CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Carol Farley Kessler, 86, of Portland, Merion, Pa. and Charlottesville, Va., passed away peacefully on Jan. 3, 2023 at her home in Charlottesville, Va.
She was born in Grove City, Pa. on May 9, 1936 to Emily Josephine Puder Farley of Philadelphia, Pa., a former Latin teacher, and Louis Riley Farley of Syracuse, N.Y., an osteopathic surgeon. Carol’s sister, Janet, was born in 1938, and in 1939, the family moved to Portland. There, Dr. Farley embarked on a career in osteopathic medicine at the Osteopathic Hospital of Maine, and Mrs. Farley began a lifelong volunteer commitment with the League of Women Voters.
Among the many benefits of living in Maine, Carol and her family especially enjoyed skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain and boating on Casco Bay.
She graduated from Deering High School in 1954, and from Swarthmore College in 1958. In 1959, she received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Radcliffe College (now Harvard Graduate School of Education). She taught high school in Rochester, N.Y. for two years before marrying her Swarthmore classmate, former husband Dietrich “Dietz” Kessler in August, 1962. She then moved to Madison, Wis. and taught high school for two more years, while Dietz was completing a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. The following year, the couple moved to suburban Philadelphia, Pa. where Dietz joined the biology department of Haverford College. Their son, Jonathan, was born in 1964, and their daughter, Melissa, arrived in 1966.
Carol completed her Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1977 with a dissertation titled “The Woman’s Hour: Life and Novels of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911)”. She enjoyed a distinguished career at the Brandywine campus of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) from 1981-2001 as Professor of English, American Studies and Women’s Studies. Carol focused much of her research and scholarship on nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. women writers, particularly that of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sarah Orne Jewett, among others. She published many scholarly works, most notably two editions of an anthology of U.S. women’s utopian writing before 1950, “Daring to Dream” (1984, 1995), and a reissuance of “The Story of Avis” (1877) by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps in 1995, a long out of print novel, which thereby reintroduced Phelps as a source of early feminism to modern readers and scholars. Additionally, Carol published a study of the sources of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian writing, entitled “Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Progress Toward Utopia with Selected Writings” (1995), contributed the Phelps selection to the Heath Anthology of American Literature (1989), and authored over 10 essays on her writers of interest and utopian literature. Over the course of her career, she received a research grant from the American Philosophical Society, four research grants from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), along with a Senior Fulbright Lectureship in Slovakia. In 2001, her final year at Penn State, she received the Women’s Commission Woman of the Year Award and the Madlyn L. Hanes Faculty Award for Achievement as Teacher, Scholar, Advisors, and Leader.
Upon retirement, she moved back to her childhood home overlooking the Back Cove in Portland and cared for her mother in her final years. During this time, Carol volunteered as a docent at the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House of the Maine Historical Society and served as the Acting Healy Professor at the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England during 2007-2008. A lifelong learner with abundant curiosity, Carol continued to read and study with enthusiasm in her retirement. In 2011, she co-edited a volume of critical Gilman essays, “Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts”.
She enjoyed attending local symphony and theater performances, working in her garden, walking her cocker spaniels, and traveling, with expeditions to France and Morocco, a Danube River boat cruise with her sister’s family, a riverboat trip in Russia, and a holiday with her children and grandchildren on the French West Indies island of Guadeloupe. In 2017, she moved to Charlottesville, Va. to be near her son and his family, but continued to return to Maine each summer to visit her sister in Freeport and to vacation with her family on Peaks Island in Casco Bay.
Carol is survived by her son, Jonathan Farley Kessler, and daughter-in-law, Marsha Burger, of Charlottesville, Va., her daughter, Melissa Kessler Ingersoll, of Portland and Wayne, Pa.; her sister, Janet Farley Jones, and brother-in-law, Martin Jones, of Freeport; her grandchildren, Cora Robin Kessler, Benjamin Alex Kessler, Jared Warren Ingersoll and Elisabeth Farley Ingersoll; her niece, Christine Farley Jones; and cousins Kris Farley Johnson, Mandy Jordan, and Violet Weis.
A private memorial service is planned for Summer 2023 in Maine.
Memorial donations in Carol’s name may be
made to the
Maine Women Writers Collection,
University of New England,
716 Stevens Ave.,
Portland, ME 04103
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