Ida Early has held numerous, valued leadership positions at Washington University, including her “dream job” serving as secretary to the Board of Trustees. Through her varied roles, she has contributed to the university’s strong commitment to scholarship opportunities; connected with faculty, alumni and long-standing donors; and even directed Commencement ceremonies.
Mrs. Early joined the Washington University community when her husband, Gerald Early, accepted a teaching position here. They had moved to St. Louis from Ithaca, New York, in 1982. While Gerald began his tenure track at the university as a professor of English in Arts & Sciences, Ida focused on settling into their new home with their two young daughters.
But as someone who had always worked in higher education, it didn’t take her long to join the university staff. She began with a part-time position as an assistant in the dean’s office at the Olin Business School. She was promoted to a full-time position as director of special projects by Olin’s former dean, Robert L. Virgil. When Dean Virgil retired in 1993, Mrs. Early joined Alumni & Development Programs, first serving as director of development and alumni programs at the School of Art, now the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and concurrently as director of development for the Gallery of Art, now known as the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
In 1996, she took a sabbatical for a few years to serve as president of the Junior League of St. Louis. She was the first African American to be elected for the role. Prior to that, she served on the Association of Junior Leagues International board of directors from 1993–95.
Mrs. Early returned to the university as director of the annual giving programs during Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University. She then took a position with Duke University as interim director of the Parents’ Program from 2001–02. She made her way back to the university to serve as interim director of development for the Brown School from 2005–06.
She also managed the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, whose members support the university’s annual fund and help address a broad range of critical needs, including scholarships and student assistance programs.
After an already illustrious career, she applied for what she called her dream job at the university and was named secretary to the Board of Trustees in 2007. Mrs. Early was the chief liaison between the board, the office of the chancellor, and senior administrative officers and served as a member of the University Council.
She also served as university coordinator for the Women’s Society, a volunteer group that provides scholarships, funding for student projects and leadership awards to graduating senior women. Eventually, she took on the additional role of Commencement director in 2013.
Mrs. Early, a native of Dallas, Texas, comes from a family that valued education and a strong work ethic. Her father was a long- term Southwestern Bell employee and her mother, who took college classes at night while raising two daughters, had a 40-year teaching career.
Mrs. Early has served on countless boards, including Dance St. Louis, Eden Seminary, Epworth Children’s Home and the United Way of Greater St. Louis. She was appointed in 1998 by then Governor Mel Carnahan to a three-year term on the Missouri Community Service Commission. Since retiring from the university in July 2020, Mrs. Early, an active member of her church, continues her community service and involvement.
She has received several awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of Negro Women in 1998 and the 2001 Difference Makers Award from the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. She also received the 2014 St. Louis Women of Achievement Award for her volunteer leadership.
Mrs. Early earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. She attended Cornell University for graduate school.
Her husband, Gerald, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, continues to teach at the university as a professor of English and professor and chair of African and African-American Studies. The couple lives in Webster Groves, Missouri, and have two daughters, Linnet and Rosalind, and two grandsons. Rosalind is features editor of Washington magazine.