Azita Raji ’83, a former trustee and the first Iranian-born U.S. ambassador, “led with kindness”
In 1958, when Linda McAlister decided to major in philosophy at Barnard, she tallied the number of well-known women philosophers that first came to mind. There were only 15, two of whom were her professors at Barnard: Jean Potter and Judith Jarvis Thomson ’50, whom she came to consider a role model, friend, and mentor.
The paucity of women — and support for women — in philosophy only became more apparent to McAlister when she later pursued her Ph.D. at Cornell University, where she was one of four female doctoral students. While McAlister was conducting research on three 20th-century female philosophers, she came to realize that in order for women to have a career in philosophy, they needed more opportunity to develop a body of philosophical work. It was this epiphany that guided McAlister to her life’s work.
McAlister, who helped pioneer the discipline of feminist philosophy, died of heart failure on November 9, 2021, at her home in Albuquerque, at the age of 82. She is survived by her wife, Sharon Bode.
As a Senior Fulbright Researcher at the University of Würzburg in the early 1970s, McAlister helped organize the first meeting of female philosophers in Germany, which gave way to the establishment of the International Association of Women Philosophers. Even more critically, McAlister served as a creator of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, which broadened and refined the field of feminist philosophy and continues to be a forum for cutting-edge writing.
“In the early 1970s, there was almost no place where you could publish a feminist philosophy article,” says Ann Garry, professor emerita of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, who co-founded Hypatia alongside McAlister. “Like me, Linda wanted to create a place to publish women’s writing in what was then a very hostile environment for women.”
The journal’s name pays tribute to the great mathematician and astronomer Hypatia, leader of the Neoplatonist school of philosophy in fourth-century Alexandria, Egypt. Her pagan philosophical views led to her brutal and public death at the hands of Christian zealots. “Linda was the one who said that this [journal] had to be named after a woman who was ahead of her time,” says Garry.
McAlister served as the journal’s sole editor from 1990 to 1995 and was co-editor for the next three years. She wrote or edited more than a dozen books about feminist philosophy, including Hypatia’s Daughters: 1,500 Years of Women Philosophers.
McAlister enjoyed a distinguished career in the academy, beginning in 1968 as an assistant professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College, where she served as a faculty member and administrator for nine years. After her Fulbright research, she spent a year as a visiting associate professor of philosophy at UCLA before accepting the offer to serve as a professor of humanities and dean at San Diego State University’s Imperial Valley campus, directly on the Mexican border.
It was during this time, according to The New York Times, that McAlister changed her middle name to López —which had been a great-grandmother’s surname — in honor of her Mexican heritage. A three-year stint as dean of the University of South Florida (USF) in Fort Myers ended in 1985 when the administration removed her, she said, for being a lesbian. She then served as special assistant to the vice chancellor for academic programs of the state university system of Florida and in 1987 joined the USF faculty in Tampa with appointments in both the women’s studies and philosophy departments. She retired from teaching in 2000.
Feminism spurred McAlister’s leadership in a number of organizations committed to the
empowerment of women, including the Society for Women in Philosophy and the National Women’s Studies Association. She served on the International Federation of Philosophical Societies and was elected as the first person to run on the platform of making feminist philosophy and women’s philosophical organizations a more central part of future World Congresses of Philosophy.
After retiring from academia, McAlister founded Camino Real Productions in 2006, a theatre company in residence at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. She was also producer and co-host of KUNM’s weekly Radio Theater program, a founding member of the Albuquerque Theatre Guild, and a board member of the New Mexico Humanities Council.
“Linda and women in our generation worked their tails off ... and started this wave of feminist thought,” says Garry. “She used the institutions of higher education to make change.”