Austin, Aleine


"Aleine Austin, historian and author, was born in New York City, July 19, 1922. She received her undergraduate education at Antioch (B.A., 1945) and completed her graduate work at Columbia University (M.A., 1947; Ph.D., 1970). Austin's special interest was the American labor movement, and her commitment as a labor activist further inspired her work for social change in the areas of race and gender. An early important influence was the Highlander Folk School in East Tennessee where she was a teaching staff member intermittently from 1943 to 1956. Austin first attended Highlander in 1943, where with other college women, she met Myles and Zilphia Horton. The Hortons directed the school and became friends and mentors to Austin. At Highlander, there were programs and training sessions primarily for community groups in Appalachia and the deep South that centered on union education, economic development, civil rights leadership, and social activism. The Highlander School was also known also for its emphasis on music. The anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement, "We Shall Overcome," has its beginnings in a desegregation workshop taught by Zilphia Horton in 1955 and attended by Rosa Parks. After graduation from Antioch, Austin was hired by Leo Huberman of the National Maritime Union to initiate a union education program for the riverboat workers on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Part of her work for the union during 1944-1946 included leading discussion groups with the rivermen and writing articles for their publications and pamphlets. Leo Huberman later edited the Socialist magazine, Monthly Review, for which Austin was a frequent contributor. After 1946, Austin returned to Columbia for graduate work in American History and then spent the next two years writing The Labor Story (1949), a history of the American labor movement. It was difficult for Austin to find work in the labor movement during the period that included the start of the Cold War and the inquiries by anti-Communists committees. There was a perception that her earlier employer, the National Maritime Union, included Communist sympathizers, and that was enough to discredit Austin's job searches. In 1950 Austin married Abraham Mufson and gave birth to her first child in 1953. She was both joyful and conflicted in her role of homemaker and mother. She was able to balance her home and career goals by assuming a part-time teaching job with New York City's public schools. Her assignment was to form a Youth Council from after-school Community Centers in each of the public high schools on Manhattan's upper West Side. In 1963, Austin was the mother of two children and recently widowed. She returned to Columbia to complete her doctorate studies in the hope of preparing herself for a career in teaching. She married again to Jonas Cohen and challenged herself to combine the traditional roles of wife and mother while working as a professional academic historian. Austin taught history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (1966-1975) and at Western Maryland College (1976-1980). Her progressive methodology (including a distaste for exams and grades) and her socialistic viewpoints often created problems within the academic settings. In her unfinished memoir, Austin viewed herself as "a departure from traditional educational and feminine models." In 1980, Austin published Matthew Lyon, a study of an Irish immigrant who participated in the American Revolutionary War activities."--"Biographical Note." Inventory of the Austin (Aleine) (1922- ) Papers (1940-1991), Johns Hopkins University.

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