch and recognised as being the best in their field back then. They were from Switzerland, England, America and France. The school was small, intimate and dynamic. The first World Disarmament Conference was being held in Geneva just as we arrived as students. We wanted to be part of that world event. Shelby had secured a job for CBS Radio on the boat to Europe. He sought out distinguished conference delegates to speak to America about the conference. Our families listened raptly every Sunday night to hear Shelby introduce the host and the guests. His voice was our families' experience with instantaneous global communication. Transoceanic radio was state-of-the-art as there was no television, yet.

Our classes were given in French and English. Shelby was fluent in French and I had a fairly good ear with fair comprehension, but, alas, poor speaking skills. Thank goodness my general examination was dual language. I recall speaking very quickly in English in reply to one question in the hopes that my French professor thought I knew what I was talking about.

My thesis was "The Soviets at Geneva". It was the number one seller---for all of a week---as the Soviets has just joined the League and every body wanted as much information about them as they could find. And there was precious little to be found. I did well on my thesis, I think in part, because I had carefully included every quotation I could find that my professor, Dr W. Rappard, had uttered on the Soviets. He was one of my examiners. Shelby's thesis was "Reservoirs of Men" about the black soldiers who fought in France's army. His was, I think, much more readable. My dear father vainly tried to get through my book which he found to be a difficult read and a reliable sleep tonic.

What was it like to be one of the few women at the Institute?

Perhaps today's women might be disappointed in my reply but I didn't really think much about being one of 'the few'. I just was. Perhaps being an enamored newly wed had something to do with it.

How did your education at the Institute influence your life and future activities?

Success has so much to do with timing. I found that having a PhD helped open several doors for me as there weren't many women holding Doctorates then. My first job was in NYC as a researcher for the annual volume of the Council on Foreign Relations. I was given the most distinguished office which was mine while Walt Lippman, distinguished writer for the New York Times, was on vacation. I even had a private phone line.

I continued to travel often with my husband and tried to focus on the living standards of the people of each country. I later went on to do slide show public speaking engagements about Switzerland, Russia, and India. Imagine today catching the flavors of these countries using modern video equipment. Shelby and I also felt that we were fairly well prepared for diplomatic service, in no small part, due to our time in Geneva where we learned to get along with students from around the world.

What advice would you give to our current and future students?

The fact that these students are enrolled here indicates that they are engaged in world events. We need more people engaged and trained in working towards global peace initiatives and supporting economic development to ensure greater security for the survival of humankind. I surely hope that this is just what is happening here.



Kathryn Wasserman Davis, Chairman and Trustee of The Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation and Partner of Shelby Cullom Davis & Company, is a noted philanthropist and supporter of the arts, education, genetic science, conservation and the environment, global peace initiatives and representative government.

Educated at Miss Madeira's School, Washington DC. Received her BA from Wellesley College (cum laude) in 1928. Awarded an MA in International Relations from Columbia University in 1931, received a Ph.D. from the University of Geneva (HEI) in 1934. Holds an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Columbia University. Has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Middlebury College in August 2006.

Has been a research author of The United States in World Affairs published annually by The Council on Foreign Relations. Has written articles for the Reader's Digest and other periodicals and a book entitled The Soviets at Geneva. Has lectured for many years before educational and civic groups on India, Russia, China and Switzerland. Her late husband was US Ambassador to Switzerland from 1969 to 1975.

Awards include Harry Edmonds Award from International House of Columbia University; Women's National Republican Club for Life Achievement; The Gold Medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences and many others.