University of Rochester

Gift Honors Legendary Professor of History and Former Rochester City Historian

March 11, 2005

A major gift from a University of Rochester alumnus has launched an effort to create a professorship in honor of his mentor.

Robert Kirkwood has pledged and donated a total of $635,000 toward the Dexter Perkins Chair in History. Perkins, who was an authority on the Monroe Doctrine and was one of the nation’s distinguished historians, joined the University of Rochester faculty in 1915. He chaired the Department of History from 1925 until his retirement in 1954 and died in 1984 at the age of 94. Both Kirkwood and his late wife, Corky, were students of Perkins.

“Dexter Perkins contributed greatly to the University of Rochester and to the historical profession through his inspiring teaching and scholarly distinction,” said 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.”

Kirkwood received his master’s degree in 1950 and his doctoral degree in 1956 from the University of Rochester. Corky received her bachelor’s degree in history from Rochester in 1948.

“It is especially fitting that the Kirkwoods have contributed so significantly to honor Dexter Perkins in this way,” said Theodore M. 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.”

Thomas J. LeBlanc, Dean of the Faculty of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, further noted: “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.”

In the 1940s, Perkins and University of Rochester 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 programs. After his retirement from Rochester, Perkins was named the first John L. Senior Professor of American Civilization at Cornell University.

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. As president of the American Historical Association in 1956, he delivered an address that emphasized the importance of teaching alongside scholarly research at universities.

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,” said Kirkwood. “A professorship in his name will celebrate his achievements and continue his commitment to the study and teaching of history at Rochester. Corky and I met in one of Professor Perkins’s classes, and this was her wish as much as mine.”

Kirkwood taught at Clarkson College (now Clarkson University) after completing his master’s degree, earning promotions to assistant professor in 1952 and associate professor in 1956. He was named dean of Washington College in Maryland in 1959, and then held other administrative posts in higher education, including associate executive director of the Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education, and executive director of the Commission on Higher Education of the Middles States Association of Colleges and Schools. The recipient of several honorary degrees, he also chaired the Assembly of Institutional Accrediting Bodies and served as a consultant to the Taiwan Ministry of Education.

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.

Note to Editors: Photographs of the Kirkwoods and Professor Perkins are available upon request; please contact Helene Snihur at (585) 275-7800 or