Elsa R. Graser, 90, one of first women to teach at Poly

April 06, 1999|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Elsa R. Graser, a retired teacher of Latin and English who was one of the first women on the faculty of Polytechnic Institute, died of cancer Thursday at her apartment in Homeland. She was 90.

A "remarkable, tireless, wiry little bit of nothing who wasn't more than 5 feet tall," in the words of one friend, she was an inspirational teacher who influenced hundreds of Baltimore students over several decades.

After retiring in 1973, she embarked on an equally energetic agenda as a volunteer, setting out at 6 a.m. most weekdays to help with Red Cross blood drives.

Born in Philadelphia, she moved with her family to Chicago and ultimately to Baltimore. She earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa and a bachelor's degree at Goucher College, and a doctorate in Latin from the Johns Hopkins University.

Although her teaching career in Baltimore began with classes in French and Latin at Hamilton Junior High School, and later at School 49 -- the school for gifted children -- she and other noncertified teachers were released during the Depression, and she began teaching evening French classes at City College.

While serving as a plane spotter during World War II, she became acquainted with the head of Polytechnic Institute's English Department. She was offered a job there, becoming the second woman assigned to teach at the prestigious, then all-male school.

Her years at Poly and at City College were interrupted by a two-year stint as an exchange teacher in Essex, England.

In a 1958 City College yearbook dedication, students acknowledged her for giving them much-valued "advice, guidance and responsibility."

"I know there's not a single member of our class who could ever forget Dr. Graser and everything she's done for us," wrote the book's editor, Neal Borden.

During her career, she also chaired a federal project to study the teaching of writing, was active in the Maryland and National Council of Teachers of English, and taught English as a second language to spouses of faculty and students at the Johns Hopkins University. For several years, she also edited the Maryland English Journal and the journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society.

After retiring in 1973, she began a rigorous schedule of volunteer work that continued until she was injured in a fall in December.

"She went out in rain, snow, whatever the weather, at 6 o'clock in the morning three days a week for the blood drives," said her neighbor of 12 years, Mary Maguire. After falling on the ice outside her apartment building on Christmas Eve morning, Dr. Graser continued her tasks and only summoned help at the end of the day, when she realized she was unable to drive home.

A dignified woman who placed priority on good manners, she respected people's privacy and independence and expected the same.

"She said she was not ready to have dinner with the same people every night in a retirement community," said Mrs. Maguire.

Services were private.

She is survived by a nephew, Theodore N. Graser, of Lafayette, La.; a niece, Cynthia Locke of Duxbury, Mass., and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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