Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

VIRGINIA HEINLEIN....Robert Heinlein's wife, Virginia, died quietly in her sleep Sunday morning, aged 86. She had been in the hospital since Thanksgiving, when she fell and broke her hip.

Originally Virginia Gerstenfeld (and generally known as Ginny), she married Heinlein in 1948, a year after he divorced his first wife. She has often been credited as a significant influence on Heinlein's political views, not least by Isaac Asimov, who wrote in I. Asimov:

Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward. This happened at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.

....I can't explain Heinlein [as someone who simply echoes another person's views], for I cannot believe he would follow his wives' opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein I'm sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with the uttermost hostility), and I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life.

After Robert's death in 1988 Virginia moved from their home in California to Florida, where she lived with her cat Snowy. She occasionally visited fan newsgroups, where she was reportedly gracious and informal.

The best portrait of Virginia Heinlein I've read is Robert Heinlein's own in Tramp Royale, a memoir of a round-the-world trip they took in 1954. Here are the opening paragraphs:

My wife Ticky is an anarchist-individualist....When she was in the Navy during the early 'forties she showed up one morning in proper uniform but with her red hair held down by a simple navy-blue band a hair ribbon. It was neat (Ticky is always neat) and it suited the rest of her outfit esthetically, but it was undeniably a hair ribbon and her division officer had fits.

"If you can show me," Ticky answered with simple diginity, "where it says one word in the Navy Uniform Regulations on the subject of hair ribbons, I'll take it off. Otherwise not."

See what I mean? She doesn't have the right attitude.

Tramp Royale makes it pretty clear that his relationship with Virginia was a model for many of the relationships in his later books, especially those written after 1980. In fact, the conversational style of Tramp Royale appears to be transplanted almost whole in books like The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and The Number of the Beast.


Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld was born in 1916 to George and Jeanne Gerstenfeld and raised in Brooklyn. During World War II she entered the navy as a WAVE eventually advancing to the rank of lieutenant and met Heinlein while both were working at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia. After the war Heinlein moved back to Los Angeles, and in 1946 Virginia followed him there, enrolling in an advanced degree program at UCLA.

In 1947 Heinlein's first marriage ended in divorce, and after California's mandatory waiting period was over Robert and Ginny were married in New Mexico on October 21, 1948. According to Catherine Crook de Camp, "Ginny was just the sort of companion Robert needed, as I realized the first time I met her. A well-balanced, hard-working, gracious young woman, she was totally dedicated to Robert's welfare. Her love and care, without a doubt, added many years to his life."

In 1949 Heinlein described his wife as an "organic chemist and bio-chemist by trade and superlative kitchen chemist now that she is out of the lab. She is red headed and quite much of an athlete four letters in college and could probably lick me in a fair fight."

Shortly after their marriage the Heinleins moved to Colorado Springs, where they lived for 17 years. In 1965, after Virginia's health problems relating to altitude sickness had gone from intermittent to chronic, they moved to the Bonny Doon area of the mountains near Santa Cruz, California. In 1988, after Robert's death, Virginia moved to Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Virginia Heinlein had one brother, Leon, who died in 1984. Robert and Virginia Heinlein had no children.

Kevin Drum 10:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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