Patty Gelfman: Representing Radcliffe College Alumnae

Photo courtesy of Patty GelfmanPhoto courtesy of Patty Gelfman
By Pat Harrison

Several years ago, Patty Gelfman ’56 led her Radcliffe class to make a generous gift to the Schlesinger Library for its 50th reunion. That gift has funded the processing of some of the library’s most illustrious collections, including those of Betty Friedan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth Holtzman, and Marge (the creator of Little Lulu cartoons).

An interest in philanthropy comes naturally to Gelfman. Her father, Benjamin A. Trustman ’22, JD ’25, was a prominent Boston attorney whose gifts established the Trustman traveling fellowships for Harvard students and a scholarship fund at Harvard Law School.

The Schlesinger was not a hard sell for Radcliffe alumnae, according to Gelfman. “The Schlesinger is a place that Radcliffe women can relate to,” she says. “They understand that the library is about our history.”

She has been involved with Radcliffe since she graduated cum laude with a degree in English. She served on the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees and the Radcliffe College Alumnae Association, participated in numerous reunion gift drives and campaign committees, and served on the library’s advisory committee.

When the College evolved into the Institute, her work on behalf of Radcliffe continued. In 2003, she was asked to serve on the Schlesinger’s Library Council, where she represents the concerns of Radcliffe College alumnae.

Harvard University is important to many of Gelfman’s family members. Her husband, Robert W. Gelfman JD ’56, earned his law degree from Harvard, and her two children—Lisa Jane Gelfman Matthews ’82, MBA ’85 and Peter Trustman Gelfman ’86—also hold Harvard degrees, as does her son-in-law, Gary S. Matthews MBA ’86. Gelfman’s grandson James Matthews is currently a Harvard freshman.

Before she had her children, Gelfman worked as a teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she and her husband lived while he was a legal officer in the air force. After they moved to Scarsdale, New York, and began a family, she did substitute teaching and earned a master’s degree in early childhood education from the Bank Street College of Education while raising her two children. She also got involved with other Radcliffe alumnae in the area and became president of Radcliffe-in-Westchester, which led to her election to the College’s board of trustees.

When she was ready to reenter the workforce, Gelfman received assistance from the Radcliffe College development office, which she says helped her land a fundraising job at Barnard College. “For women my age, that was a big deal, to go from volunteer activity to getting paid for it,” she says. “The job could be the same, but that was a big step.”

Gelfman never gave up her volunteer work. Before the job at Barnard, she had been education director of the White Plains Day Care Center, a Head Start program, and she later became development director of Planned Parenthood of Westchester County. Her interest in libraries led her to volunteer at the New York Public Library and at the library in the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along the way, she earned a certificate in managing archives.

Spending time with her family—including five grandchildren—is one of Gelfman’s highest priorities. “We’re a very close family, and we’re very lucky that we live near one another,” she says. “As grandparents, we could participate in the kids’ lives as they were growing up. And we still do activities and take trips together. That has been a very big part of my life.” The family’s most recent trip was to London, to celebrate her husband’s 80th birthday.

Gelfman says she has always enjoyed coming to Cambridge to participate in Radcliffe activities. She attends as many Institute events as she can, including the recent Julia Child symposium and the science and gender conferences. And of course she stays up-to-date on the Schlesinger’s activities. “They’re at the forefront of digitization, which fascinates me,” she says. “It’s so important for the future.”

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