Remembering Emerita Barbara Rigney

October 29, 2018
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From Murray Beja—

It’s with deep sadness that I have learned of the death of Emerita Professor Barbara Rigney. It would be difficult—or impossible—to record the profound role of Barbara in the department, in women’s studies, at the university and in the profession.

Even as she presented her defense of her Ohio State dissertation, by which time she had already received the University’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, the dissertation had been accepted for publication by the University of Wisconsin Press as Madness and Sexual Politics in the Feminist Novel: Studies in Brontë, Woolf, Lessing, and Atwood. Among her other books were two of the earliest studies of Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. 

In the early 1970s, she and a colleague in the Department of History formed a group that came up with the proposal that led to the creation of the original Center for Women’s Studies.All that hints at some of her professional accomplishments. Beyond them she had the love of her family, including her husband Kim and her daughter Julie, her colleagues and students and her many friends.

Memories of Barbara


Jim Phelan

Barbara was such a positive person, and so supportive of her students and her colleagues. When I was chair, I would sometimes try to inject wit in the necessary memos to the department, and Barbara was one of the few colleagues who expressed an appreciation for that effort.  Of course, this memory may just be more evidence that there’s no accounting for taste, but it’s one that I value. 

Sandra MacPherson

Whenever I drive west on North Broadway, I see her old house and think of her—her sparkle, her wit, her warmth.

Amy Shuman

Barbara was a wonderful force of intellect and thoughtfulness in the department. In addition to her many studies of Virginia Woolf, she co-edited a wonderful memoir with Erika Bourguignon, a distinguished anthropologist and Barbara's neighbor. It was a manuscript Erika had discovered written by her aunt, Bronka Schneider (a Holocaust survivor). I was thrilled to have listened to several of their conversations. …there weren't many women in the department in those days. She directed many dissertations on feminist approaches to literature (among other things). Barbara will be remembered and missed.

Kathy Fagan Grandinetti

Barbara was one of a small number of senior women faculty in English when I arrived, and she was as exceedingly gracious and kind as she was smart and funny. I missed her when she retired, and I have thought of her often, with gratitude for her warm presence in those later years of the last century.

Michelle Herman

Barbara went a long way toward helping me feel like I belonged in the academy when I had the nagging suspicion that I didn't. And she not only relentlessly set me up on blind dates and demanded full reports the day after (and enjoyed the reports of comically disastrous ones so much, I sometimes wondered if she'd been setting me up in more ways than one), she also gave me the original cuttings for my garden when I declared I was going to dig up the lawn in front of the house I'd just bought and fill it with flowers and "interesting plants." For what it's worth—and this will sound like I'm making up, but it's true—the ground-covering plants that are still thriving, three decades later, are the ones whose ancestors are the ones Barbara gave me, along with a boatload of advice about how to create the sort of garden I was aching for. I tell the story of those first plants, and Barbara showing up at my house with a carload of them, to everyone who compliments (or, just as often, expresses great puzzlement over) my wild and crazy garden.

Photograph of a lush green garden in front of a house

Do you have a memory of Barbara Rigney that you would like to share? Email