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Susan Porter Benson, History Professor, Dies

July 18, 2005

Susan Porter Benson, associate professor of history, died on June 20. She was 62.

Porter Benson, who lived in Manchester, joined the UConn faculty in 1993 as director of the Women’s Studies Program. In 1998, she returned to full-time teaching and research in the history department.

 “Susan was a valued colleague and teacher, and a dear friend to many in the history department,” says Shirley Roe, professor and history department head. “She was a mainstay of our program in American women’s history. She was a terrific teacher and beloved mentor to graduate students and junior faculty. Her sense of humor would always brighten a difficult day. She will be sorely missed by all.”

Marita McComiskey says Porter Benson “brought energy, insight, and forward thinking” to the Women’s Studies Program. Among other things, she developed a graduate certificate program in women’s studies.

“She enriched the lives of so many, in so many ways,” says McComiskey, director of the Women’s Studies Program. She says Porter Benson was “a wonderful mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students. She challenged, supported and inspired those who were fortunate enough to have her as a colleague and a friend.”

Born in Washington, Pa., Porter Benson graduated from Simmons College in 1964 and earned a master’s degree in American civilization from Brown University in 1968. She taught at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Mass., from 1968 to 1982, where she introduced a course in U.S. women’s history. She was also chair of the social sciences division there. Porter Benson earned a doctorate in history from Boston University in 1983.


For several years, she taught labor education for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union on a grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In 1992, she received funding from NEH to write a book on how families make economic decisions, and in 2002 for a book examining how workers experienced their occupations and managed their work lives.

Her first book was Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940 (University of Illinois Press, 1986). She was co-author of Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture and Society (Pantheon, 1992); and co-edited Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public (Temple University Press, 1986).

Porter Benson was a visiting senior lecturer in American labor history at the University of Warwick, U.K., in 1983. In 1986, she joined the University of Missouri at Columbia as an associate professor of history.

She is survived by her husband Edward, a daughter, and her mother. A celebration of her life is planned for August.

Donations in her memory may be sent to: Dollars & Sense magazine, 29 Winter Street, Boston, MA 02108. Please indicate either in a note or on the check that the donation is in memory of Susan Porter Benson.

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