I write with the sad news that Professor of History Emerita Esther Kanipe, an exceptional and treasured teacher, mentor, and advocate for students, died yesterday following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Our colleague Linda Michels called Esther “a gem, a beloved teacher, and a terrific friend.”
Esther came to Hamilton in 1976 after receiving her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin Madison and her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She served Hamilton and its students for 35 years, and her research focused on modern French history and governmental social policy toward women and family. Later in her career she taught courses in disability studies and race in American education. In 1996, she served as the principal organizer of a conference that was funded by the Organization of American Historians and the Rockefeller Foundation for middle school, high school, and college teachers to discuss the National History Standards. Esther was associate dean from 1985 to 1988 and was appointed the Marjorie and Robert W. McEwen Professor of History in 2000 for being “an exceptional teacher, a campus leader, an advocate of the program in teacher education, and a dedicated and generous member of the Hamilton community.”
Esther’s impact on her students was profound and enduring. I came across two reflections that make the point beautifully. In response to the prompt “What was the most unforgettable course you took at Hamilton?” Kristin Medina ’92 wrote: “The French Revolution with Esther Kanipe. I had no interest in the French Revolution. I took it because Kanipe is incredible. She did not disappoint. I still remember vividly many of her lectures. Best teacher on earth…makes any subject fascinating.”
Thomas M. Doolittle ’79 remembered Esther this way: “Forever pushing so that class time was filled and fulfilling, Kanipe’s classes were everything I thought college should be. Her command of her subject, her passion for teaching, her enthusiasm for critical thinking defined my college experience. I recall feeling challenged and somewhat intimidated by the subject of French colonial history, but I also recall feeling encouraged -- even provoked -- to explore, analyze, synthesize and articulate my thoughts. Kanipe taught me the essence of critical thinking. … Perhaps most telling about my view of Kanipe,” Doolittle added, “is that she was not the teacher who gave me my best grades, just the one who taught me best. The best grade I ever got with Kanipe was a B+; the education I received was an A+.”
On behalf of Hamilton, I offer my deep condolences to Esther’s family, friends, colleagues, and former students.