Winter 2005 -- Joan Kennedy Taylor, a long-time associate of Ayn Rand and key participant in the beginnings of the Objectivist movement, died on October 29, 2005 after a long battle with cancer. Joan had been an outspoken advocate of individualist feminism and was a prominent writer and speaker on libertarian issues. She was 78.
As a young woman, Joan had pursued an acting career, but by the mid-fifties had moved into writing and publishing. During this time, she associated with several Beat Generation writers, including novelist Jack Kerouac and his friend Allen Ginsberg.
Joan’s association with Objectivism began in 1957. After reading an advance copy of Atlas Shrugged , she wrote a letter to Ayn Rand expressing her admiration. “The next thing I knew I got a call from the publicity person at Random House,” Joan recalled in an interview many years later. “Ayn Rand wants to have lunch with you.” At the luncheon, Joan asked Rand why she had wanted to meet with her. “And she said, [here Joan imitated Rand with gravitas] ‘Atlantis…’ And I thought, oh my goodness, it does exist!”
Thus began a personal and business association with Rand that was to last many years. Joan became a fervent student of Objectivism and, in fact, met her second husband, David Dawson, at the Nathaniel Branden Lectures. She developed an interest in politics and became editor of the newsletter for the Metropolitan Young Republican Club of New York. Joan soon transformed the newsletter into Persuasion, one of the first Objectivist/libertarian political magazines.
In a rare personal endorsement, Ayn Rand wrote that Persuasion “does a remarkable educational job in tying current political events to wider principles, evaluating specific events in a rational frame-of-reference, and maintaining a high degree of consistency. It is of particular interest and value to all those who are eager to fight on the level of practical politics, but flounder hopelessly for lack of proper material.”
Joan introduced Rand to her father, Deems Taylor, a prominent composer and music critic, best known for narrating the Disney animated classic Fantasia. Rand spent many evenings with Taylor, ultimately listening to every recording of his music. She even broached the possibility of having Taylor compose an opera based on her novelette, Anthem, but he declined.
The elimination of the military draft was an enormously significant advance for liberty in America. Joan Kennedy Taylor and her fellow Objectivists played a pivotal role.
During the Vietnam War, Joan was part of a group of Objectivists that put together a conference in Washington, DC, in an effort to end the military draft. “It was very successful,” she recalled. “We got a couple of hundred people at the conference. [One of the conference speakers,] Martin Anderson, decided that he would like to work on the presidential campaign and he went to see Nixon and he said, ‘I'm down here speaking on the economics of the draft and I thought maybe I could persuade you to make [elimination of the draft] one of your issues.’ Nixon, who had been raised a Quaker, said yes, he’d be interested. And he hired Marty to be one of his aides. He went from being an aide in the campaign, to being an aide in the White House, to being the person who was the liaison with the commission that was supposed to decide what should be done with the Army. He got them all to decide unanimously for abolishing the draft.”
Joan’s personal relationship with Ayn Rand ended in the 70’s, one of the many casualties of Rand’s split with Nathaniel Branden. She began to write and speak on feminist issues from a libertarian perspective. She also directed book programs for the Manhattan Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education; was an editor for The Libertarian Review and The Freeman; and for ten years was a commentator for the Cato Institute's syndicated radio program, Byline. She was the national coordinator of the Association of Libertarian Feminists and a member of the board of directors of Feminists for Free Expression.
Joan also was the author of numerous articles and of several books, including, Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered. She was the editor of Free Trade: The Necessary Foundation for World Peace, and was co-author, with Lee M. Shulman, of When to See a Psychologist. Her last book, What to Do When You Don’t Want to Call the Cops: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Sexual Harassment, was published in 1999.
I met with Joan for an interview a year and a half before her death. I was immediately struck by her warmth, grace, intelligence, humor, and integrity. We spoke for several hours on the beginnings of the Objectivist movement and her eyes sparkled with a passion for ideas, a passion that had not faded over the years.
Joan Kennedy Taylor was among the small group of people who first embraced the core ideas of Ayn Rand’s novels and envisioned a philosophy that could change the world. By her advocacy, she helped advance that vision. By her example, she demonstrated that one could live a life befitting an Atlas Shrugged heroine.