April 14, 2022

Professor Emerita Jean Wilhelm dies

Dear Goucher community,

We are writing to share the sad news of the death of Jean Wilhelm, professor emerita of theatre, on Sunday, March 27, in Eastport, Maine. She was 95 years old.

Jean had a profound impact on Goucher College. She had a way of transforming and expanding everything in which she was involved. As a professor in the Theatre Department, she created the arts administration concentration. In 1998, she founded Goucher’s M.A. in Arts Administration Program, which was the first arts administration graduate program in the country to offer a limited residency format. As M.A.A.A. Academic Director Ramona Baker has observed, Jean had a wonderful sense of adventure and remarkable vision.

Theatre Professor Michael Curry remembers her as a pioneer, one of the first women to be a technical director and designer in the early years of the Off-off-Broadway movement, which started in the late 1950s and focused on experimental theater in New York City. She was also one of the first women to work as a professional director in Australia.

Professor Emeritus of Music Fred Mauk remembers her talent for bringing people together. In the early 1980s, she worked with the Theatre, Dance, and Music departments to put on two productions, an interdisciplinary effort unseen at the college at the time.

Community was everything to Jean. As she once said, “It seems to me as the world gets more complex and peculiar that we have great strength in the material in communities and we should be capitalizing on it and celebrating it. … People are not very happy with this world and there are better worlds in communities, and you can look at the strengths that are lurking therein, and at the strengths of people and neighbors.”

No one who knew Jean could forget her. While working toward her Ph.D. in theater, her work-study job was to chauffeur the English director Sir Tyrone Guthrie when he was founding the theater that would later bear his name — The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis — and they remained friends for life.

When Jean moved to Maine in 2002, she joined the boards of the Eastport Arts Center and its theater company, becoming an active fundraiser and volunteer. She even helped design the theater and install seats, as no part of the work was too small for Jean to approach with joy. Her warm spirit and irrepressible sense of humor is very much evident in this tribute that the Eastport Arts Center just posted that contains some wonderful tributes and short videos with Jean:


Many people will miss her, thanks to the communities she helped foster. However, as MA in Arts Administration faculty member Maryo Gard Ewell has said, we can all learn from the lessons that helped to shape Jean’s life: unbridled and unflagging excitement, and the ability to embrace unexpected opportunities and coincidences. 

Jean Wilhelm had an amazing life, and it was an honor for Goucher College to be a part of it.