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Kathryn Davis 1

Kathryn Wasserman Davis

Class of 1934
Investor, Painter, Philanthropist, and Political Activist
Author, Council on Foreign Relations

Kathryn Wasserman Davis led a remarkable life as a foreign affairs scholar, author and distinguished philanthropist focussed on education and international affairs. Educated at the Madeira School in Washington, D.C., Davis received a BA from Wellesley College (cum laude) in 1928 and an MA in international relations from Columbia University in 1931. She finished her doctoral studies in 1934 at the Geneva Graduate Institute with her husband, Shelby Cullom Davis. 

Davis’s interest in international affairs was shaped by her numerous travels, specifically to Russia, where she travelled more than thirty times. Her passion for Russia and the Soviet Union followed her to Geneva where she pursued her doctorate at the Geneva Graduate Institute. Her doctoral thesis “The Soviets in Geneva”, was eventually published in 1934. It became a best-selling book in Europe when her prediction that the Soviet Union would join the League of Nations proved both timely and correct. 

It was a shared interest in world affairs that brought her and Shelby Cullom Davis together.  The couple met on a train headed for Geneva in 1930 and discovered they had both recently travelled in Russia. After returning to New York and completing master’s degrees at Columbia University, they married on 4 January 1932. They completed their doctorates in 1934 and thirty years later, the couple returned to Switzerland following Cullom Davis’s appointment as United States Ambassador in Bern (1969-1975).

Following Cullom Davis’s passing in 1994, Wasserman Davis dedicated herself to philanthropy. An internationalist at heart and mind, she was exceptional in the support she gave to higher education. The Geneva Graduate Institute greatly benefited from her engagement and generosity. In 2007, she contributed to the construction of the Maison de la paix with a donation of USD 10 million for the Library, which was named in honour of her and her husband. Since 2007, she also financed four new doctoral scholarships each year, intended for two men and two women, half of whom are recent graduates from American universities and the other half, students from Muslim countries. Finally, she included the Geneva Graduate Institute in her group of American universities participating in the "100 Projects for Peace", which she created on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

Davis received numerous distinctions, including the Harry Edmonds Award from the International House at Columbia University, the Life Achievement Award from the Women's National Republican Club, the Gold Medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences, and the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. Ms Davis picked up kayaking at age 95 and continued until 105. She was swimming at age 106 just weeks before her death. At the age of 95, she also began acrylic painting and produced over 200 works. She is survived by her daughter, Diana Davis Spencer of Washington, D.C.; her son, Shelby M.C. Davis of Jackson, Wyoming; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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Kathryn Wasserman Davis