Gwendolen M. Carter

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A photograph of Gwendolen M. Carter from the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC)

Gwendolen Margaret Carter (1906–1991) was a Canadian-American political scientist. She was one of the founders of African Studies in the United States, past president of the African Studies Association and was among the most widely known scholars of African affairs in the twentieth century.


Carter was born in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) in 1906. She contracted polio at home as a child, losing the use of her legs for life despite therapy and the care of her physician father.[1] She completed her B.A. degree in history at the University of Toronto in 1929 and received a second B.A. from the University of Oxford in 1931. At Oxford she served as ceremonial "Mayoress" for a day (her uncle was the Mayor at the time) and had a photograph taken as a memento (See image at right).[2] She returned to her hometown to teach at McMaster University until 1935. Carter moved to the United States to undertake graduate study at Radcliffe College, where she completed both an M.A. (1936) and her Ph.D. (1938) in political science. Naturalized as an American citizen in 1948, she taught political science at Smith College from 1943 to 1964, holding the Sophia Smith chair there from 1961. She was at Northwestern University from 1964-1974 as Melville J. Herskovits Professor of African Affairs. In 1965 she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[3] Carter later taught at Indiana University from 1974–1984 and at the University of Florida from 1984 until her retirement in 1987. Through many years of her professional life, she maintained personal correspondence with leading figures such as Julius Nyerere, Seretse Khama, Gatsha Buthelezi, Steve Biko and Helen Joseph.[4] She was 84 years old when she died at her home in Orange City, Florida on February 20, 1991.[5]


Carter's early work focused on European state governance,[6] but her scholarship shifted to Africa after her first trip to South Africa in 1948, which coincided with the election that brought the Nationalist government to power and introduced Apartheid. From that point on, she focused on the politics and economies of southern Africa during a career that spanned over forty years. Carter's frequent research trips to South Africa resulted in many publications, several of which have become classics in both political science and African studies. These works, detailing the dynamics of political change in Africa, include:

  • The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. New York: Praeger. 1958. ISBN 978-0-374-91300-7;
  • Independence for Africa. New York: Praeger. 1960;
  • South Africa's Transkei: The Politics of Domestic Colonialism. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. 1967;
  • From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964. Karis, Thomas and Gwendolen M. Carter. 4 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press. 1972-1977.
  • Southern Africa in crisis. Gwendolen M. Carter and Patrick O'Meara (eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1977. ISBN 0-253-35399-8.
  • Which Way is South Africa Going? Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1980. ISBN 0-253-10874-8;
  • International politics in Southern Africa. Gwendolen Margaret Carter and Patrick O. O'Meara. 1982. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34285-6.
  • African independence: the first twenty-five years. Gwendolen M. Carter and Patrick O. O'Meara (eds.). 1985. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-30255-2.


"In 1975, after she left Northwestern, the faculty of the African Studies Program at the university honored her by publishing a book of essays."[7]

Professor Carter was awarded the African Studies Association's Distinguished Africanist Award in 1984.

The University of Florida Center for African Studies named its annual conference series in her honor in 1985.[8]

Northwestern University offers a scholarship in her name (along with that of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations).[9]

Smith College has an endowed position named in her honor (currently held by David Newbury).[10]


  1. ^ Carter, Gwendolen. 1991. Unpublished Autobiography of Gwendolen M. Carter. typescript available online.
  2. ^ Autobiography, p.A9
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter C" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  4. ^ Guide to the Gwendolen M. Carter Collection
  5. ^ Cook, Joan. 1991. [Obituary] "Gwendolen Carter, Writer and Scholar of Africa, Dies at 84." February 21. New York Times.
  6. ^ The major foreign powers: the governments of Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China. John C. Ranney and Gwendolen M. Carter (eds.). New York: Harcourt, Brace. 1949.
  7. ^ Heise, Kenan. 1991. [Obituary] "Gwendolen M. Carter, Author And Professor." February 22. Chicago Tribune.
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