Gertrude Himmelfarb, Conservative Historian of Ideas, Dies at 97


Ms. Himmelfarb was a member of an accomplished intellectual clan that sprung from working-class roots. Her brother, Milton Himmelfarb, who died in 2006, was an essayist known for his observations on Jewish affairs. Mr. Kristol, through his writing and editing of journals like Commentary and Encounter, helped forge what came to be called neoconservatism, an intellectual movement begun by disillusioned liberals.

Their son, Mr. Kristol, was the founding editor of The Weekly Standard, the influential conservative periodical published from 1995 to 2018. Their daughter, Elizabeth Nelson, has written for conservative publications.

Ms. Himmelfarb did not take her husband’s name when they married in 1942 because she did not want to be bothered with the paperwork, she told The New Yorker. Mr. Kristol died in 2009. In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Nelson; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Gertrude Himmelfarb was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 8, 1922, toBertha (Lerner) and Max Himmelfarb Jews who had emigrated from Russia to the United States before World War I. Her father’s tiny glass-manufacturing business barely kept the family out of poverty. She graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn.

Ms. Himmelfarb went on to Brooklyn College, where she completed a triple major in history, economics and philosophy. She simultaneously studied Judaic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She met Mr. Kristol, at the time a committed leftist, at a meeting of Trotskyists in Brooklyn when she was 18.

Mr. Kristol wrote in “Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea” (1995) that he had fallen in love with her on the spot. They went to three or four movies (“only foreign movies since we were cultural snobs,” he wrote), before he asked Bea, as she was known, to marry him.

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