Catherine Filene Shouse was born June 9, 1896, in Boston. Her grandfather, William Filene, was the founder of the Filene’s department-store chain, and her father, Lincoln Filene, founded Federated Department Stores, according to The New York Times. In 1918, she graduated from Wheaton College, Norton, Mass., and earned a master’s degree in education at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., in 1923.
In 1919, Shouse became the first woman appointed to the Democratic National Committee, and in the 1920s, she served under President Calvin Coolidge as chairwoman of the First Federal Prison for Women, where she established a job training and rehabilitation program.
During the 1940s, she became a dog breeder and started her own kennel at Wolf Trap Farm, a tract of land in Vienna, Va.
In 1949, she joined the National Symphony Orchestra’s board and served as its vice president from 1951-68. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her to the first board of the National Cultural Center, now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; she was reappointed twice by President Richard M. Nixon.
Shouse always was devoted to the performing arts. In 1966, she donated 100 acres of Wolf Trap Farm to the U.S. Government to create the first and only national park dedicated to the performing arts. The park opened in 1971 and has featured some of the world’s greatest performers.
When the main amphitheater burned to the ground in 1982, Shouse was the driving force behind creating a new theater—the 7,000-seat Filene Center, which opened in 1984.
During her life, Shouse also was made Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II; received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford; and was the first woman to receive the German Federal Republic’s Commander’s Cross of Merit, among other honors.
She died Dec. 14, 1994, at age 98, and is remembered by many as a visionary and philanthropist.
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