Obituaries

In Remembrance: Edith MacMullen Died on October 6 2022

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Dr. Edith MacMullen, educator, mentor, and leader who inspired three decades of Yale University students, died October 6, 2022, at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, at age 93.

In addition to serving as advisor for Yale’s bachelor of liberal studies degree program which served adults who had started but never completed their college educations, for nearly 30 years MacMullen was the director of teacher preparation at Yale University. In that role, she led with iron determination, singular passion, and fierce intelligence—and inspired hundreds of students to study the history of education, do practice teaching in New Haven area schools, and enter the teaching vocation. Her courses—including Methods and Schools, Communities and the Teacher—were incredibly popular, and her office, the walls papered with postcards of appreciation from former students, served as a place undergraduates came for wisdom, challenge, compassion, and Kleenex. She challenged her students with a no-nonsense and no-time-for-fools love. As recounted in the book Work Hard. Be Nice, which tells the story of her former student David Levin entering teaching and eventually cofounding of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, she told him after he was turned down for a policy grant, “You don’t know enough to be a big policy planner. Go teach.” In an interview, she said, “We don’t sit and discuss education in the ivory tower.” Throughout her life she would receive letters thanking her: “You changed my life” was a statement she heard many times.

The author of In the Cause of True Education: Henry Barnard and Nineteenth Century School Reform (Yale University Press), MacMullen held two advanced degrees in history, an MA from Harvard University and a PhD from Columbia University. In 1995, the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa awarded her the William Clyde Devane Medal, which honors distinction in scholarship and undergraduate teaching. She was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, the third of three sisters, and she attended the Summit School, which in 2007 awarded her their Distinguished Alumna Award.

Commitment to education and service was a constant in her life. She served on several State of Connecticut commissions; was cofounder of an experimental high school in the 1970s, a founding trustee of two charter schools in the 1990s, and trustee at Vermont Academy; and served on her local board of education for nine years. She also was chair of the Teaching Committee for the Yale-China Association and traveled to China many times to train educators.  In her retirement, she moved to Amherst (Massachusetts) and became an interpretive guide at Historic Deerfield and the Emily Dickinson Museum.

She was a powerful and loving mother to her four children, and a mother figure to many more, especially neighborhood friends around the home in Clinton, Connecticut. A woman of unflagging physical and intellectual energy, MacMullen was an avid and tireless gardener, weeding and planting perennial beds in her beautiful Amherst farmhouse until the week of her death. She was a lifelong sailor, well into her 80s steering her 13-foot Beetle Cat on her beloved Pleasant Bay in Chatham, Cape Cod, as she had when summering in her teenage years. She loved dogs—big ones, especially Newfies—as well as cats and whatever other creatures she rescued or her children brought home: an abandoned raccoon, a crow with a broken wing. She taught her daughters how to ride, and both became competitive equestrians, as did she after them. She read constantly, every day beginning with the New York Times, and she cared deeply about causes, especially gender equity and educational reform.

She often said that her proudest accomplishment was her four children, three of whom became private school educators and one a licensed clinical social worker.

She was predeceased by her sisters Betsy Suter and Polly Dickson and daughter Polly MacMullen ’80, and leaves behind her former husband Ramsay MacMullen and his wife Peggy; children John “Sandy” MacMullen ’78 (Carla), Willy MacMullen ’82 (Pam), and Lukey MacMullen ’84; and six beloved grandchildren: Alexa MacMullen, John MacMullen, Jessie Yanes (Zach), Angus MacMullen, Tom MacMullen, and Avery MacMullen.

—Submitted by the family.

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