Caroline 'Cary' Isard, social justice advocate

Caroline Isard
Caroline Isard
Posted: December 14, 2010

Caroline "Cary" Isard, 91, of Drexel Hill, an advocate for social justice, died of pneumonia at Delaware County Memorial Hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 1. Her husband of 68 years, Walter Isard, died Nov. 6.

In 1956, Mrs. Isard and her husband, an economist who had just joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, moved to Drexel Hill. The corner property with seven bedrooms had plenty of room for their large family and a history appropriate for the new owners, who were Quaker civil rights activists.

The home had been built in 1800 by Thomas Garrett, whose son, also Thomas, grew up there and went on to become a well-known Quaker abolitionist who helped 2,700 slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Soon after settling into her new home, Mrs. Isard helped found the Committee for Democracy in Housing, now the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia, to encourage integration. She and other group members welcomed black families who moved into white neighborhoods and sought to calm fears and defuse anger. They also checked on Realtors who were suspected of steering potential renters and buyers to certain neighborhoods based on ethnicity.

"I wanted to raise my family in a neighborhood where they would meet all kinds of people," she told The Inquirer in 1996, when she was the council's volunteer treasurer.

Mrs. Isard was a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the League of Women's Voters. From the 1950s on, she participated in antiwar protests and demonstrated for civil rights. She served on the peace committee of the Lansdowne Friends Meeting, where she and her husband were members for many years. She also played an active editorial role in her husband's research publications in the fields of regional science and peace science.

From 1976 to 1988, Mrs. Isard was on the staff of the Fund for an Open Society in Philadelphia. The organization promotes racial and socioeconomic integration.

In 1991, she became a volunteer with Community Legal Services. "For almost 15 years, Cary helped a variety of CLS lawyers and paralegals with Social Security and disability cases," executive director Catherine C. Carr said. "She would do what was needed, from copying files to analyzing listings and drafting letters to doctors. She was always optimistic, energetic, and compassionate to colleagues and clients."

Mrs. Isard grew up in Harlem. She earned a bachelor's degree from Smith College and did graduate work in economics at the University of Chicago, where she met her future husband. They married in 1942 and lived in New York and Cambridge, Mass., before moving to Delaware County.

She imbued her eight children "with a strong moral sense and the importance of taking time in one's life to improve the conditions of society," her family said. "She had a playful side as well," they said, "and to her children and grandchildren's delight, she could recite endless tongue twisters such as 'Theophilus Thistle' while teaching them to bake the perfect lemon meringue pie."

Mrs. Isard resolutely continued to lead an active life after losing vision to macular degeneration and mastered computer software designed to aid the blind.

Survivors include sons Peter, Michael, Scott, and Arthur; daughters Toni Yagoda and Anni; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Roberta, died in 1975, and another daughter, Susan, died in 2003.

A joint memorial service for Caroline and Walter Isard will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at Friends Yearly Meeting, 1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia.

Donations may be made to the American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia 19102.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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