STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 11/22/2010

The Gordon DNA: Lillian Woodworth Aiken '47

A Powerful Gospel

As a new Christian with a desire to grow in Christ and broaden her intellectual horizons, Lillian (Woodworth) Aiken enrolled at Gordon College in 1943, where she studied philosophy under Edward John Carnell, a distinguished Christian apologist and philosopher of religion. Carnell encouraged Lillian to apply to Harvard (Radcliffe for women at the time), where she was accepted and did doctoral work in philosophy. At that time philosophy was a male-dominated field, so Lillian’s success in securing a teaching fellowship and a Ph.D. were significant achievements for a woman (her dissertation, Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy of Morals, was published by Humanities Press in 1963).

In 1949 Lillian married Henry David Aiken, then professor of philosophy at Harvard University and distinguished author of many works on ethics and aesthetics. Lillian taught at Wellesley College from 1955 until 1963, when she moved to Maine to launch the fledgling philosophy curriculum and department at Nasson College in Springvale. In 1969 she received the George Nasson Award for distinguished service. After the school closed in 1984, she taught in the Adult Education Division of the University of Southern Maine until her retirement.

As Class of 1947 valedictorian, Lillian gave a Commencement address. Her son, David, saved a typewritten copy of it. In the address, Lillian begins by referring to herself, tongue-in-cheek, as a “mere girl.” But the address itself is a stirring call to her fellow graduates to seek a “vibrant understanding” of the “glorious background of our Christian faith”:

The early apostles were warned not to preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified, but we read in Acts 5:42, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” They faced death rather than give up their stand for Christ.

How many of you can say in no uncertain terms, “I know whom I have believed . . .?” Is your conception of the Christian faith clear and distinct? The great thinkers of philosophy have a well-formulated, logical system of truth. As Christians we need to be able to give a reason for the faith that is within us. We must stand fast in our convictions. Let us say with certainty that we know whom we have believed and let the conviction ring clear and true so that it will call others to the truth of Christ.

Among her many hobbies, Lillian (pictured above with her husband, Henry, and son, David) enjoys gardening, animals and collecting antiques. She currently resides in a long-term healthcare facility in Saco, Maine.

David Aiken, who assisted with this story, is a professor of philosophy at Gordon. His academic interests were sparked at an early age by his philosophy-professor parents. He and his wife, Beckie, live in Beverly and are members of Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham.

NEXT: Melville Stewart