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Honoring Helen Mulvey

Helen Mulvey had one great passion.

“I wanted to learn,” she said. “And I discovered that the best way to learn is to teach.”

Alumni are honoring her commitment by endowing an annual award for the faculty member who embodies Mulvey's legendary commitment to engaging students intellectually and teaching them to love learning.

The fund has been launched with an anonymous leadership gift from an alumna who wants to honor a remarkable teacher and mentor. The Helen Mulvey Faculty Award will be presented during the spring faculty recognition dinner and the winner will be recognized during Convocation in September. Recipients will receive a special stipend for research.

Gifts from other alumni and friends are welcome. You can give online at (note that your gift is for the Helen Mulvey Faculty Award) or by contacting Cameron Jones in the Office of College Advancement at 860-439-5395 or

More about Helen Mulvey

As a girl in Providence, R.I., Miss Mulvey loved studying. She knew from watching her teachers that she wanted to teach, too. They – and her parents, who had no education beyond high school – encouraged her to apply to Brown. She attended nearly tuition-free on the basis of her academic record, graduating in 1933 with a fellowship to study French history at Columbia.

For seven years Miss Mulvey taught high school in East Providence and lived at home to save money. She enrolled in the PhD program at Radcliffe in 1941, arriving two months before Pearl Harbor. Her research interest evolved to British imperial history and from there, to Irish history.

She took a one-year post at Connecticut College in 1946 while working on her thesis – and stayed 37 years, retiring in 1983 as the Brigida Pacchiani Ardenghi Professor Emeritus of History.

Miss Mulvey thrived at Connecticut College. The faculty included some remarkable teachers – Marjorie Dilley, Jane Smyser, Dick Goodwin, Rosemond Tuve, Bob Strider. “[They] all took an interest in how I was teaching and what I was doing,” she said.

Students respected Miss Mulvey. She called them “Miss” and “Mister” until she got to know them. She listened to them, and proved it by the questions she asked.

She was feisty, passionate and demanding. She could tell a story and make her students feel as if they were part of it. She encouraged many to pursue their studies at the graduate level.

And she passed on to them her love of learning.

When Miss Mulvey died in March 2010 at the age of 97, dozens of alumni (including one who keeps a picture of her on his desk) sent notes and recollections to the College.

"She was a terrific teacher and one of my inspirations in continuing on to graduate school," one alumna wrote. From another: "Miss Mulvey was the most frightening, phenomenal, exceptional, and
inspiring teacher I ever had (and I've had many excellent teachers)."

“It was,” one student wrote, “a joy and privilege to sit in her classroom.”




October 12, 2011