Elizabeth Geen, 99, Mount St. Agnes, Goucher educator

July 11, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Elizabeth Geen, a former Goucher College vice president, academic dean and professor of English who later served as president of Mount St. Agnes College, died of heart failure Saturday at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. She was 99.

A formidable presence whose love of education, students, books, ideas and informed conversation lasted until the end of her life, Dr. Geen began her career at Goucher in 1950, shortly after the then-women's college had moved from St. Paul and 23rd streets to Towson.

During 18 years at Goucher, she was responsible for completing the relocation, rebuilding the faculty and overseeing major changes and improvements in the liberal arts curriculum.

"She came to Goucher at a very interesting time," said former Goucher President Rhoda M. Dorsey. "The 1950s were the halcyon days of education and her overseeing of the reorganization of the curriculum was very important. She was simply tremendous."

Sanford Ungar, president of the college since last year, said: "She stands in the history of Goucher as one who held up the college to the highest standards and intellectual rigor. And that respect for those principles still survives in the place."

Dr. Geen was born in Dallas and raised in San Francisco. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees, in 1925 and 1927, in English from the University of California at Berkeley. She earned a doctorate in English from the University of Iowa in 1940. Her scholarly interests were in the Romantic Movement and, particularly, the poet William Wordsworth.

From 1936 to 1942, she was an assistant professor of English at Mills College, until her teaching career was interrupted by World War II. She became one of the first women approached by the Navy in 1942 to help form the newly organized Women's Reserve. She later was in charge of the yeoman training program at one of the country's largest WAVE bases in Oklahoma. She was discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.

That year, she was appointed dean of women and assistant professor of English at Alfred University. She came to Baltimore in 1950.

Dr. Geen took exception to the idea that most women who attended college were only bound for marriage and being a housewife.

"Poppycock," she snapped in a 1950 interview with The Evening Sun. "The curriculum in women's colleges should be diverse as possible so that the training and the interests it gives the student will last throughout her life. A liberal education gives a woman a foundation for satisfied married life as well as for a career."

Dr. Geen was acutely aware of the sweeping changes student protests brought to college campuses across the nation, including Goucher. She was sympathetic to desegregation and Vietnam-era demonstrations.

"The '60s were certainly tough but she could bend with the punches," Dr. Dorsey said. "She was a person of principles and stood up for them, and, in doing so, was able to guide both the faculty and students into a new era. She always had a certain air of command about her and we used to call her `the admiral.'"

George A. Foote, who taught history at Goucher for 28 years, said: "She always had the interest of the college at heart, and she saw it through good times and bad. She was an effective administrator and because she had been in the Navy, there was always something a little `quarterdeck' about her."

The one thing she detested, said Mr. Foote, was Baltimore's reaction at the first sign of a snowflake, much less the thought of canceling classes.

"During one of the big snowstorms in the late 1960s, she called me up and said, `George, the parking lots are cleared,'" he said. "I told her I couldn't even find my car. That didn't go over very big with her. She was indefatigable when it came to keeping Goucher open."

After retiring from Goucher in 1968, Dr. Geen was assistant to the president and dean of Mount St. Agnes College, and was named president of the Mount Washington school in 1970. At the time, it was believed that she was the only Protestant to head a Catholic women's college. During her tenure, she presided over the merger of the college with Loyola College, which became coeducational in 1972.

Even though in recent years she suffered from failing eyesight and deafness, Dr. Geen continued her scholarly research into the life of Wordsworth, dictating papers for publication a week before her death.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

She is survived by a nephew, Dr. William Geen of Payson, Ariz.

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