|Remembering Mary Ellen Caldwell|
Mary Ellen Caldwell, professor emerita of English, died Feb. 11 in Grand Forks. She was 99.
She was born Aug. 6, 1908, in Arkansas, and earned a master's degree in English literature at the University of Chicago, concentrating on such 19th century American writers as Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville and Twain.
In 1936, she took a job with the Illinois Federal Writers Project. She later taught at the University of Arkansas and the University of Toledo in Ohio.
She and her husband, Robert, came to Grand Forks after World War II. Robert Caldwell, who also taught English at UND, died in 1980. She started teaching English at UND in 1952. She retired in 1979 after serving briefly as department chair, but she continued teaching through correspondence until 2000. Bob Lewis, professor emeritus of English, said the Caldwells came to UND during a time of rapid growth after the war, and they were gracious and welcoming to new faculty and students.
“They made my entry into the department much steadier than it would have been,” Lewis said. “They were people I could turn to - not to tell me what to do, but to show the lay of the land. They were sociable people, open and honest, and I much appreciated their friendship.”
Sandra Donaldson, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of English, arrived at UND in 1977, near the end of Caldwell's tenure.
“She was a wonderful spirit, generous and conscientious,” Donaldson said. “I always smile when I think of her, and I will always remember coming into the library and seeing her, even after she retired, working away. She took the life of the mind seriously.”
She contributed articles and reviews to scholarly journals and was the author of North Dakota Division of the American Association of University Women, 1930-63, A History and co-author of The North Dakota Division of the American Association of University Women, 1964-84. She was active in civic and scholarly organizations including the Grand Forks Symphony Association (secretary 1960-66), P.E.O., the American Association of University Women (North Dakota state president 1968-70), and the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota (president 1981). In recognition of her service on its bibliography staff from 1973 to 2002, the Society for Study of Midwestern Literature gave her its award for distinguished contributions to the study of Midwestern literature in 2000.
Younger students, those new to the UND campus and a little scared, a little unsure of themselves, often found refuge in Mary Ellen Caldwell's English classes. When they discovered what she could teach them, they came back for more.
“Students liked to take her classes, partly because she was kind of a mother figure,” recalled Lewis, former chair of the department. “She was very kind, yet she had high standards. She wanted them to write well and understand the short stories and other literature they were reading.
“She was a grand lady. She only had a master's degree, but she taught a wide variety of courses and was well-respected by everyone in the English Department.”
She was the widow of Robert A. Caldwell and is survived by a daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Sherwin Kaplan of Annandale, Va.
Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 319 S. 5th St. in Grand Forks.
Memorial gifts are preferred to the Robert A. and Mary Ellen Caldwell Scholarship Fund at UND.
Online guest registration is available at www.amundsonfuneralhome.com.
Amundson Funeral Home, Grand Forks is in charge of arrangements.