New York Times

December 16, 1996

Nancy Macdonald Dies at 86; Aided Spain's Loyalist Exiles


NEW YORK -- Nancy Macdonald, the well-born anarchist who helped radicalize her husband, Dwight Macdonald, in the 1930s, managed his magazine Politics in the 1940s, and then struck out on her own in the 1950s to aid refugees of the Spanish civil war, died last Monday at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan. She was 86 and had lived on East 10th Street for more than half a century.

Her son Nicholas said the cause was emphysema.

The darlings of New York's radicals in the 1930s were the half-million Spanish loyalists who fought in vain against the forces of Francisco Franco, then made their way across the Pyrenees to refuge in southwestern France.

The loyalists got a lot of attention at the beginning, and those who had been Communists continued to receive support, but by the 1950s, with Franco's fascist dictatorship well established, the others had become what Mrs. Macdonald called "the legion of the forgotten," languishing in poverty, unable and unwilling to return to their homeland.

It was then that Mrs. Macdonald decided to remind the world of their plight. In 1953 she founded Spanish Refugee Aid to provide help to the non-Communist exiles.

From her office on Union Square, Mrs. Macdonald attracted money and support from intellectual friends like Hannah Arendt, James T. Farrell, Alfred Kazin and Barbara Tuchman, while Pablo Casals and Francine Faure, the wife of Albert Camus, distributed the aid in France.

And her home, which had been a literary and political social center in the 1930s, was hopping once again. Where T.S. Eliot had once been among the lionized guests, Alexander Calder mingled with refugees.

There was, to be sure, one change on East 10th Street. Macdonald, who had helped establish the aid organization, was no longer around as the marriage had dissolved.

On paper, at least, the union between Dwight Macdonald and Nancy Gardiner Rodman seemed made in establishment heaven. He was Yale, she was Vassar, and both were descended from prominent families, he from the Dwights of old New England, she from the Gardiners of colonial New York.

When her brother, Selden Rodman, a poet and prominent art collector, introduced them at a party, she, the daughter of a New York architect, was fresh out of college, and he was a writer for Fortune magazine.

For all their social and establishment credentials, both had left-wing views. In his years as a founding editor of Partisan Review in the 1930s, as the founder of Politics in the 1940s and later as a social critic for The New Yorker, Macdonald acknowledged that his wife had prodded him ever leftward.

It was also her family money that enabled him to leave Fortune for The Partisan Review, where she worked as business manager. And it was her administrative skills as managing editor that helped keep Politics going after the couple established it in their apartment in 1943.

While her husband was securing his reputation as a major critic, Mrs. Macdonald was becoming known for her intellectual fervor and for what Kazin recalled as her abiding kindness and concern for others.

Mrs. Macdonald, who peppered The New York Times and other publications with letters and articles describing the plight of the refugees, even after the death of Franco in 1974, continued to direct Spanish Refugee Aid until her retirement in 1983, then summed up her work with a book in 1987 based on taped interviews, "Homage to the Spanish Exiles: Voices from the Spanish Civil War."

With the time and the restoration of democracy in Spain, the number of exiles has declined, but there are still 125 aging loyalists receiving help from the charity. According to the director, Margaret Childress, because of Mrs. Macdonald's financial efforts, the help will continue.

Macdonald died in 1982. In addition to her son Nicholas, of Brooklyn, and her brother of Oakland, N.J., Mrs. Macdonald is survived by another son, Michael of Manhattan, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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