Carol Bleser, first woman full-time faculty member at Colgate, dies

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Carol Bleser, the first woman to be a full-time faculty member at Colgate and the first to become a full professor at the university, died last month in Bellport, N.Y.

At Colgate from 1970 until 1985, Bleser was first hired as an associate professor of history. She also would serve as interim director of Women’s Studies.

“Carol was a trailblazer for professional women and mentored many colleagues in pursuit of their educations and careers,” said Douglas Hicks, provost and dean of the faculty.

Bleser taught southern history and specialized in the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Her scholarly legacy includes The Promised Land: The History of the South Carolina Land Commission, 1869-1890 (1969). She then devoted most of her career to the editing of letters and diaries written by famous, infamous, and nearly unknown women and men of the 19th-century South.

Among those works were Tokens of Affection: The Letters of a Planter’s Daughter in the Old South (1996), The Hammonds of Redcliffe (1981), and the volume for which she may be most remembered, Secret  and Sacred: The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder (1988).

In Secret and Sacred she revealed James Henry Hammond in his own words to readers interested in the tangled, turbulent life of that slaveholder and plantation owner.  Not only was The Hammonds of Redcliffe given special praise by The New York Times, but owing to the success of both books on the Hammond family, the Redcliffe estate was declared a heritage site.

Bleser earned her degrees from Converse College (BA) and Columbia University (MA, PhD).  She left Colgate to join the Clemson University faculty as the Kathryn and Calhoun Lemon Distinguished Professor of United States History, and retired from there in 2000.

She is survived by her immediate family, one son Gerald Rothrock, his spouse, Elizabeth, and their daughter Caroline.  Memorial contributions may be made to the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society, P.O. Box 47, Bellport, NY 11713.