Jo Ann Boydston: Philosopher, Advocate, and Philanthropist


image of Jo Ann Boydston

Jo Ann Boydston, who grew up in Poteau, Oklahoma, and was a member of the Choctaw Indian tribe, became a distinguished professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and longtime director of the University’s internationally renowned Center for Dewey Studies. During her nearly thirty-year tenure as the director of the Dewey Center, Jo Ann edited and authored nearly fifty books and scores of articles on related topics. She is well-known as the general editor of the monumental thirty-seven-volume The Collected Works of John Dewey.

John Dewey was a prominent—some would say, America’s pre-eminent—humanist philosopher. This quote from Dewey sums up his thoughts on humanism: “What humanism means to me is an expansion, not a contraction, of human life, an expansion in which nature and the science of nature are made the willing servants of human good.”

From all accounts, Jo Ann and her late husband of sixty-two years, Donald Boydston, took humanist ideals to heart in the way that they lived their lives. They were ahead of their time with respect to issues related to opportunity, equality, and social justice. It was said of the Boydstons that they touched and affected the lives of a broad and diverse array of people who have been working to make this nation better. They did not do this for recognition but because of what they believed in.

Jo Ann Boydston speaking Jo Ann was considered a trailblazer in both academic and social justice circles for nearly six decades. Jo Ann connected with other Dewey scholars and became interested in the work of the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. Jo Ann funded the Jo Ann Boydston Library of American Philosophical Naturalism and the Boydston Naturalism Research Fellowship at the Center for Inquiry.

In addition to many outright gifts to the Center, Jo Ann and Donald generously considered the future of CFI by setting up several gift annuities. The Boydstons also benefitted from the gift annuities, receiving an immediate charitable deduction and many years of tax-free income at a fixed interest rate. But their main concern was that upon their deaths, these gifts would come immediately to CFI without probate (though she also made a generous provision for CFI in her will). Even at the time of her death, Jo Ann was still thinking about the Center for Inquiry, requesting that people make contributions to the Center in lieu of flowers. We cannot thank Jo Ann enough for her generous gifts and can only honor her memory by ensuring that the Center for Inquiry will continue the work based on the foundations of John Dewey and other pioneers, like Jo Ann. She is already missed.