Tarrytown Philanthropist, 100, Honored

Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who celebrated her 100th birthday in February of this year, may be one of Tarrytown’s most philanthropic, influential and accomplished residents, yet hers is not a household name.

imagesShe was honored this month by the Westchester Children’s Association with the first Edith C. Macy Award for Distinguished Service for her extraordinary support of child advocacy in Westchester. Dr. Davis served as President of the Association from 1955-1961 and has been active with the independent child advocacy organization for decades. The Award was presented at the Association’s Advocacy Dinner on May 15th, held at Tappan Hill.

Throughout her long life, Dr. Davis has had a remarkable record of accomplishment. As a scholar, activist and philanthropist, she has worked to improve international understanding, promote world peace and create better futures for our children.

Kathryn Wasserman Davis was born in Philadelphia in 1907, the youngest child of Joseph Wasserman and Edith Stix. Her family founded Art Loom, an innovative carpet manufacturing company that occupied an entire city block in Philadelphia. The family traveled widely, collecting fine arts and antiques from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Educated at Miss Madeira’s School in Washington DC, Dr. Davis received her BA from Wellesley College in 1928, and an MA in International Relations from Columbia University in 1931. She met her future husband, Shelby Cullom Davis, on a train in Switzerland in 1930. They married in 1932.

Shelby Cullom Davis, who died in 1994, became well known as one of Wall Street’s greatest investors and served as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland from 1969-1975. Together, they became extraordinary philanthropists, focusing always on improving the world’s future: expanding global understanding through higher education, fostering cultural exchange through the arts, supporting children’s well being, and promoting American economic values. After their marriage, she and her husband returned to Switzerland, where she earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Geneva in 1934. She also holds honorary doctorates from Columbia University and Middlebury College. She is the mother of three children: Shelby M.C. Davis, Diana Cullom Spencer, and Priscilla Alden (deceased).

After settling with her family in Tarrytown, Kathryn Davis joined the Westchester Children’s Association (WCA). WCA was founded in 1914 and works to ensure that every child is healthy, safe and prepared for life’s challenges. The organization accomplishes its mission by studying and documenting children’s needs, educating the public and policy makers about effective ways to address those needs, and mobilizing communities to push for needed changes.

Mrs. Davis remained active in the organization for many years. For example, she introduced Lt. Governor Alfred DelBello as the keynote speaker at WCA’s 70th Anniversary Luncheon in 1984. Mrs. Davis recalled recently that she was very proud of the Guidance Center operated by WCA from the late 1940s until 1969. "The Center really made a great difference for the children and families who came to us," she remarked.

In honor of her centennial, Mrs. Davis created "100, Project for Peace" last year, awarding grants of $10,000 each to student projects focused on world peace. "I want to use my 100th birthday to help young people launch some immediate initiatives — things that they can do during the summer of 2007 — that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world," says Mrs. Davis. Her milestone birthday also provided the impetus to make significant gifts to local Westchester institutions, including Phelps Hospital, the Jacob Burns Film Center and, of course, a major gift of $500,000 to Westchester Children’s Association.

Kathryn Davis exemplifies a proud tradition of civic and philanthropic engagement. Throughout her life, she has invested her resources in efforts to secure a better future for humanity, whether by promoting children’s well-being or encouraging innovations for peace. Westchester Children’s Association is proud to present her the first Edith C. Macy Award for Distinguished Service.

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About the Author: Cora Greenberg