Will Durant was born in North Adams, Massachusetts on November 5, 1885 to French-Canadian parents. His parents Joseph Durant and Mary Allard had been part of the Quebec emigration to the United States. Much is unknown about Will Durant’s early life but it is certain that he was raised with idealistic principles as he spent much of his later life in the fight for equal wages, women’s suffrage and fairer working conditions for the American labor force.
Durant not only wrote on many topics but also worked to put his ideas into effect.
Will Durant has been largely credit with attempting to bring philosophy to the common man. Some of his best known works are: “The Story of Philosophy”, “The Mansions of Philosophy”, and, with the help of his wife, Ariel, wrote “The Story of Civilization”. He also wrote magazine articles that were widely published. .
Will’s early education was by the Jesuits in St. Peter’s Preparatory School and, later, Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1905, he decided to become a Socialist. He graduated in 1907. He then worked as a reporter for Arthur Brisbane’s New York Evening Journal for ten dollars a week. At the Evening Journal, he gained a following when he wrote several articles on sexual criminals.
In 1907, he also began teaching Latin, French, English and geometry at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. Will also held the post of librarian at the college.
In 1911 he left he left Seton. He became the teacher and chief pupil of the Ferrer Modern School, which was an experiment in libertarian education. While at the Modern School, he fell in love with and married a pupil, thirteen years his junior, Chaya (Ida) Kaufman, whom he later nicknamed “Ariel”. The Durants had one child, a daughter Ethel, and later adopted a son whom they named Louis.
In 1913, he resigned his post as teacher and began lecturing in a Presbyterian church for five- and ten-dollar fees. In 1917, while working on a doctorate in philosophy, Will Durant wrote his first book, Philosophy and the Social Problem. In the paper he discussed the idea that philosophy had not grown because it avoided the actual problems of society. He went on to receive his doctorate in 1917. During this time he was also an instructor at Columbia University. In 1926 he retired from teaching and began writing full-time.
For their work on Rousseau and Revolution, (1967), which is the 10th volume of The Story of Civilization, the Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature; later followed by the highest award granted by the United States government to civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ford in 1977.
The Durants were also well-known for their remarkable love story. They were a memorable couple within their work and outside of it. They detail their love story in the book “Dual Autobiography”. Remarkably even death was not to separate them as they died within two weeks of each other in 1981 (she on October 25 and he on November 7). Fearing what this news would do to her father their daughter, Ethel, and grandchildren strove to keep the death of his Ariel from the ailing Will. Sadly, he learned of it on the evening news, and he himself died at the age of 96. He was buried beside his wife in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Two posthumous works by Will Durant have been published in the last several years, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time (2002) and Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age (2001). His wife Ariel is credited with contributing significantly to these books as well.