Linda McAlister, Philosopher and Founder of Feminist Journal, Dies at 82
She was among a collective of philosophy professors who started Hypatia, the first major scholarly publication to view the discipline from a feminist lens.,
Linda Lopez McAlister, a philosophy and women’s studies professor and a founder of Hypatia, a feminist journal that was the first major publication of its kind, died on Nov. 9 at her home in Albuquerque. She was 82.
The cause was heart failure, said Sharon Bode, her wife and sole survivor.
Philosophy, like most disciplines in academia and beyond, was very much a man’s world when Dr. McAlister began her studies in the late 1950s. (It had been so since antiquity; Aristotle famously had some rather peculiar ideas about female anatomy, averring that women had fewer teeth than men and a lower body heat, conditions that he believed disqualified them from serious endeavors like philosophy.)
Dr. McAlister recalled in an essay for Hypatia in 1989 that when she entered the doctoral program in philosophy at Cornell in 1964, the administration broke its rule of admitting just one woman each year and “took a chance,” as she was told, by admitting four.
After earning her Ph.D., she was hired as a professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College and quickly became invigorated by the women’s movement. With her peers around the country she began challenging sexism in their field. They wanted to publish work from a feminist perspective, but there was no place to do it.
So in 1972 they formed the Society for Women in Philosophy and began to strategize on how to fund and produce a journal. It took more than a decade before Hypatia debuted, first appearing as an insert in the Women’s Studies International Forum, an academic journal. Its first editor was Azizah Al-Hibri, now professor emerita of law at the University of Richmond.
By the late 1980s, Hypatia had a dedicated publisher, Indiana University Press, and was presenting scholarly writing on topics like Foucault and feminism, French feminist philosophy, motherhood and sexuality, and reproductive technologies.
It was the first journal of philosophy to address feminist issues, said Mary Ellen Waithe, professor emerita of philosophy at Cleveland State University and the editor of the four-volume anthology “A History of Women Philosophers.”
“Mainstream philosophy in the 1970s did not consider feminism a valid topic,” she said in an interview. “It was looked down on as girl stuff, with all the diminished capacity aspects you can imagine.”
Dr. McAlister was adamant that the journal be called Hypatia, for the fourth-century Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer and Neoplatonist philosopher who was skinned alive and burned by Christian zealots outraged by her pagan beliefs.
Dr. McAlister became Hypatia’s editor in 1990, and a few years later was amused and confounded to find herself in the news as a target of Rush Limbaugh’s ridicule. Mr. Limbaugh was fired up by an article in Hypatia titled “Male Lesbians and the Postmodernist Body,” and railed on his radio show that tax dollars were being spent on Dr. McAlister’s university salary to publish what he considered an abomination. (Mr. Limbaugh was not a subscriber — he had read about the article in a business magazine that had criticized Hypatia.)
Never mind that Dr. McAlister’s journal work was done on her own time, for no pay, during the summer months, and that the article was an entertaining and critical analysis of biological men who claim to be lesbians, a gender construct that the article’s author did not acknowledge.
In the preface to a subsequent issue of Hypatia, Dr. McAlister wrote that she had decided that Mr. Limbaugh’s attacks were “one last sign that we must be doing something right.”
Linda Lee McAlister was born on Oct. 10, 1939, in the South Gate neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her father, Manuel Lee McAlister, worked for the H.C. Smith Oil Tool Company. Her mother, Helen (Sherwood) McAlister, was a secretary at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Plant. When Linda attended Barnard in New York — she was the first on both sides of her family to attend college — it was on a scholarship from Firestone. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell in 1969.
When she was a professor of humanities and a dean at the Imperial Valley Campus of San Diego State University, she changed her middle name to Lopez, in honor of her Mexican heritage (it had been a great-grandmother’s surname).
“I did it for a number of reasons,” Dr. McAlister wrote in “My Grandmother’s Passing,” an essay published in “Whiteness: Feminist Philosophical Reflections” (1999), about her grandmother’s attempt to pass as an Anglo woman. “In Calexico it was a good idea to let people know that I wasn’t ‘just an Anglo’ — that is, that I wasn’t totally identified with the Anglo hegemony that held virtually all the power in Imperial Valley. But even after I left there I continued to use it because it sometimes helps keep people from ‘whitewashing’ me, as they’re understandably prone to do. It ensures that I won’t pass as 100 percent Anglo myself.”
In 1982, she became campus dean and professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida in Fort Myers. But after three years in the post she was removed for being a lesbian and sent to the state’s higher education offices in Tallahassee to work with the vice chancellor. After two years she was transferred back to the Tampa campus, as a professor of women’s studies and philosophy. She retired in 2000.
Dr. McAlister also helped found an organization of German women philosophers that later became the International Association of Women Philosophers. (She had spent a year in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship; her dissertation had been on Franz Brentano, a 19th-century German philosopher.)
She was the editor of a number of books on feminist philosophy, including “Hypatia’s Daughters: 1500 Years of Women Philosophers” (1996).
She married Ms. Bode in 2008.
After retiring from academia, Dr. McAlister founded Camino Real, a theater group in Albuquerque, producing shows about Latin identity, like “Aye, No!” a bilingual farce written by Liz Coronado Castillo about a Latina woman who falls in love with an Anglo woman in college and brings her home to her aunts and grandmother. It was presented at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in 2015.
“It didn’t occur to me early on that our home girls were making history,” said Ann Garry, professor emerita of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, and a founder of the Society for Women in Philosophy and Hypatia. “But Linda was very determined as time went on that our history be told.”