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Ariel Durant was born in Proskurov, Russian Empire (now Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine) as Chaya Kaufman to Jewish parents Ethel Appel Kaufman and Joseph Kaufman. The family emigrated to the United States in 1901. She met her future husband while a student at Ferrer Modern School in New York City. Will was then a teacher at the school, but resigned his post to marry Ariel, who was fifteen at the time of the wedding on October 31, 1913.
Ariel and Will Durant were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968 for Rousseau and Revolution, the tenth volume of The Story of Civilization. In 1977 they were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald Ford, and Ariel was named "Woman of the Year" by the city of Los Angeles.
The Durants wrote a 420-page joint autobiography published by Simon & Schuster in 1978 (A Dual Autobiography; later ISBN 0-671-23078-6).