Magdalen Flexner worked as an American ambassador in Europe, serving for decades as consul general in France at a time when women were rarely given such responsibility. Flexner earned a law degree from Cornell in 1947 and worked as a clerk for the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals before passing the bar in 1948 and working as an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board. In 1955 she joined the Foreign Service and was appointed American consul in Bordeaux, France. From 1959 to 1962 she served as the deputy United States representative to UNESCO in Paris. She briefly served as US consul in Cardiff, Wales, before returning to Bordeaux as American consul general from 1965 until her retirement in 1967.
A distinguished foreign service officer, Magdalen Flexner succeeded in crossing gender barriers to assume professional positions traditionally reserved for men. Living in a time of social restriction and limited opportunity for women, she defined herself as an independent woman, unfazed by the mold society dictated. Her ambition refused to deny her intelligence its full potential.
Born in Watervliet, New York, on July 11, 1907, to Otto Glaser and Anna Munro, Magdalen Glaser was raised in New York. After graduating from the Emma Willard School in Troy in 1924, she left New York to attend Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1928. She served as the warden of Bryn Mawr from 1930 to 1932, the year she married William Flexner, the son of Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute. Her education, however, did not end with Bryn Mawr. She received her LL.B from Cornell University in 1947, a year after she divorced her husband.
As a single, childless woman, Flexner focused her energy and talents on her career. From 1947 to 1948, she worked as a law clerk at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and, after passing the New York Bar in 1948, went on to be an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). She stayed at the NLRB until 1951, when she moved to the State Department. In 1954, she became the assistant public affairs adviser. Then, in 1955, she joined the foreign service and a year later was appointed American consul in Bordeaux, France. By 1959, she had moved to Paris, where she stayed until 1962 to serve as the deputy United States representative to UNESCO. She stayed in Europe but moved on to England to serve as United States consul in Cardiff, Wales, for one year. In 1965, Flexner was appointed American consul general in Bordeaux, France. She stayed in Bordeaux until 1967.
Flexner’s independence and success trace a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishment. The magnitude of her success can be measured not only in the range of positions she held throughout her life but also in her ability to define herself as a professional equal to her male peers. Her persistent pursuit of success and her consistent hard work defined her as a woman of remarkable accomplishments.
Throughout her life, Magdalen Flexner did not appear to show any particular interest in her Judaism. She died of cancer on April 21, 1972, while she was living in Washington, D.C.
Obituary. NYTimes (April 21, 1972) 42:2.
Who’s Who of American Women, 6th ed. (1971).