Paying Tribute to a Teacher, Mentor and Scholar

The Ursinus community mourns the passing of C. Dallett Hemphill, a beloved professor of American history who personified the mentoring and teaching which are hallmarks of Ursinus College. 

She passed away Friday, July 3, due to complications from cancer.

A devoted member of the faculty since 1987, Professor Dallett Hemphill, age 56, was a relentless advocate for her students, and was known for sharing with them her enthusiasm for the social history of the United States from the Colonial era to the 19th century, and how it informs the present. She not only brought her love of colonial Philadelphia to her students, she brought her students to colonial Philadelphia, teaching a seminar course in which students had to engage with the people who make Philadelphia work: Philadelphia Stories: People, Places and Varieties of History in America’s First City.

“Her students knew she was a first class mentor, and the faculty knew they could count on her for her tireless work to make the campus a better place, such as chairing the faculty meetings committee and the department of history,” said Dean and Executive Vice President Lucien “Terry” Winegar. “She was an advocate for the importance of the Humanities in a liberal arts education. She was a champion of the Common Intellectual Experience since its inception and a passionate teacher of the course.”

For nearly 30 years, Hemphill was a mainstay in the History, American Studies, and Gender & Women’s Studies programs—the last two of which she helped to create. According to colleague Ross Doughty, professor of history, she “was an internationally renowned scholar of early American social history and especially the history of Philadelphia and its denizens; but she will be remembered best by her students and colleagues as an innovative teacher, dedicated and sympathetic mentor and adviser, fierce advocate for History and the Humanities, and unfailingly cheerful and enthusiastic friend.”

Her scholarship is held in high esteem. She is the author of two books, both published by Oxford University Press: Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620 to 1860; and Siblings: Brothers and Sister in American History. She had completed the manuscript for a third book, Philadelphia Stories: Twelve People and Their Place in America’s First City, which is described as mini-biographies of lesser known figures in the time of the American Revolution.

The author of a number of scholarly papers and articles, Hemphill also served as etiquette consultant for “Mary Silliman’s War,” a film about an American family during the Revolutionary War. She was a consultant for episode 8 of the television series Philadelphia: The Great Experiment (1720 to 1765), which aired last January on WPVI-TV. She spoke about William Penn’s and Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia in the studios of History Making Productions, and appeared early in the episode and later as a voice-over. She was also interviewed in a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the series, in which she discussed Franklin’s influence in Philadelphia.

Hemphill was a senior research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the editor of Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. She has received research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Council of Learned Societies and has taught an NEH seminar on using Philadelphia to teach American history.

Mostly, in addition to her scholarship, she will be remembered for the relationships she held with her students, whose visits to her third-floor Olin office resulted in thoughtful academic advice or stimulating conversation.

“Even during the last week of her life, her thoughts were partly occupied with her Philadelphia monograph, planning for her fall courses, and making sure her new first-year advisees were fully enrolled and prepared for their freshman year at Ursinus,” said Doughty. “She will be greatly missed by all of us.”

Hemphill earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, and her Ph.D. from Brandeis University. She grew up near Chestnut Hill and spent her summer vacations at Longport, N.J., with a tight-knit family that includes seven siblings.

She is survived by a devoted and caring family, husband John Hill and sons Evan and Alec Hill. Alec is a student at Sewanee (The University of the South). And many remember the pride she showed as she handed her Evan his Ursinus diploma this past spring. 

A memorial service is planned for 11:30 a.m. Friday in Bomberger Hall. We extend our sympathy to Hemphill’s extended family and to her longstanding friends on campus. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the organization Doctors Without Borders.