Irita Bradford Van Doren (1891-1966)
Where: Town Street
When: 1915- 1966
Van Doren was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. She studied at Florida State College for Women and then at Columbia University, where she graduated with her doctorate in English in 1912. Van Doren met her husband, then a fellow graduate student, at Columbia and they were married after she graduated.
While completing her doctoral degree, Van Doren also taught at Hunter College. She took a position at The Nation in 1919. In 1923, when her husband left his position as editor at The Nation, Van Doren became editor. In 1924 she became assistant to the New York Herald Tribune book editor, Stuart Sherman and succeeded him in 1926. She remained editor there until 1963. She was also a member of the editorial board of The American Scholar.
In her post at the New York Herald Tribune, Van Doren helped shape the newspaper’s coverage of books. She was well respected for her literary judgment, punctuality in printing reviews, and her policy of representing a variety of tastes and opinions in books and reviewers. Van Doren is credited with selecting Lewis Gannett as the paper’s daily book critic.
Van Doren also directed the annual Book and Author luncheon series, sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune and the American Booksellers Association. The event, held eight times a year, was open to the public and drew large crowds. Van Doren selected the speakers and presided over each event. In 1955 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Smith College, and a similar degree from Wheaton College in 1959. The Women’s National Book Association awarded Van Doren their Constance Lindsay Skinner Medial in 1942.
A relative introduced the Van Dorens to Cornwall and the property that they purchased from Charles Gold, in 1915. After her divorce in 1935, Van Doren retained the Cornwall home.
After her retirement in 1963, Van Doren became a literary consultant to William Morrow & Co. She was named editor emeritus of Books, and the Herald Tribune established the Irita Van Doren Award; a $2000 prize given annually to the author of any book that merited unusual recognition. Van Doren died in New York in 1966.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress