Merrill Skaggs arrived at Drew in 1962 as an adjunct professor of English and spent the next forty-six years as a teacher, scholar, and administrator of extraordinary perception, passion and generosity.
Fresh from earning an M.A. at Duke University (where she later completed a Ph.D.), Merrill began teaching the undergraduate and graduate courses for which she would become known at Drew: from surveys of American literature to seminars on Cather, Faulkner, Emerson, Poe, James, Hawthorne and southern women. Her enthusiasm for students and scholarship earned her the Will Herberg Distinguished Professor Award in 1984 and the Baldwin Professor of Humanities which she held from 1992 until retiring in 2008.
In 1986, Merrill was tapped to serve as the Dean of the (then) Graduate School, a position she held until 1992. She actively promoted scholarship and social justice issues, and strengthened the library’s collections. Under her leadership the school flourished, growing in enrollment, resources and curriculum.
Merrill was the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, and author of some fifty essays and articles on American literature. Her books include: After the World Broke in Two: The Later Novels of Willa Cather (1990), Willa Cather’s New York: New Essays on Cather and the City (2001), and Axes: Willa Cather and William Faulkner (2009). She won Edd Winfield Parks prize in 1972 for her first book, The Folk of Southern Fiction.
As a result of Merrill’s work, Drew has become a leading center for Cather Scholarship. The Drew Library Special Collections includes materials such as a manuscript of Cather’s last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl; and Drew has sponsored colloquia based on research of these materials.
Merrill’s most enduring legacy at Drew is that of a gifted and compassionate teacher. “She is one of those human beings who make an indelible mark on so many lives,” reflects Drew trustee Marilyn Callander G’85, G’87.
Marilyn spearheaded an effort to create a fund at Drew in Merrill’s memory. The fund was endowed earlier this year and will support a visiting scholar series. The first event is being planned for Spring 2012. “Those of us who have loved and respected Merrill Skaggs decided to create a program based on the literature and ideas that Merrill taught and treasured throughout her life. The endowed fund that supports this program assures that she will long be remembered, even by generations who come after us.”