Susanne Langer

Susanne Langer
"Art is the objectification of feeling."
- Susanne K. Langer

Induction Category:
Arts & Humanities

Born: 1895

Died: 1985

Inducted: 1996

Town: New London

A long-time resident of Old Lyme and professor of philosophy at Connecticut College in New London, Susanne K. Langer was one of the first women to make an academic career in the field of philosophy and the first to be considered a major American philosopher. Her Philosophy in a New Key and Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling pioneered new concepts in the field of aesthetics.

Born in Manhattan to German immigrant parents, Susan Knauth was raised in a rich intellectual and artistic environment. She attended private schools before entering Radcliffe College, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1920. A year later she met and married William L. Langer, a history professor at Harvard. She then earned a Master’s degree (1924) and a Ph.D. (1926) in Philosophy from Harvard. For the next fifteen years she was a professor of philosophy at Radcliffe, Wellesley, Smith, and other colleges while also raising two sons and writing her first scholarly works. Her first book, The Cruise of the Little Dipper and Other Fairy Tales (1924) was a study of myth and fantasy and her first philosophical treatises were The Practice of Philosophy (1930) and An Introduction to Symbolic Logic (1937) .

It was with the 1942 publication of Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, 1946’s Language and Myth, and her translations of the work of the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer that Langer became known as a leading figure in the philosophy of art. From 1945 to 1950 she taught at Columbia University, where she received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art, which she published in 1953. In 1954, Langer was named Chair of the Philosophy Department at Connecticut College, where she taught for the rest of her career. In 1960, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She retired in 1962 as Professor Emeritus, continuing to pursue philosophical thought.

Susanne K. Langer spent her retirement years at her colonial home in Old Lyme, where she dedicated herself to writing Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, which was published in three volumes (1962, 1972, and 1982) and represents the culmination of her life’s work. She died in Old Lyme in 1985 at the age of 90. Her papers are housed at the Connecticut College Library, where a bronze bust of her was dedicated in 1988.

Philosophy in a New Key, Langer’s best known work, sold over 500,000 copies in her lifetime, making it one of the all-time bestsellers of Harvard University Press. For decades it was one of the most commonly assigned texts on college campuses, appearing on syllabi for a variety of courses from anthropology, literature, and psychology to religion, art history, and philosophy.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War