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  • Pay It Forward:A Tribute to Sally H. Mitchell (1937–2016)
  • Andrea Broomfield (bio)

I will always remember the buildup of excitement in the summer of 2005 when VPR’s special issue in honor of Sally Mitchell was due in our mailboxes. Maria Frawley, Linda Hughes, Jennifer Phegley, Solveig Robinson, Talia Schaffer, Clara Cotugno, and I had agreed when we started this project to keep it secret from Sally, and admittedly, that was difficult to accomplish. Many of us had regular—even daily—email contact with her, and of course the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals is a close-knit group. Nonetheless, we succeeded, and even though we were not there to watch Sally retrieve her mail, we learned that she was overwhelmed by our gift. Given the largess that Sally bestowed on scholars who came into her orbit, it was only fitting that we should give her a retirement present as monumental and as poignant as we could make it. We styled that special issue a festschrift, although to recognize Sally’s contributions to periodicals research, it appeared as a journal rather than as a book.

When, however, an influential scholar passes away and a compilation is published posthumously in her or his honor, that compilation must be called a gedenkschrift. Sorrowfully, Sally is not headed to her mailbox to see this celebration of her legacy. No, this gedenkschrift is published merely so that we can publically mourn a scholar whose contributions, as Patrick Leary noted, “helped take Victorian studies in new and exciting directions, opening up the study of women’s writing in ways that were unheard of when she first began writing and teaching.”1

Many RSVP members knew Sally personally, and even those who didn’t know her have most likely been influenced by her scholarship. I was Sally’s first dissertation student, graduating from Temple University with my PhD in 1994, and Anna Peak was her most recent student, graduating in 2010. In all, Sally directed thirteen dissertations at the time of her passing on January 1, 2016, and she had served as a reader on numerous others. Sally [End Page 1]

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Maria Frawley, Sally Mitchell, and Jennifer Phegley, RSVP Conference, University of Delaware, September 2014. Photo credit: Andrea Broomfield.

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was likewise dedicated to helping students and colleagues who depended on her for advice, recommendation letters, coaching for MLA interviews, and peer reviews of their manuscripts. As I wrote in 2005, Sally “made mentoring an art, never relegating it to what might be considered more crucial matters, never avoiding opportunities to make newcomers feel welcome and important.”2 When we consider how many were influenced by Sally, her importance is astonishing. Hence, the purpose of this gedenkschrift is to gather tributes from RSVP members and former students who wish to acknowledge her guidance. Sally would expect us to return the favor, to “pay it forward” by guiding others in similar fashion and by making scholarly inquiry an effort towards the common good. As Sally’s former student Julia Mendenhall aptly put it, “And now we shall carry on with our work as a tribute to all she gave to us. She would be pleased. I see you grinning, Sally.”3

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RSVP Conference, University of Delaware, September 2014. Photo credit: Sally Mitchell. Sally posted this photo on Facebook and wrote as the caption, “My first PhD student, Andrea Broomfield, right; my last PhD, Anna Peak, left. Both of them were giving papers.”

Inviting a graduate student to coedit Prose by Victorian Women: An Anthology (1996), involving scholars in the creation of Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia (1988), and commissioning colleagues to write books for Praeger’s Victorian Life and Times series are just three examples of Sally’s [End Page 3] philosophy at work. She knew that mentoring and collaboration were fundamental to the health of scholarship, whereas exclusivity, hierarchies, and snobbery compromised it. In this respect, Sally was influenced by RSVP’s founders, whose vision included “men and women scholars shar[ing] equally in periodical research,” as Rosemary VanArsdel wrote in 2004.4 Michael Wolff knew that RSVP’s...


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