Government professor Valerie Earle, one of the first female professors to teach in Georgetown College, led a career of firsts on the Hilltop.
Earle, who died in 2004, was the first female chair of a university department, the first president of the Georgetown University Faculty Senate and, in 1974, became the first woman to receive the Patrick Healy Award for distinguished teaching, scholarly achievement and service to Georgetown.
Earle, who had earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in government, economics, public administration and law from the University of Texas, was appointed associate professor of government in 1955 in the business division of the School of Foreign Service.
Prior to coming to Georgetown, she taught at the University of Texas, San Francisco State University and the University of Alabama. She also served as a research associate for the subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Banking and Currency Committee.
When she arrived at Georgetown, Earle was the first female professor in her division. The following year she moved to the College’s government department, where she remained for 30 years teaching courses focused on constitutional law. Among her students was then-freshman and now University President John J. DeGioia (COL ’79).
Government professor George Carey, who has taught at Georgetown since 1961 and whose office was next door to Earle’s for almost eight years, recalled the respect and admiration that she commanded.
“She was a lady in every respect,” he said. “Valerie was very much admired by the students who took her [class] … and she was a marvelous colleague and very loyal to Georgetown.”
Earle was a proponent of women’s rights at a time when there were very few women at Georgetown; female students were not even admitted to the College until 1969. Within a few years of her arrival at Georgetown, Earle and her close friend and colleague, mathematics professor Anne Schreer, started organizing luncheons for graduating female seniors, because all the end-of-year events were for men only.
Earle also believed that faculty should take a larger role in the university if Georgetown was to become a global research institution. She helped to establish and write the bylaws of the faculty senate, the purpose of which was to give faculty members a voice in advising the university.
“[The faculty] do not want merely to make recommendations, produce reports and write papers without consequence. We must become a contributing party to decisions,” Earle said in the October 1967 issue of the Georgetown Record.
Earle was elected the faculty senate’s first president in 1967 and remained involved for many years, all the while advocating for the recruitment and hiring of more female professors.
Professor of Government Emeritus Karl Cerny, who worked closely with Earle on the faculty senate, said that Earle’s involvement in the senate and engagement with the Georgetown community helped to strengthen the university’s reputation.
“When I first came here and when she first came here, Georgetown was in many ways a provincial place,” he said. “[Earle] played an invaluable role in establishing [Georgetown] as a major university.”
Former colleague and professor emeritus of history Dorothy Brown, who arrived at Georgetown in 1966, said that the senate and other faculty organizations enhanced the role of female professors.
“Women had a lot of opportunities, because committees needed women in order to give a new voice. We got to be known very quickly around campus and found almost universal acceptance.”
In the July 1975 issue of the alumni magazine, “Georgetown Today,” Earle said that she did not consider herself a radical feminist but still believed that women should work hard to make their voices heard.
“Being too quiet won’t get you any place,” she wrote.
In 1989, Peter G. Kelly (COL ’59), one of Valerie’s former students, established a John Carroll Scholarship in honor of her work and legacy. This need-based scholarship is awarded to incoming freshmen admitted as political science majors.
Although Earle retired in 1986, she still was an important force on campus and continued to teach part-time through the School of Continuing Studies and the Association of Main Campus Retired Faculty from 2001 until her death. She maintained her independence despite being confined to a wheelchair and taught until the last few months of her life.
Cerny was at her side when she died on Aug. 20, 2004.
“She was a tower of strength, and a very dear friend,” he said.