Tribute to Eleanor Cogan
April 3, 2012
Eleanor Cogan led a walking tour of St. Paul's Cathedral in London during a trip with Dickinson students.
Eleanor Cogan, the namesake of the Cogan Alumni Fellowship, died Dec. 27 at age 102. Below is a tribute from Professor of English Wendy Moffat when Cogan received an honorary doctor of liberal arts from Dickinson. Between 1979 and 1999, Cogan audited 52 courses at Dickinson—a testament to her lifelong love of learning.
A memorial service for Cogan will be held on April 21, 4 p.m., at Second Presbyterian Church in Carlisle.
Eleanor Clayton Cogan, we honor you today for your curiosity and your courage to pursue it through a lifetime of learning. As a student at Dickinson College for two decades, you have inspired your fellow students and enlightened your professors with your hunger for knowledge for its own sake. You remind us what school is about.
Your educational journey began in the small agricultural town of Dixon, Ill., where you were several grades ahead of the young Ronald Reagan. Trained as a scientist, you graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with honors, from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in chemistry in 1931. The following year, you earned your M.S. in chemistry. When you stepped from the academic world to what you presumed would be the world of work, you discovered that no one wanted to employ a woman to teach chemistry. You improvised—teaching high-school mathematics and Latin, developing a chemistry course for student nurses at the local hospital and working for the Illinois Geological survey. When you married Howard Cogan, a fellow chemist, your family moved east, and you raised two children: Bruce, an astronomer now in Australia, and Jillian, a teacher in San Francisco. When Howard retired, you two investigated the question of where to settle with scientific rigor, consulting maps and visiting small college towns all over the Northeast. You put down roots in Carlisle. What a happy choice!
At seventy, convinced you were becoming a “lazy listener,” you enrolled in your first course at Dickinson College as a continuing-education student. Twenty years later, you had audited 52 courses, 32 of them in the English department. Your method of study instructs us in the virtues of liberal learning. You explored widely in the less familiar territory of the humanities. Often you took two courses simultaneously, to create a synthetic dialogue: in 1982, Shakespeare’s Political Plays and the History of England to 1688; in 1996, Greek and Roman Mythology and James Joyce’s Ulysses. You studied single authors in depth: the medieval writer Marie de France, Jane Austen, Chaucer, Emily Dickinson and John Milton. You demonstrated the pleasure of sustained examination of great texts by taking nine different courses on Shakespeare. Unafraid to reach high, you completed four semesters of literary theory and seven senior seminars. Your exacting course preparation and pointed questions have kept several generations of fellow students alert in class discussion. In the summer of 1998, you joined the more than two-thirds of Dickinson students who study abroad, completing a six-week interdisciplinary course on photography and literature in London. In recognition of your extraordinary commitment to lifelong learning, in 1999 the English department established an alumni residency in your name. Each year two Cogan fellows return to campus to share their life and work experience with current students and to reacquaint themselves with the English major and the college.
Shakespeare tells us that “Learning is but an adjunct to ourself / And where we are, our learning likewise is.” We have been honored to be here with you, learning about literature and life for a quarter century. Mr. President, since Mrs. Cogan has completed the English major more than three times over, I am delighted to present her for the honorary degree of Doctor of Liberal Arts.