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  • Ethyle R. Wolfe (1919–2010)
  • Dee L. Clayman

Ethyle Renee Wolfe, Professor of Classics and Provost Emerita of Brooklyn College, died on May 6, 2010, at the age of ninety-one. She was born in Burlington, Vermont, on March 4, 1919 and attended the University of Vermont, where she earned a B.A., summa cum laude, in 1940 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Two years later she received an M.A. from UVM for which she presented a 365-page thesis on the treatment of the Trojan cycle in Ovid.

From Vermont, she moved to Bryn Mawr where she studied with T. R. S. Broughton, Lily Ross Taylor, and Richmond Lattimore. She left without a degree following the heroic death of her first husband in World War II, and began teaching part-time in the classics department at Brooklyn College. She soon resumed her graduate work at NYU where she received her Ph.D. in 1950. It was there that she met her husband of fifty years, Coleman Benedict, whose own academic career was largely spent at nearby Columbia University (CW 98.4, 2005, pp. 439–40).

She was immediately promoted to Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, where she rose quickly through the ranks. She was by all accounts a devoted and inspiring teacher, but her genius for academic administration was revealed in 1967 when she became chairperson of the department of Classics and Comparative Literature. Under her guidance it quickly grew to over forty faculty members serving thousands of students each semester. Shortly thereafter, she was appointed Dean of the School of Humanities (1971–1978), and then Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs (1982–1988).

Ethyle was the kind of creative administrator who could deftly find a way to achieve a desired result no matter what structural or human obstacles seemed to be in the way. A notable example is the Summer Latin/Greek Institute for which she created a robust administrative structure, both inside and outside the department. She was also a shrewd judge of character who could forge a consensus where none had existed and inspire people to work together who were not inclined to trust each other. In all her dealings, large and small, she never lost sight of the greater good, and to her that was humanistic education, with classics as its heart. In her own view, and most would agree, her greatest triumph was the foundation of Brooklyn College's core curriculum, which requires every student to take a prescribed set of courses, beginning with "Classical Cultures." To support this she organized symposia and faculty seminars that evolved into the Humanities Institute, which was renamed the Ethyle R. Wolfe Humanities Institute on her retirement in 1989. Grants from the NEH, FIPSE, and the Mellon Foundation, which she wrote, gave impetus to the faculty effort that made her dream a reality.

The core curriculum and her role in its creation received national recognition. In 1985 she became the recipient of the University of Vermont's first Alumni Achievement Award, and the National Endowment [End Page 542] for the Humanities honored her in 1990 with its Charles Frankel Prize for bringing greater understanding of the humanities to general audiences.

Despite the demands of her administrative responsibilities, Ethyle also managed to find time for classics beyond the College. She published on Greek papyrology and Roman rhetoric, served as Associate Editor for Classical World from 1965 to 1971, and was cofounder, with Ursula Schoenheim, of the American Classical Review (1971–1973). Beyond this, she was a devoted member of Classical Association of the Atlantic States, which honored her with a Latin laudatio together with Bernard Knox in 1991, and of the New York Classical Club, whose Rome/Athens Scholarship Committee she chaired for many years. She is survived by two of her seven brothers and sisters, and their offspring. [End Page 543]

Dee L. Clayman
Graduate Center, City University of New York
Classical World 103.4 (2010)


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