Vivian Fox, at 79; taught family, women’s history at state colleges

The Boston Globe

The preface of “Women’s Rights in the United States: A Documentary History,’’ which Vivian Fox co-edited with Winston Langley, opens with a passage from an Emily Dickinson poem. The verse, friends said, captures Dr. Fox’s enduring spirit.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.

“Vivian was everything that death is not,’’ said Langley, who taught at Boston State College with Dr. Fox and now is provost of the University of Massachusetts Boston. “She embodied life in all its forms: in smiling faces, human voices, the coming and going of the seasons.’’

Through her teaching, he added, Dr. Fox sought “to transform the lives of students and make them conscious of the possibility that stemmed from that transformation. She was always hopeful.’’


Dr. Fox, a professor for 30 years at colleges including Boston State and Worcester State, where she helped the women’s studies program flourish, died of lung cancer March 20 in Massachusetts General Hospital. She was 79 and lived in Brookline.

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“Vivian pushed the envelope in every area,’’ said Martin Quitt, a professor of history emeritus at UMass Boston who taught a course in family history with Dr. Fox at Boston State. The two co-wrote the book “Loving, Parenting and Dying: The Family Cycle in England and America, Past and Present.’’

“She pursued excellence in everything she did and made no compromise in one area for achievement in another,’’ Quitt said. “She was a demanding teacher who wanted her students to think, speak, and write critically.’’

Dr. Fox also was “proud that her three children followed in their parents’ path by becoming university professors,’’ he said.

Gregory Fox of Ann Arbor, Mich., a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, described his mother as “passionate and energetic.’’


“Those qualities extended to so many areas it was hard to know where she got the energy to have so many interests,’’ he said. “She was passionate about ideas. Conversations when I was growing up would range from current politics to aspects of British history to the merits of various philosophical theories.’’

His mother, he added, “was passionate about music, loved opera, and all other varieties of classical music. She and my father spent almost every summer near Tanglewood for more than 40 years.’’

Her passions, he said, extended to good food, giving dinner parties, and staying healthy.

“When the jogging craze started in the 1970s,’’ he said, “she began getting up at dawn to run 5 miles, after which she would prepare breakfast for the family, head off to teach, then get home and prepare dinner.’’

Diana Fox of Providence, a professor of cultural anthropology at Bridgewater State University, called her mother “the quintessential Renaissance woman whose abilities and talents, natural and cultivated, spanned the arts, the intellect, music, fashion, cuisine, and friends. She urged me to devote myself to a world of thought, to evaluate my talents, to direct them toward a commitment to improve the condition of humanity, of the planet.’’


She said her mother “taught me not to take comfort for granted, not to shirk responsibility, not to ignore my conscience, and to acknowledge the great needs of the world.’’

‘She pursued excellence in everything she did and made no compromise in one area for achievement in another.’

Although Dr. Fox began by teaching history, she later specialized in family and women’s history.

“She was raising her family while working on her PhD, but was always home when we children were,’’ said her son Michael David-Fox of Washington, D.C., who teaches history at Georgetown University. “Family, her own and those of others, was very important to her.’’

Born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Vivian Carol Daitz was one of twin sisters born to David and Mae (Granit) Daitz.

Her twin, Sonia Lazar of Los Angeles, said that as infants in the Great Depression, they slept in dresser drawers until relatives gave them cribs.

“The doctor waived his fee,’’ Lazar said. “I was a black-eyed brunette. Vivi was a blue-eyed blonde.’’

Her brother, Stephen Daitz of New York City, said, “Vivian was very beautiful, vivacious, and generous and in her early years was not that studious.’’

That changed, he said, when she enrolled at Brooklyn College, from which she graduated in 1954. It was there, he said, that she became interested in history and her feminist outlook solidified.

“Vivian would consider herself a feminist, not in an extreme way, but focused on women’s rights in the workplace and in academia,’’ her brother said.

Lazar said her sister “always knew what she wanted and went after it.’’

She wanted to do historical research and “she wanted children while also pursuing the life of an intellectual,’’ Lazar said. “Her determination and persistence were fierce.’’

In 1953, Vivian Daitz married Sanford J. Fox, a Harvard Law School graduate who became a Boston College law professor. They had met as camp counselors in the Berkshires.

Dr. Fox graduated from Boston University with a master’s degree in European and American history and a doctorate in history.

She first taught at Boston State before moving to Bunker Hill Community College and Worcester State.

At Worcester, a women’s studies department had “just sat there until Vivian brought it to life,’’ said Frank S. Minasian, a political science professor.

“She was a dynamic teacher with a way of motivating students and bringing her subject matter alive,’’ he said.

Dr. Fox’s husband died in 2000, and she retired four years later.

For the last eight years, Richard Fey, also widowed and a lecturer in economics at Tufts University, has been her companion.

“All who knew her were accustomed to her asking penetrating questions on whatever the subject of conversation and insisting on well-thought-out answers,’’ he said.

Dr. Fox, Fey said, “was passionate about justice and regularly proclaimed that progress should not be measured simply by economic or financial gains alone.’’

In addition to her two sons, daughter, sister, brother, and Fey, Dr. Fox leaves five grandchildren.

She will be buried July 15, which would have been her 80th birthday, next to Sanford Fox in the Stockbridge town cemetery, in the part of Massachusetts where they had been camp counselors together.

“Vivian was an avid reader, a patron of music, theater, and the visual arts, an adventurous traveler, a committed walker, and a passionate advocate for progressive causes,’’ said Dr. Harvey Simon of Newton, a longtime friend. “Her intellectual side would qualify her as an exceptional individual, even by Boston standards.’’

Gloria Negri can be reached at