Professor Carolyn Ruth Swift, Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Studies at Rhode Island College, died on November 17, 2013 at Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island. She was 85 years old. She obtained her undergraduate degree in 1948 from the University of Chicago during the Robert Maynard Hutchins era. She was one of the teenagers admitted to the program before high school graduation for an education in the Great Books. She earned her M.A. at Columbia University in English Literature in 1950 and taught high school at Rosemary Hall in Greenwich, CT., Prospect Hill School in New Haven, and the public schools of Swansea, MA. and Cranston, RI., before joining the faculty of Rhode Island College after receiving her doctorate in English at Brown University in 1973.
In addition to lyric poems, her publications included studies on Renaissance dramatists and on English women writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. An anthology she edited, The Woman’s Part (1980), was one of the first works of feminist criticism of Shakespeare. She was a lecturer and scholar at the Folger Shakespeare Library and received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She retired from teaching at Rhode Island College in 1995, but she continued teaching and studying at the Cambridge Adult Education Center, Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, and the Brown Community for Learning in Retirement.
A political activist who throughout her life sought to increase the civil rights of minority groups, Dr. Swift was a founder and twice chairperson of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and a member of its board for many years. The organization’s first office was in her home. Her interest in civil liberties included speaking at high schools and civic organizations against the House Un-American Activities Committee and against Joseph McCarthy’s Senate sub-committee in the 1950’s. She was also an active member of the Rhode Island Congress of Racial Equality under the leadership of the late Rev. Arthur Hardge and Clifford Monteiro and took part at the Rhode Island State House in many demonstrations that culminated in the passage of the first Rhode Island Civil Rights Act. A member of Senior Action in a Gay Environment, she worked for the civil rights of lesbians and homosexuals, participating annually in Gay Pride parades. As a member of the Gray Panthers, the Rhode Island Senior Agenda, and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, she also frequently lobbied at the Rhode Island and Massachusetts State Houses for the passage of laws that would procure health care and housing for the elderly.
She was also a member of Temple Emanuel of Providence, the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Jewish Historical Society of Rhode Island, the Jewish Community Center of Rhode Island, the Modern Language Association, the Shakespeare Association of America, the Rhode Island Recorder Society, the Fox Point Citizen’s Association, and the Rhode Island Women’s Journal Writing Collective with which she had shared her journal writing since 1980. Her journals are now part of the Schlesinger Library collection at Harvard University.
Professor Swift grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, the daughter of the late Max and Gertrude Bovit Swift and currently resided in Providence, RI. She was the sister of the late New York University Professor Richard N. Swift. Her marriage of 28 years to Brown University Professor John W. Lenz of Salt Lake City ended in divorce in 1979. She is survived by her life partner of 31 years, Edith A. Kur, and by her son Dr. Peter S. Lenz and his wife Carol Ann of Salt Lake City, Utah, and by her son Thomas M. Lenz of Weston, MA. She is also survived by her step-children, Richard Gurspan and Deborah Patrarca, Nina Carmel, Paul Gurspan and Deb Korzec, and Pamela Ewings, and by three grandchildren, David O. Lenz and Meredith J. Lenz, both of Salt Lake City, and Ruby Carmel of Lincoln, MA.
Funeral services will be held in Temple Emanu-El, on the corner of Morris Ave and Sessions St., on Thursday, November 21st at 10:00 AM with interment in Swan Point Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Rhode Island, 128 Dorrance St., Providence, RI 02903. Shiva will be observed following interment.