Audrey Foote, former book reviewer, dies at 85


Audrey Foote taught literature and reviewed books for The Washington Post and other newspapers. She died April 3 at 85. (Family photo)

Audrey Foote, an educator, translator and ardent feminist who reviewed dozens of books, most about powerful women in history, for The Washington Post and other newspapers, died April 3 at her home in the District. She was 85.

She had Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer, said her husband, author and journalist Timothy Foote.

Dr. Foote’s intellectual pursuits often centered around her feminist beliefs. She preferred to use wit over outrage to make her point.

In one 1977 essay in the Atlantic magazine, she wrote about how words of a feminine origin — including governess, madam and secretary — had lost value over time.

The word “mistress,” she wrote, once meant one who rules over those in her employ but had since come to be used “metaphorically and microcosmically to mean the ruler of a somewhat dwindled and undependable estate, a man’s heart.”

Starting in 1968, Dr. Foote wrote more than 100 reviews in The Post, specializing in novels, histories and biographies about influential women and how they thrived in male-dominated societies. The book subjects included fashion magnate Coco Chanel, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall and French queen Marie Antoinette.

Audrey Mae Chamberlain was born July 29, 1926, in New York. She was a 1948 English graduate of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

She received a master’s degree in English from Harvard University in 1949 and a doctorate in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1986. Her doctoral thesis was published as “Beyond Respectability: From the Fallen Woman to the Free Spirit in Nineteen-century European Drama.”

Beginning in the 1950s, she worked as a researcher for Time Inc., and contributed to a guide book to Paris, where her family had lived for several years.

In 1971, she translated the novel “The Raft of the Medusa,” by the French author Jean Bruller, who wrote under the pseudonym Vercors.

In-between freelance assignments, Mrs. Foote taught literature classes at Columbia, American and George Washington universities. She also lectured on literature and drama at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

During the early 1990s, she helped run the Underdog Railroad, an adoption program for dogs bound for euthanasia in District pounds. She also volunteered with the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Over the years, she took in 70 abandoned puppies and found them safe homes.

Besides her husband of 63 years, of Washington, survivors include four children, Colin Foote of Roscoe, N.Y., Victoria Blackman of McLean, Valerie Foote of Silver Spring and Andrew Todhunter of Santa Rosa, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.