I understand if reader interest has waned in relation to the ongoing debates on whether or not Richard Hofstadter should still matter as an exemplar for historians today. If you’re not invested in whether or not he was elitist generally, or in his philosophy of education, I get it. And, finally, I understand if you don’t care how much Hofstadter’s thinking was influenced by Marx, directly or indirectly (i.e. if RH was a kind of Critical Theorist). Multi-entry blog debates with lots of minutiae are wearisome.
With that, today I am bringing something different to the conversation. The passage below—from a 1974 essay authored by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick—provides new food for thought on Hofstadter’s work. Given what they say, I think we might agree that Hofstadter’s spouse Beatrice (Hofstadter White) probably deserves more credit for a key point of praise about Hofstadter’s work: its superb sense of style. The passage in question occurs in an easy-to-overlook footnote (my apologies for the blurring in the upper half of the picture below/right):
Beatrice Hofstadter nee Kevitt receives only passing mention in David S. Brown’s 2006 biography of Hofstadter. Brown notes that she was a WWII widow, had planned to study journalism at Columbia, and worked for *Parents* magazine in Manhattan. Brown says that Hofstadter wanted to remarry (he himself was a widower) to bring his son to New York. And this all we get—despite the pregnant note above from Elkins and McKitrick. Brown includes the The Hofstadter Aegis as a source in his bibliographic essay, but the single paragraph on Beatrice, in the main text, doesn’t cite it or mention the passage above. Brown chose to spend the chapter, and the one before it, on Hofstadter’s family, first wife (Felice Hoftstadter nee Swados), his first book (Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915), and his first job (at the University of Maryland). Those are sensible choices for an intellectual biography, but Beatrice represents a missed opportunity.
I suppose this is simply another kind of “neglected spouse” story in the history of academia, and the life of the mind generally. It’s an all-too-common genre, where the female is really a hidden thought partner, contributing in heretofore unknown and unappreciated ways. Alice Howe Gibbens famously supported William James through al
l kinds of trials, serving also as his amanuensis. Mary Shelley also did the same for Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hofstadter, for his part, provides hints about Beatrice’s practical help and intellectual importance. She is mentioned in the acknowledgments of both The Age of Reform (1955) and Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963). The former contains two sentences about her, and the latter one. In the first he cites her prominently, thanking her “above all” for her “indispensable” advice and gifts as a “textual critic.” He notes that she possesses “a major gift for asking the right questions.” In the latter, Hofstadter writes that she provided him “textual and substantive criticism of incalculable value.”  In both, she’s not the last person mentioned—the traditional place of honor for key players, or for those one wishes to honor in a special way. Rather she heads paragraphs wherein people are acknowledged. The importance of “Mrs. Hofstadter” cannot be missed.
What does this mean? First, I’ve not read every appreciation or biographical sketch of Hofstadter, but it seems clear that no scholars have substantially underscored the importance of Beatrice to Richard’s work. Brown made nothing of it. Perhaps the archival record contains no evidence of Beatrice’s emendations, notations, or comments. Hofstadter himself, despite the acknowledgments, chose not to underscore or highlight her particular contributions. Perhaps his effusive acknowledgment statements merely humored a spouse who tired of his writing life? If so, the is no record of marriage discord over his time spent writing and on his extensive scholarly pursuits.
The footnote in Aegis, however, cries out for more exploration. What if the genius of Richard Hofstadter is really, at heart, something more in line with the kind of credit given to Mary and Charles Beard? Even if the Hofstadter partnership was less extensive, these kinds of stories need to be fleshed for the history community, and academia at large. There is virtue in bringing hidden academic labor to light.
The myth of the heroic lone scholar, idolized for his/her singular and exceptional output, is an academic mainstay. It supports a celebrity hiring model in higher education that has fed faculty inequalities and undermined the notion of scholarly communities. And it may, returning to the topic of exemplars, further undermine the case for making Richard Hofstadter’s work, and output, a model for aspiring scholars. – TL
 Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, “Richard Hofstadter: A Progress,” in The Hofstadter Aegis: A Memorial, eds. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), p. 308. I discovered this passage while reading further into Hofstadter’s oeuvre to see if I had missed something regarding his philosophy of education. As of today, I stand by what I said at the end of this post, published at my personal blog.
 David S. Brown, Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 49.
 Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (New York: Vintage, 1955), 329; Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage, 1963), 434.