Mary Catherine Kahl, 78, chaired history department

June 06, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When Mary Catherine Kahl began teaching history at the old Towson State Teachers College in 1942, the No. 8 streetcar connected the sleepy Baltimore County seat of Towson with the outside world, and steam trains crossed York Road on a steel bridge.

Miss Kahl, who spent 46 years at what is now Towson University -- half of that time chairing a history department she helped shape -- died in her sleep Wednesday at the Edenwald retirement community. She was 78.

Diminutive and soft-spoken but firm, Miss Kahl was a favorite of faculty members and students. When the history department separated from the social science department in 1966, Miss Kahl was appointed its head.

"Between us, we covered most of the history of the globe," said Jenny Jochens, a retired Towson history professor and Roland Park resident. "She kept high standards for this group of young historians. Despite heavy teaching loads, she insisted on essay exams, preferably two a semester. No multiple-choice exams were accepted, and she asked that term papers be assigned in all upper-level courses."

So popular were her courses, especially on the Civil War and Maryland, that students often signed up years in advance.

"She just didn't stress the military aspect of the Civil War, but also the political and the social history as well," said Dr. Myron I. Scholnick, a Towson history professor since 1967. "She taught grandparents and at the end of her career was teaching their grandchildren."

Miss Kahl was known for arriving on campus early and staying late. "She lived for [Towson State]. It was the main thing in her life," said Dr. Scholnick.

In an interview in The Evening Sun, she explained why she never married.

"I graduated from college in the year of Pearl Harbor, and mostly all the men I knew went off to the war," she said. "I think I'm one of the victims of that."

After retiring as department head in 1989, she continued teaching her two favorite courses until leaving the university in 1995. Miss Kahl enjoyed saying that she outlasted three college presidents and watched Towson grow from a teachers college to a state university.

Born and raised in Hagerstown, where she graduated from high school, Miss Kahl earned her bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland in 1942 and a year later returned to College Park to earn her master's degree in 1943.

In recognition of her teaching career, Towson University established the Mary Catherine Kahl Prize in history, an annual grant awarded to a graduating history major.

She was a member of numerous professional and historical organizations.

She was a member of Ascension Lutheran Church, 7601 York Road, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

She is survived by her brother, the Rev. George C. Kahl of Brevard, N.C.; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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