Gladys Gilkey Calkins Papers
Gladys Fay Gilkey was born November 25, 1897, in Watertown, Massachusetts, to James Henry and Mary (Johnson) Gilkey. Her two brothers, Charles W. Gilkey and James Gordon Gilkey , were both "distinguished" clergymen. Gilkey's father left his job in a bank to join the "back to the land" movement, relocating the family to a farm in Ithaca, New York. Ultimately unsuccessful in this venture, he went to work in the treasurer's office at Cornell University.
After high school in Ithaca, Gladys studied for a year at the University of Chicago in 1916, then transferred to Cornell. Gilkey's long association with the YWCA began there when the Student YWCA Secretary encouraged her to attend a Summer Student Conference at Silver Bay in 1917. "Not only was I exposed to new acquaintances…but to the stimulus of exchanging ideas in lively, open discussion groups! From then on discussion groups and conferences on women's concerns were a continuing part of my days…."
After earning her AB in 1919, Gilkey taught history for a year at Ithaca High School, a job she was required to resign after she married James Birdsall Calkins on July 20, 1920. The couple had three daughters, Fay, Harriet, and Gladys. During her early marriage, Gladys volunteered in the Boston and Rochester YWCAs. She also served on national YWCA committees, such as those planning the 1932, 1934, and 1936 Conventions, and the Leadership Committee (1936-41).
Birdsall lost his job as a "development engineer" in 1932 and, unable to find work during the height of the Great Depression, the family pulled its savings out of their bank (just before it failed) and went to Europe for six months. "We came back...with a few pennies left, [and] our world immeasurably widened…. Somewhere along the way we had become staunch Democrats."
With Birdsall still unable to find work, Gladys got a part-time job at the Rochester (New York) General Hospital School of Nursing, 1934-36, as a student counselor. Gladys was elected to the YWCA National Board in 1936 and served two terms, including a term as President, 1943-49.
The family moved to the Washington, DC, area when Birdsall got a job with the navy in 1941. Soon afterward, lawyer and economist Marie Berger, who worked in the U.S. State Department, joined the Calkins household while recovering from a war injury.
Calkins' involvement with the YWCA moved from the national to the international sphere when she joined the Executive Committee of the World's YWCA in 1946. She served as its Vice President from 1949 to 1955. At the same time she remained involved with the U.S. YWCA, as chair of the key Program and Budget Committee, 1949-52. She also taught in the YWCA's summer School for Professional Workers in 1956 and 1957.
Calkins was active on many local committees and boards in Arlington, Virginia, and was also active in United Church Women, serving as that organization's vice president from 1954 to 1956.
After Birdsall Calkins' sudden death in 1958, Gladys joined her housemate Marie Berger on a two-year Agency for International Development assignment to Columbo, Sri Lanka. There Calkins taught geography and history in the American School.
Calkins earned a Master's degree in religion from George Washington University in 1960. Her thesis examined the history of interracial policies and practices in the YWCA.
After Marie Berger's retirement in 1964, Calkins again accompanied her abroad as she undertook extended visits to six Asian countries on behalf of the United Board for Christian Higher Education.
Gladys Gilkey Calkins died on February 16, 1988 in Alexandria, Virginia.