Emily Greene Balch, Political Economist

Article excerpt


In 2009, the political scientist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Royal Bank of Sweden Prize for Economic Science in Memory of" Alfred Nobel (jointly with Oliver Williamson). But a female economist won a Nobel Prize more than six decades earlier: Emily Greene Balch shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for the same pacifist activism for which she lost her Wellesley professorship of economics and sociology in 1918 (see Balch 1972; Randall 1964).

The social reformer Emily Greene Balch was a very political economist, striving to relieve poverty, opposing the spread of war, and defending the economic, social, and cultural benefits of an open immigration policy. Within the literature on pacifism, Mercedes Randall (1964) and Kristen Gwinn (2010) have written lively biographies of Balch, and Randall edited an invaluable anthology of Balch's writings, Beyond Nationalism (Balch 1972). Randall's contributions and histories of the American women's peace movement aside, Balch has received little attention, apart from short entries in Fred Lee's History oat" Heterodox Economics (2009: 234) and in reference works such as Notable American Women (Solomon 1980), American National Biography (Opdycke 1999), and A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists (R. Dimand in Dimand, Dimand, and Forget 2000), so that she has escaped the collective memory of the economics profession and, apart from Deegan (1983, 1991), sociology. Balch is known to historians of the American women's peace movement, but in that literature Harriet Hyman Alonso (1995: 6) stresses that Balch "was and still is virtually unknown in the land of her birth" and Judy Whipps (2006: 123) reports that "today she remains virtually unknown even to feminist thinkers." The Encyclopaedia Britannica allots two paragraphs to Balch, listing the years she taught at Wellesley without saying anything about her departure from the college (Wood 1968). Balch's name was absent from commentaries on Ostrom's and Yunus's prizes. Even Agnar Sandmo (2007), discussing economists and the Nobel Peace Prize (in the context of the economist and micro-credit pioneer Mohammed Yunus winning the Peace Prize, and of Walras's much earlier unsuccessful candidacy for the prize), overlooked her, Joseph Dorfman mentioned her only once in his monumental, five-volume The Economic Mind in American Civilization (1946-1959: III, 243), and then only to quote Balch (1899) as stating that the "most important contemporary work in economic theory is that based largely ... on the conception of marginal utility." Dorfman did not mention that, after more than two decades of successful and innovative teaching at Wellesley College, Balch was not reappointed to her professorship in 1918 for the same anti-year and social reform activism for which she shared the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize. (2) She remains the only woman economist to win a Nobel Prize (as distinct from the Royal Bank of Sweden Prize) and the only American economist to win the Peace Prize. Balch was the second American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, preceded by her close friend jane Addams. The issues she raised, immigration, eradication of poverty, prevention of war, and the economic role of women, remain live issues.

The Education of a Political Economist

Emily Greene Balch was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, in 1867, the second of six surviving children of a former school-teacher and of a lawyer who, on the eve of the Civil War, had been secretary to the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner. She entered Bryn Mawr College in 1886, earning her A. B. with Bryn Mawr's first graduating class in 1889. At Bryn Mawr, Balch studied with the sociologist Franklin Giddings and with an assistant professor of history and government who was a founding member of the council of the American Economic Association in I885 and later president of the American Political Science Association, the American Historical Association, Princeton University, and the United States of America--Woodrow Wilson. …


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