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Marshall, Dorothy Nepper

Dorothy Nepper Marshall

Dorothy Nepper Marshall was a renowned figure in the field of education. She played the role of teacher, administrator, trustee, and consultant-frequently simultaneously. Her work involved numerous institutions and organizations, within the United States and around the globe.

Dorothy Nepper was born on August 26, 1913, near Boston, Massachusetts. She left for Smith College in 1930 just before her seventeenth birthday. There she developed an interest in Spanish and Latin American affairs. She majored in Spanish, and spent her junior year studying at the Institute of International Education at the University of Madrid, Spain. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1935 and stayed on at Smith for a Master’s. When she finished her studies in 1937, she accepted a teaching position at Ashley Hall, a private school in Charleston, South Carolina, where she taught English and Spanish until 1939.

In the fall of 1939 she began a long association with Bryn Mawr College. She went there to take graduate courses as a Fellow in Spanish, became an instructor in 1942, and received her Ph.D. in 1944. She quickly moved up the ranks, serving as an Assistant Dean of the graduate school, then becoming Dean of the College in 1947. She also served as Acting President on two separate occasions. Throughout, she usually taught at least one class, either on Spanish language and literature, or Latin American politics and economics.

Nepper married British physicist Jonathan Nathanial “Nat” Marshall in 1948. She remained Dean at Bryn Mawr (while raising two children, Nicholas and Emily) until 1970. She then took the opportunity to move back to Massachusetts when her husband accepted a position in Marlboro. She spent one year as a visiting professor and the Director of Special Studies and the Honors Program at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, then in the fall of 1971 went to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, as Provost, Chief Academic Officer, and Dean of Faculties. These new responsibilities made her the highest ranking woman official-and the second ranking official overall-in the Massachusetts state-funded educational system. The newest campus of the University of Massachusetts system, UMass Boston was in the process of completing construction of new facilities on Columbia Point, formulating its mission, and hiring staff and faculty to meet the requirements of a growing enrollment. Marshall was soon appointed Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, but resigned from that position in December 1973, following a administrative dispute with Chancellor Carlo Golino. She did remain affiliated with the University, however-as Chairman of the Spanish Department, and Director of both the Honors Program and Latin American Studies. In 1975 she was named Commonwealth Professor. Six years later she retired as Commonwealth Professor Emeritus.

The same year Marshall began her association with UMass Boston (1971), she was chosen as one of the first women on the Ford Foundation’s Board of Trustees. In that capacity, she traveled to South America, Africa, and Asia, visiting a number of countries and reporting on their economic and educational needs. She used the information she gathered on these trips not only for her work with the Ford Foundation, but also for her other academic ventures, frequently writing and speaking about global current affairs and their connections with higher education and the United States.

In the spring of 1981, following the success of a one-day meeting of Massachusetts business and education leaders at UMass Boston, Marshall began searching for funding to expand on the event. The result was the twice-yearly Alden Seminars, co-sponsored by UMass Boston and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, with funding from the George I. Alden Trust. The mission of the seminar series was to discuss and resolve economic and organizational issues related to all aspects of formal education within the state. The seminars were held for eight years following the first in the fall of 1981. Marshall served as coordinator of the seminars from 1981-1984. In addition to her position with the Ford Foundation, Marshall was also a trustee for Smith College (1959-1969, 1975-1980), Bryn Mawr College, Neworld Savings Bank, Charlestown Savings Bank, the College of the Holy Cross, the Montgomery County Day School (Wynnewood, PA), and the Northfield Mount Hermon School (Northfield, MA). She also served as a member of a number of political and academic organizations, including: the American Academy of Political Science, the International Institute in Spain, the Board of Governors of the Pan American Society of New England, the Committee for Americas Watch, and Oxfam America.

Marshall also participated in several search committees and study panels, including: regional and national selection committees for Fulbright scholarships to Latin America; a dissertation selection committee in modern languages for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Program; presidential search committees for the University of Massachusetts, Bryn Mawr College, and Smith College; and panels entitled “The Future of Harvard Graduate School of Education,” “The Future of Radcliffe Institute,” and “Secondary Education in Boston.” She was also a professional consultant, through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) but also as an independent. Her independent consultant work was for Smith College; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Colegio Universitario Metropolitano (Puerto Rico); Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and the University of Maine, Portland.

Marshall also received many academic honors. In 1976 Bryn Mawr College instituted the Dorothy Nepper Marshall Professorship in Hispanic and Hispanic-American Studies. She received honorary degrees from Smith College (1972), Regis College (1972), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1975), and College of the Holy Cross (1982). Marshall was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa (inducted 1948).

Marshall remained active in many spheres of her professional life until her struggle with cancer forced her to limit her engagements in the mid-1980s. She died on February 2, 1986, at the age of 72.

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