University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Alumnus honors mentor Perkins


A major gift from a Rochester alumnus has launched an effort to create a professorship in honor of his mentor. Robert Kirkwood '50 (Mas), '56 (PhD) has pledged and donated a total of $635,000 toward the Dexter Perkins Chair in History. Both Kirkwood and his late wife, Corky '48, were students of Perkins.

"Dexter Perkins contributed greatly to the University and to the historical profession through his inspiring teaching and scholarly distinction," says Kirkwood. "Corky and I were profoundly grateful for the experience we had as his students and friends. A chair in Dexter's name will honor him and remind future generations of his many achievements."

An authority on the Monroe Doctrine and one of the nation's distinguished historians, Perkins joined the University faculty in 1915 and chaired the Department of History from 1925 until his retirement in 1954. In the 1940s, Perkins and University President Alan Valentine worked together to secure funding for the graduate program in history. The department launched its doctoral program in 1947 (naming it the Perkins Graduate History Program) and won national attention for its faculty and scholarship. After his retirement from Rochester, Perkins was named the first John L. Senior Professor of American Civilization at Cornell University. He died at the age of 94 in 1984.

"It is especially fitting that the Kirkwoods have contributed so significantly to honor Dexter Perkins in this way," says Theodore Brown, chair of the history department. "Professor Perkins was well known for his commitment to combining excellence in scholarship with passion for teaching and to emphasizing the synergy between the two. Bob Kirkwood was one of Dexter Perkins's best-trained doctoral students and one of his most faithful disciples as a teacher-scholar."

Perkins was the official U.S. historian at the 1945 San Francisco Security Conference that preceded the organization of the United Nations. That same year he was the first to hold Cambridge University's Chair of American History and Institutions.

Respected as well for his community involvement, Perkins served as historian of the city of Rochester from 1936 to 1948 and was the first president of the Rochester Association for the United Nations.

"Dexter's brilliance was matched by his generosity, sensitivity, and keen sense of humor," says Kirkwood. "A professorship in his name will celebrate his achievements and continue his commitment to the study and teaching of history at Rochester."

Thomas LeBlanc, dean of the College faculty, notes, "A named endowed professorship is the highest honor an institution can bestow on its faculty. The College seeks to double the number of endowed faculty positions over the next several years in order to be able to recruit and retain the very best faculty at Rochester. Dr. Kirkwood's gift brings the dream of an endowed professorship in Dexter Perkins's name closer to reality and also greatly enhances our objective of increasing the endowment supporting our outstanding faculty. I applaud Dr. Kirkwood's generosity and the example it sets to other alumni and friends."

The Department of History asks alumni who may have special recollections of Professor Perkins or Rochester community members who may have known his work as city historian to contact the department through Professor Theodore Brown, Chair, 368 Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627.

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