University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Perdita Huston papers, 1936–2007

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

This collection includes files documenting Huston’s professional life, beginning with her journalism work with Time Life in Algeria until her final work on the Global Family Project in the late 1990s. Included are research notes, interview transcripts, drafts of her writing projects, correspondence from throughout her career, and material on organizations and conferences she was involved with. Also included are clippings of published articles by and about Huston.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born and raised in Portland, Maine, Perdita Huston spent her professional life advocating for sustainable development and sound family planning worldwide. She spent a number of years living in northern Africa and France before settling in the Washington, D.C. area.

Perdita Huston studied at the University of Colorado and the Université de Grenoble, and received her bachelor’s in sociology and international relations from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris in 1958. Marriage to a French doctor brought her to Algeria during its war for independence. There, she worked as a medical social worker, beginning her life-long advocacy for people living in developing countries, especially rural women. Huston also held positions with the Tunisian Ministry of Information and the Algerian Ministry of Agriculture while living in Africa. Her professional journalism career began with Life magazine, for which she worked both as an administrator and as a reporter, writing freelance articles about the situation in northern Africa throughout the 1960s for Life and Time, as well as The New York Times.

After continuing work with Time Life in Europe for several years, Huston moved to Washington, D.C. in 1971 to direct programs for the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, primarily programs for women. In addition to her varied journalistic work, Huston was involved with many organizations and delegations, including several United Nations agencies, the Peace Corps, and the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. In 1978, Huston became the Peace Corps regional director for North Africa, Near East, Asia, Pacific (NANEAP), and returned as a country director (Bulgaria and then Mali) in 1997. Her activities between 1981 and 1985 included a wide variety of work, including serving as a scholar-in-residence for two years at Wheaton College, researching and producing a documentary film (African Recovery) and consulting on public affairs for the InterAction Council, an independent group of 30 former heads of government. Other positions included coordinating the Population and Sustainable Development Program for the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and serving as director of Public Affairs for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

Huston’s books deal largely with the state of families and the status of women worldwide. To research her first two books, Message from the Village (1978) and Third World Women Speak Out (1979), Huston traveled to six developing countries. Huston continued to focus on the changing nature of families world throughout the mid-1990s, as a part of her Global Family Project, publishing Families As We Are in 2001.

Huston passed away in 2001 at the age of 65, and the United Nations Association for the National Capital Area created the “Perdita Huston Human Rights Fund” in her honor. She is survived by her three children, Francoise Champey Pommier, Jeanne Marie Champey Paynel, and Pierre Marc Diennet.