Volume 77 / Number 40 - March 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Mary Ellen Baldwin

Mary Ellen Baldwin, 74, social activist since ’60s

Mary Ellen Baldwin, a longtime Village resident and social activist with her late husband Carl Rauschenbush Baldwin, died Feb. 10 at the age of 74.

She grew up in Alpine, N.J., the daughter of Josephine Ross De Baun, an immigrant from Ireland, and Kenneth De Baun, an insurance company employee, according to her son, Steve Baldwin.

She went to Holy Angels Academy in Fort Lee and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan before attending Pratt Institute, then Columbia University and Bank Street College, where she earned a master’s degree in early childhood education.

“My mother described her early arch-Catholic upbringing as dreary and conventional and she was greatly relieved to discover the far livelier world that lay just across the river,” Steve Baldwin said.

While studying art at Columbia she met her future husband, the stepson of Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and grandson of Walter Rauschenbush, Baptist minister and theologian of the Social Gospel movement.

Mary Ellen and Carl, who became a professor of art history at CUNY, were married in 1955 and came to the Village in the early 1960s.

“Both were strongly opposed to the U.S. intervention in Indochina, and in 1965 Carl became an organizer of the first campus-wide teach-in against the Vietnam War,” Steve Baldwin said.

The family with their two children, Steve and Kathleen, in tow, marched repeatedly in antiwar demonstrations.

“The Baldwin family tradition of loading the family into a station wagon at dawn, often with friends, driving several hundred miles to Washington to march all day and then racing home that same night is one thing we’ll cherish forever,” Baldwin said.

Mary Ellen became administrator of the First Presbyterian Nursery School in the Village in the 1970s and her husband became an immigration lawyer who helped political refuges gain asylum in the U.S.

“Both traveled widely, but my mother’s favorite place was Rome, followed by the wide-open spaces of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado — and Ireland, where she was delighted to discover important family roots,” Steve said.

Mary Ellen and Carl discovered Judson Memorial Church in the early 1990s, attracted by Judson’s socially progressive and artistic tradition and free-thinking congregation. They enjoyed tuneful musicales where Marry Ellen played piano and Carl played flute, Steve recalled.

After a long illness, Carl died in 2004 and Mary Ellen drew on the resources of Judson to rally her spirits.

“But when her daughter, Kathleen, began to suffer from a sudden and unexpected mental illness in late 2007, Mary Ellen began to suffer from a dreadful depression she had long fought to keep at bay, and after suffering a small stroke, took her own life,” said her son. “We’ll always remember her courageous spirit, sharp mind and giving heart,” he said.

In addition to Steve and Kathleen, three grandchildren survive.

A memorial service will be held at Judson Memorial Church at 11 a.m. Sat., March 15.

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