Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007


Margaret Maxwell, passionate professor, dies at 93

By Laura Hockaday

Margaret Maxwell, longtime Charles St. resident and Finch College professor, died Tues., April 17, at Beth Israel Hospital. She was 93. Friends and acquaintances admired the slight woman with a porcelain complexion, ready smile and colorful hats, always on foot to the grocery, laundry or a favorite restaurant in the neighborhood she loved and where she lived for 65 years.

She taught European history and government at Finch from 1953 until the college doors at 52 E. 78th St. closed in 1975. She also taught European history at New York University. She was a director emeritus of the N.Y.U. Alumni Association and was a founding trustee of the Huguenot Heritage in New York.

A brilliant professor and mentor to her students, her circle of life went far beyond academia.

“She was just attracted to people; she didn’t care what they did,” said Bill Gilinsky, a singer and actor who knew Margaret for 30 years. “She was especially attracted to artists or performers with a need who were just finding themselves. The walls of her apartment were filled with paintings by struggling artists,” Gilinsky said.

Devoted to Finch College and its legacies, she inspired the rebirth of the Finch College Alumnae Association in 1993.

“She was the most special person in my life,” said Ceil Gavin Ainsworth, a past president of the Finch College Alumnae Association. “Margaret was a person of today with a great sense of history,” Ainsworth said.

Born Margaret Wright, she grew up on farmland homesteaded by her paternal great-grandparents and attended Seaman High School, near Topeka, Kan., where she graduated in 1930. Margaret then went to Washburn University in Topeka, founded on 160 acres donated by her maternal great-grandparents, Colonel John Ritchie and his wife, Mary Jane. A Union officer, Colonel Ritchie led an Indian regiment during the Civil War and helped slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

At Washburn, Margaret Wright met her future husband, Bertram Maxwell, a political science professor. She helped him with research for “The Soviet State: A Study of Bolshevik Rule,” published in 1934. Margaret graduated in 1935 and won a scholarship to Wellesley College, where she earned a master’s in European history. She later received her Ph.D. from New York University. In 1936 she and Maxwell were married and went to Geneva, Switzerland, to collaborate on research at the League of Nations Library. In 1942, Margaret and her husband moved to New York and the apartment on Charles St. Her husband died in 1972.

Members of New York’s Russian community were frequent guests in Margaret’s home. She was a Russian scholar, translated Russian literature and poetry and wrote “Narodniki Women,” memorializing unsung women revolutionaries who fought for freedom and equality in Russia from the 1870s to 1917.

Survivors include her sister, Betty Leech of Oskaloosa, Kan.; a nephew, William Wright Leech; his wife, Anita Rosskam; and their son, Jack Rosskam Leech, all of Roosevelt, N.J.; a niece, Elizabeth Ann Leech; her husband, Stephen Frazier; and their children, Jonathan Frazier and Rosalie Frazier, all of Mercer Island, Wash.; and a stepson, Richard Maxwell of North Carolina.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Finch College Alumnae Association Foundation, 1471 Third Ave., 10028 and to New York University, 25 W. Fourth St., 10012, or to a beneficiary of choice.

Memorial services are pending and will be announced later.

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