Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Virginia Walcott Beauchamp, Ph.D.
MSA SC 3520-14064

Brief Biography:

Born in Sparta, Michigan.  Daughter of Fred G. and Edith C. Walcott.  Attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, B.A., 1942, M.A., 1948; University of Chicago, Ph.D., English, 1955.

Associate professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, 1973-1990.  Founder and director, Women's Studies Program, University of Maryland College Park.  Chair, University of Maryland President's Commission on Women's Affairs, 1974-1990.  Founding member, Women's Action Coalition of Prince George's County, 1976.  Member, Prince George's County Commission for Women, 1990-1993.  Recipient, Governor's Citation for her contributions to achieving sex equity in Maryland educational institutions.  Reporter, editor, editorial writer and member of the Board of Directors, Greenbelt News Review.  Named to the Prince George's County Women's Hall of Fame, 1991.  Special assistant to university president Brit Kirwan on women's affairs,  1992-1994.  Greenbelt, Maryland, Outstanding Citizen, 2002.  Inductee, Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, 2003.

Extended Biography:

While some women strive to be pioneers in their fields, others are more concerned with preserving the past contributions of women.  Too often, women's lives and influences are forgotten or ignored.  Fortunately, women like Virginia Walcott Beauchamp dedicate their lives to preserving women's past and passing that heritage onto future generations.

Virginia Walcott  grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her father headed the English department at University High School and then became a professor at the School of Education at the University of Michigan.  Virginia's father instilled a love of letters early on; he used to take the young Virginia on walks and pointed out the house on their street where Robert Frost lived.1   After attending University High School, Virginia graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a degree in English in 1942.  She later went on to earn a master's degree at the same institution in 1948.  After World War II, Virginia worked for the International Red Cross in the Philippines and the occupied territory of northern Japan.  Soon after finishing her work, she moved to Nigeria with her husband and three small children.  In Nigeria, Beauchamp worked with the International Women's Society, edited the newsletter for the Association of Nigerian Women's Societies, and helped found the American International School.  Virginia's experiences in Nigeria stayed with her for the rest of her life: "Living within cultures so distinctive from the one in which I was reared has been one of the most transforming experiences of my life, enabling me to see my own world and its assumptions from the outside."2  Such a skill served Virginia well as she entered the rarefied atmosphere of academic life upon returning to the United States.

Dr. Beauchamp began her teaching career at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1965.  The English department curriculum was like syllabi across the country: the writers who mattered were usually dead, white and male.  T. S. Eliot and William Faulkner reigned supreme in American letters.  Dr. Beauchamp worked hard to demonstrate the value of women's literature by pushing the boundaries of what genres counted as literature.  In an interview, she stressed her perspective: "How do you define literature? The standard literary judgments are based on men.  Look over a typical college curriculum and you might ask, 'Didn't women write?'  Sure they did.  But in other genres."  For Beauchamp, the genres that mattered were more private, such as diaries, letters, and family and parish histories.3  Starting in the 1970s, Dr. Beauchamp focused her research on Maryland women.  For years, she documented the lives of the Preston family, who lived in Towson, Baltimore County. The Prestons were a typical nineteenth-century, middle-class family.  They survived the Civil War and lived a quiet, comfortable life.  However, beneath the calm existence depicted in the families' letters, lay a more disquieting narrative of domestic violence and abuse.  Madge Preston was a battered wife, yet she could only confide her abuse to her diary.  In a sample entry, Dr. Beauchamp points to the turmoil Madge lived with daily: "Saturday, February 25, 1865.  During this afternoon we all have been as unhappy as well could be, owning to Mr. Preston's humor which unfortunately for me, fulminated this evening and ended by Mr. Preston striking me to the floor senseless."4  Dr. Beauchamp edited Madge's diaries and letters, publishing them in 1987 as A Private War: Letters and Diaries of Madge Preston, 1862-1867.  The book was especially valuable for its juxtaposition of public and private life.

