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About Raissa Maritain

Raissa Maritain Poem above Stuart staircase of intellectuality

At the head of the stairs leading to the Raissa Maritain Library there is a silver-aluminum scroll which bears the likeness of a woman after whom the library was named as well as a quotation from one of her poems.

Raissa Oumansoff had left her native Russia and was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris when she met Jacques Maritain. She, a Jew, and he, a Protestant, became Roman Catholics in 1906, not long after their marriage, which was an intellectual partnership that lasted until her death in 1960.

Jacques Maritain had been a biology student in his early days, but the questions and needs of the time led him to philosophy. The couple shared in an exploration of spirituality, notions of social justice, political structure. Before World War II, in their house in Meudon, they gathered a group of intellectuals about them. Some came for instruction in Thomistic philosophy, some for companionship. It was a vigorous group that gravitated toward the couple, but the events of the time changed the pattern that had been established.

The Maritains moved to 26 Linden Lane in Princeton, where he had come to lecture. They hung their paintings by Rouault and Chagall on the walls and went about their work. Raissa continued to write poetry, work on her journal, and collaborate with her husband. During this time, she often went to a contemplative convent, Regina Laudis in Bethleham, Connecticut. After her death, it was they who donated the tree trunks on the landing of the stairs leading to the library. The tree on the left represents "Supplication" and the one on the right is "Declamation."

The sensitivity of Jean Labatut, the architect for Stuart and a friend of the Maritains, toward the needs and significance of the building, is well known. Naming the library was also carefully done. Underlying the thought behind naming the library in her honor was what Raissa Maritain's life would represent to students.

Raissa Maritain possessed qualities that made her a particularly appropriate role model for young women and a faculty devoted to their development. She was a laywomen with spiritual and intellectual attainments and gifts. She was a poet, a writer, and a thinker who lived her life in partnership with her husband. It is also significant that, by accident of birth, she bridged two worlds.

Nancy Ellis