Biographical / Historical
Sara Landau, teacher, economist, and feminist was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 4, 1890. Her parents, Morris (Fred) Landau and Frieda Shapiro, married in Poland and came to America in the early 1880s. Sara had two younger sisters, Minnie and Mathilda.
Sara did well in school, graduating from high school in Crowley, Louisiana in 1906 and then taking a commercial course at Southwest Industrial Institute in Lafayette. She worked as a business teacher in Louisiana for several years until the family moved to Kentucky. The Landaus first appear in Louisville city directories in 1914, when her father is identified as the proprietor of Knickerbocker Pants, a company he operated until he lost it in the Depression of the 1930s.
Sara's ambition surfaced early. "I'm determined to amount to more than one row of pins some day," she wrote in her diary in 1912. This determination carried her through years of study in economics, a field not frequented by women of her era, and fueled her work in volunteer organizations that dealt with issues ranging from understanding the economy to winning World War I. She graduated from Bowling Green (Kentucky) Business University in 1916 and the following year this frugal and precise young woman enrolled in the University of Louisville, despite earlier sentiments that she would rather go to the South Pole. A year's stint with the Red Cross in France interrupted her studies, but she returned to complete a bachelor's degree in 1920 and a master's degree in economics the following year.
Landau joined the U of L faculty, teaching commercial subjects, while still an undergraduate. She was promoted from Instructor to Assistant Professor of Economics in 1926 and then to Associate Professor one year later. She taught during the regular school terms and spent her summers in a University of Pennsylvania doctoral program and studying at other European and American universities. She became fluent in French and gained a fair knowledge of German, a succession of fellowships helping to support her graduate studies. Her concern for her students endeared her to them. A paper doll given to her in the early 1920s depicts Professor Landau helping one of her students. Its label reads "Guide, Philosopher and Friend of the Undergraduate." Landau resigned from U of L in 1928 in protest against the resignation of historian Louis Gottschalk and its controversial president, George Colvin, whom she regarded as anti-Semitic. One version of this episode appears in the Bulletin of American Association of University Professors, October, 1927, Vol XIII, a copy of which is preserved in the reference series of this collection.
She resumed work on a doctoral degree, this time at the University of Chicago, but family responsibilities took her back to Louisville for most of the 1930s. She held WPA and other government jobs, managed the family's rental property, and was an active member of several women's organizations during this hiatus in her academic career.
World War II opened up opportunities in Washington, where she did research for OPA and other Treasury Department divisions. Her teaching career took Landau to John McNeese Junior College, Alabama College, Women's College of the University of North Carolina, and Simmons College. When she applied for a faculty position at the new Roosevelt University in 1946, she urged the administrators to pay her the same wages as a man. She retired from Roosevelt in 1954 but was soon coaxed out of retirement to teach at Berea College in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Landau's long and eventful college teaching career finally came to an end when she retired from Berea in 1964 at the age of 72.
As a young woman she had declared with characteristic vigor that "The new year must be one of work accomplished--knowledge gained--opportunities grasped." The intensity of her commitment to this philosophy persisted in retirement. She continued to participate in the projects of the American Association of University Women, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the League of Women Voters. She was elected president of the Women's Overseas Service League at the age of 85.
Traveling was always a welcome adventure for the energetic spinster. She toured Japan, Holland, Iceland, and the United States in 1913. In the 1950s she went to Australia and New Zealand and at age seventy, she embarked on a year-long world tour sailing on freighters and steamers. She spent Christmas of 1960 in New Delhi.
Landau's accomplishments were many. She was founder and first president of the University of Louisville's chapter of Pi Beta Phi Sorority. She wrote prolifically--articles, book reviews, a book-length primer on economics, and hundreds of letters a year. She also wrote plays and directed college theater productions. Distinguished Citizen 1982 and the Blanche R. Ottenheimer Award were two of the honors presented her. The Woodcock Society, an undergraduate honor society, and La Societe Francaise were only two of the organizations to which she was elected.
When teaching, she was an active participant in campus activities. She served as Assistant Dean of Women while at the University of Louisville and was designated chaperon for a fraternity. She belonged to Woman's City Club, alumni clubs, and various other campus and civic groups at the many universities and cities in which she lived. Her correspondence is full of letters to congressmen, mayors, and other officials advocating reforms and pursuing civic goals.
None of the Landau sisters married and as her parents aged and then died, Sara appears to have shouldered more and more family responsibility. Her letters to her sisters are full of advice and evidence of financial and other assistance. Sara Landau died on September 17, 1986 at the age of 95. She was survived by her sister Mathilda and cousins.