Dr. Beauchamp used such stories to awaken her students to the broader world of letters outside the standard course curriculum.  She is best remembered today for her drive to develop courses devoted to women at the University of Maryland.  Along with faculty at other prominent institutions, Dr. Beauchamp led the long battle to study women's lives and contributions.  She was at the forefront of the effort to start a Women's Studies program and, in 1973, became the program's first coordinator.5 Before the program began, students could not receive course credit for the new classes women faculty were developing.  Even into the 1980s, students could not count the popular "Women in Literature" course toward an English degree, although it was always oversubscribed.6  Dr. Beauchamp first taught the course and also developed a variety of courses still in the curriculum today, including "Writing by Women of the Maryland Area," "Research in Original Records," "Images of Aging in Literature," "Women in Renaissance Literature," "Women in Shakespeare," and "Letters as a Female Genre."7  Today, the Women's Studies department at the University of Maryland is a national leader in the field, supporting several important conferences and a widely respected journal.   Along with her work in the Women's Studies department, Dr. Beauchamp helped start the Chancellor's Commission on Women's Affairs in 1971.  The commission worked until 1984 and was followed by the President's Commission on Women's Affairs, which Dr. Beauchamp chaired from 1987 to 1990.  Both commissions worked to expose and rectify gender discrimination by raising awareness about issues ranging from pay equity to child care to Title IX.  In 1990, Dr. Beauchamp was honored for her contributions to the university with the Outstanding Faculty Woman on Campus award.8

When Dr. Beauchamp officially retired in 1990, she devoted her time to her scholarship.  She taught honors courses at the university for two more years.  Then, she joined the Folger Collective on Early Women Critics which edited a volume of literary criticism by women in 1995 titled Women Critics 1660 - 1820: an Anthology.  Along with several other scholars, Dr. Beauchamp edited The Instruction of a Christen Woman by Juan Luis Vives, a converted Jew who lived through the Inquisition.  According to one reviewer, this important edition "reestablished the importance of Spain and Spain's own complicated experience of racial differences, for an understanding of humanist ideas about the reformable nature of man."9  The Society for the Study of Early Modern Women awarded the book the Josephine Roberts Edition Prize for its outstanding scholarship.10  In addition to her scholarship, Dr. Beauchamp has remained close to the University of Maryland.  She is involved with the Senior University and often leads discussions on literature and women's studies for them.  In 2001, she became a steering committee member for a new organization to support retirees associated with the University of Maryland.  The association has been an important resource for mentoring and fundraising for the university.11

In addition to her extensive work with the university, Dr. Beauchamp has been active in her community since she first moved to Maryland.  She has been a reporter, editor, and board member for the all-volunteer newspaper, the News Review, in Greenbelt since 1957.  In the 1980s, she helped the Maryland Commission for Women start Maryland Women's History Week.12 Dr. Beauchamp also has been active in the Women's Action Coalition of Prince George's County and often speaks for the group on historical issues. She has been involved with the Maryland Humanities Council, the Maryland State Department of Education, and the College Park chapter of the American Association of University Women.13  She has been inducted into the Prince George's County Women's Hall of Fame and received a Governor's Citation for her contributions to Maryland educational institutions during the first decade of Title IX.  Finally, in 2003, she was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame. Not only will the forgotten women Dr. Beauchamp has brought to light be long remembered, but her professional life also demonstrates all that a dedicated woman can do to change the world around her.
 
 

Endnotes:

1.  University of Michigan.  "Letters to Michigan Today,"  Michigan Today,  1997.  http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/MT/97/Sum97/mtltrj97.html. return to text

2.  Stegman, Carolyn B.  Women of Achievement in Maryland History.  Forestville, MD: Anaconda Press, 2002. return to text

3.   Sommers, Pamela.  "Dear Diaries," The Washington Post, 13 April 1984.  return to text

4.   Spring, Suzanne R.  "An Academic Pioneer: Studying Our Unsung Heroines,"  The Washington Post, 5 November 1991.  return to text

5.  Ibid.  return to text

6.  Ibid.  return to text

7.   Yewell, Therese C.  Women of Achievement in Prince George's County.  Upper Marlboro, Md: Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Prince George's County Planning Board, 1994.  return to text

8.  Stegman.  return to text

9.  Quiligan, Maureen.  "Recent Studies in the English Renaissance."  Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43.1 (2003): 233-285.  return to text

10.  Society for the Study of Early Modern Women.  "Awards 2003."  SSEMW.  April 13, 2004.  http://www.ssemw.org/awards03.html. return to text

11.  University of Maryland.  "University Retirees Will Soon Have an Association of Their Own."  UMD Outlook Online.  May 8, 2001.  http://outlook.collegepublisher.com/news/2001/05/08/News/University.Retirees.Will.Soon.Have.An.Association.Of.Their.Own-76080.shtml. return to text

12.  Ball, Anne.  "State's 'Unsung Heroines' Focus of Women's History Week,"  The Washington Post, 9 March 1983.  return to text

13.  Yewell.  return to text

Extended biography written by 2004 summer intern Amy Hobbs.

Return to Dr. Virginia Walcott Beauchamp's Introductory Page


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