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Valerie French (1941–2011)

From: Classical World
Volume 105, Number 4, Summer 2012
pp. 551-552 | 10.1353/clw.2012.0044

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Valerie French died at her home in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2011. Associate Professor of History Emerita at American University, she was born on January 16, 1941 in Toledo, Ohio, and grew up in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. During her undergraduate years at Cornell University, from which she received a BA degree in chemistry in 1964, she began the study of ancient history in courses with Donald Kagan.

Valerie entered the graduate program in ancient history at the University of California at Los Angeles in the following year, mastering Greek and Latin while fulfilling the requirements for her MA and PhD degrees. Mortimer Chambers directed her 1971 d octoral thesis, entitled “The First Tribute Stele and the Athenian Empire, 455–445 b.c.” Available on microfilm under her name at that time, Valerie French Allen, it examined the first ten Athenian tribute lists inscribed on the famous First Stele, or Lapis Primus.

In 1969 Valerie joined the American University faculty as a professorial lecturer, reaching the ranks of Assistant Professor and Associate Professor before retiring in 2005. As her memorial service, held at AU on January 20, 2012, emphasized, she “single-handedly sustained the study of ancient history” there. Adjusting to the expectations of the AU history department meant developing a wide spectrum of courses in ancient history itself and acquainting herself with topics in ancient Greco-Roman and later European history well beyond the circumscribed scope of her doctoral thesis. Her teaching repertoire included over twenty different courses, including Comparative Causes of War in Classical Antiquity; Silent Peoples in Classical Antiquity: Women, Children, and Slaves; Psychohistory; Treasures from Classical Antiquity, as well as the equivalent of remedial math.

Valerie immensely enjoyed working in the AU history department, a strong research unit with a lively graduate program, and eventually chaired the department from 2001 through 2003. Yet her academic circumstances differed strikingly from those of her departmental colleagues. Since AU lacks a classics department, and does not even offer Latin and Greek, she had no opportunity to teach graduate students in ancient history, or even undergraduates with sufficient mastery of classical languages to tackle primary source materials in the original.

Valerie returned to fifth-century b.c.e. classical studies in three Festschriften essays dedicated to her mentors Kagan, Chambers, and Truesdell Brown, but she mainly conducted her research endeavors in interdisciplinary areas of inquiry, pursuing interests, most notably those of women’s and family history, she had in common with colleagues who worked in later historical eras. Along with publishing articles and book chapters on children in the ancient Mediterranean, contraception, childbirth, midwives, early childhood, maternity and fertility cults, parenting, and mother-son relationships, she coauthored Historians and the Living Past: The Theory and Practice of Historical Study (1978) with an Americanist in her department, Allan J. Lichtman.

Valerie shared her pedagogical expertise, administrative talents, and witty, worldly wisdom with fellow classicists and ancient historians in varied venues: panels at the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, the Classical Associations of the Atlantic States and Middle West and South, the American Philological Association and its Women’s Classical Caucus, as well as the Association of Ancient Historians. Winner of a yearlong fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and project grants from the US Department of Education and Fulbright Fellowship Program along with numerous teaching awards, she was a longtime officer and valued mainstay of the Washington, DC Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Among Valerie’s proudest accomplishments was her mentoring of the journalist I. F. (“Izzy”) Stone, who launched his studies of ancient Greek, and began his research into the trial of Socrates, on the AU campus. Generous and unpretentious, upbeat and insightful, Valerie affected and indeed transformed the lives of many students and colleagues. The lengthy roster of speakers presenting personal recollections at her heavily attended memorial service attested to her vibrant and warm personality, tireless service to the AU campus, powerful influence as an educator, and significant contributions to ancient historical studies.

Copyright © 2012 The Classical Association of the Atlantic States, Inc
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Judith P. Hallett. and Sarah B. Pomeroy. "Valerie French (1941...

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