UPDATED BELOW WITH MEMORIAL SERVICE INFORMATION
As many in the early American community learned Monday morning, Mary Maples Dunn died Sunday in North Carolina. She was a longtime professor and dean at Bryn Mawr College who then served as president of Smith College, director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, president of Radcliffe, and the co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
In one of the emails that started flying around Monday morning, a senior scholar in my field reported that she had been visiting with her youngest daughter and grandchild when she died. She had whooped it up the night before with two manhattans. I’m sure that she and they were glad she was able to make one last trip and enjoy a last visit before her death.
Here’s a nice obituary in the Boston Globe, and another one at the Smith College website. Her survivors include her husband of 57 years, Richard S. Dunn, her daughters Cecelia and Rebecca, her brother Fr. Fred Maples, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, mourners give instead to the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives at Smith College (attention of Marissa Hoechstetter, director of donor relations and development communications) or to the American Philosophical Society’s Research Grant Program in memory of Mary Dunn, 104 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History & Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University and President-Elect of the American Historical Association (AHA), has given me permission to share a remembrance of Mary here. She writes:
In the early 1970s when I was just starting out as an assistant professor, Mary Maples Dunn was an important mentor for me. She was the only senior woman at the time in my field of early American history, and she took me under her capacious wing, introducing me to all the right people and showing me how to navigate in the professional world. She was one of the referees who supported my application to the Charles Warren Center and the N.E.H. for the year off that allowed me to do a considerable amount of research for the book that became Liberty’s Daughters. And I owe my current position as president-elect of the AHA in part to her, because she organized the petition campaign that in the mid-1970s put a woman on the AHA ballot for president for the first time since the 1940s. Our candidate then didn’t win, but soon the AHA nominating committees took notice and began to nominate women for president, the first elected being Natalie Davis. (Ed note: Davis was AHA president in 1987).
That combination of mentorship and activism was very characteristic of Mary.
I met Mary as an undergrad when she was president of Smith in the spring of 1990. She was invited back to Bryn Mawr to have dinner and talk with a group of students who were planning to go to graduate school in our various fields. She was not just a brilliant and accomplished woman (as well as a Bryn Mawr M.A. and Ph.D. in History), but also an incredibly warm and engaging person. I went to Penn to work with her husband as my advisor, but she always served as an unofficial advisor to me, especially when we both found ourselves in Cambridge, Massachusetts as I finished my Ph.D. and she was at the Schlesinger. She gave me some part-time work as well as invitations to seminars and a book club for historians that she hosted informally at the library. She looked out for me, and gave me a lot to pay forward.
I know a lot of readers here knew Mary personally as well as were familiar with her work in early American history, women’s history, and higher education leadership. There are a lot of us who enjoyed her mentorship and benefited from her advocacy and sage advice. (INTELLECTUAL GENEAOLOGY/KINSHIP TRIVIA: Mary was godmother to Tenured Radical, AKA Claire Bond Potter, who is herself the woman I call my Fairy Blogmother. See her tribute to Mary over on her blog, just published minutes ago.) Please feel free to share your reminiscences here. If any of you would like to write her widower a condolence note, please contact me off-blog at my university address, and I can give you his street address.
UPDATE, SATURDAY MARCH 25, 10:20 a.m.: Please see in the comments below information about three memorial services that are planned in at the Radcliffe Institute, Bryn Mawr, and Smith Colleges. It’s a fitting tribute to Mary’s commitment to women’s colleges that her life be celebrated at the institutions where she spent most of her long career.