|Pioneering Economics Professor Emerita Louise Nelson Passes Away
November 21, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
|Louise Nelson taught economics at Davidson from 1964-1988. |
C. Louise Nelson, a pioneer as a female educator at Davidson and in the banking and economic profession nationally, died on Thursday, Nov. 20 at the Pines. She celebrated her 90th birthday with friends and family just a few weeks ago, and was in vigorous health until the moment she died in her apartment.
Her funeral will be Monday, Nov. 24, at 1:30 p.m. in Davidson College Presbyterian Church, where she was a member and former elder. Fellowship with the family will be held following the service at the church’s Congregation House.
As a woman in a discipline dominated by men, she distinguished herself in becoming one of the first female cashiers of a state bank, the first woman in the country to qualify as an FDIC bank examiner, the first female faculty member of the N.C. School of Banking, and the first female professor at Davidson to be granted tenure, a full professorship, and professor emerita status.
Nelson was also renowned at Davidson in the classroom and among faculty during her 24-year career for strict standards, high expectations and an outspoken manner. She had a reputation as a tough teacher who aimed a penetrating gaze for uncomfortably long moments at students who gave unsatisfactory responses to her questions .
But she was as fondly recalled by good students as she was feared by poor ones. One student noted, “She wanted excellence. She recognized the importance of setting standards and setting goals for students to reach.”
Those who knew her well also admired her genteel conversational nature, quest for knowledge, and concern for the problems that plague the world.
She was born in the small town of Vaughan, N.C., and began working as an assistant bank cashier in 1942 in Henderson, N.C. She had been promoted to cashier by 1956, when she decided to enter college and pursue a teaching career. She enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill, won several fellowships, and in just eight years had earned both her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and became one of the first holders of a Carnegie Fellowship as a graduate student. Her dissertation concerned yields and financial assets choices in the consumer and nonprofit sector.
|Nelson was known as a demanding classroom teacher.|
She accepted Davidson’s invitation to join the faculty in the same year she received her doctorate. She arrived on campus with a blue Chevrolet Corvair that she proudly and carefully tended for years beyond the declaration by consumer activist Ralph Nader that the design of that model was inherently deadly. When Nader once came to speak at Davidson, Nelson wryly offered to pick him up at the airport in her Corvair, but college officials declined her offer.
She made history in 1967 when the Board of Trustees promoted her to become the first female given tenure, and again in 1975 when the board approved her as the college’s first female full professor. Her principal areas of study, teaching, and professional activity and publishing were monetary theory, macroeconomics, and economic development.
She was instrumental in leading the economics department to develop an honors program and capstone senior session that became a prototype for similar sessions in other college departments and even at other institutions. She cultivated personal associations with major leaders in national banking and economics to the advantage of Davidson students. One program she organized on regional banking secured the participation of both Ed Crutchfield, CEO of First Union Bank, and Hugh McColl, CEO of NCNB.
She was a major influence in faculty affairs at the college, helping write the original faculty constitution. Upon retirement in 1988, a resolution from her peers noted, “No faculty member has been more willing to advance an unpopular cause… No faculty member has been more jealous of faculty rights and prerogatives, and willing to fight for them… No faculty member has been more steadfast in insistence upon the responsibilities which a spirit of professionalism places upon the faculty.”
|Nelson was warmly admired by many alumni in banking and finance. She is pictured here with Ed Crutchfield '63, who was CEO of First Union.|
Beyond her campus activities, Nelson was active in many professional and civic organizations. Beginning in 1963 and continuing for at least a decade, she was an invited teacher at the N.C. School of Banking at UNC, which offered continuing education for state bankers. She was consistently on the program at meetings of the Southern Economic Association.
She was deeply involved in leadership of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and gained a great deal of attention in the profession and popular press as national chair of the organization’s study on “Economic Facts of Life – Living with Less” in the mid 1970s. She was ahead of her time in the report, urging that priorities must shift from “what we want to what we can give up.” She cited three problems that the world must address -– rampant population increase, exhaustion of natural resources, and environmental damage caused by rapid industrialization. She advocated lifestyle changes including “forms of recreation that make heavier demands on the cultured mind and less on costly gadgets,” and willingness to live in smaller houses and use more economical forms of transportation.
She insisted that living with less might actually be living better. “I think the time will come when we look back on our garish billboards and shoddy treatment of living space as senseless and wasteful,” she said. “I think we will develop new values and utilize our creative abilities to new ends.”
|When Davidson built a new ring road around campus in the early 1990s, one of the Patterson Court streets was named to honor Louise Nelson.|
The AAUW thanked her for her service by naming a post-graduate fellowship in her honor.
Nelson was also a distinguished leader in the Omicron Delta Epsilon economics national honor society. She founded the Davidson chapter, and in 1975 was chosen as the outstanding faculty adviser among the 240 international chapters of the organization. In 1988 she served as the international president of ODE.
In 1971 the state Department of Public Instruction called on Nelson to devise a model program for improving economics teaching in public schools. She feared that economic illiteracy was endangering the nation, and crafted a model economic education enrichment program that proposed in-service training for teachers and integration of economic lessons in mandatory social studies courses.
She served on an Advisory Committee on Economics and Environment appointed by Governor Bob Scott in 1970 to guide statewide economic development within the framework of a clean and safe environment. She served on the former First Union Bank corporate board from 1978 to 1987. She frequently taught public seminars in personal finance at colleges and churches, and for years administered a popular program of “Learning in Retirement” talks by Davidson faculty members and others for residents of the Pines at Davidson, where she lived since 1996.
When the federal government bailed out the savings and loans industry in 1990, Nelson was one of six public representatives appointed to a new Savings Association Insurance Fund Advisory Committee to offer suggestions for changes to the deposit insurance system.
She once stated that the credo of economist was “a dedication to freeing mankind from the servitude of deprivation.” She continued, “Economists only succeed in their endeavor to the extent that they find solutions to economic problems which release the creative energies of man to seek expression of the highest human potential.”
Louise Nelson will be long be remembered at Davidson as an admirable example of one who achieved that potential on behalf of her profession, her students, and the human family.
Posted By: Bill Giduz