Obituary: Helen Power, former coordinator of women’s studies, 77

Helen Power, PhD, who made an indelible mark on the women’s studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, died Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

Power, who was 77, suffered a heart attack at her home in St. Louis. A memorial service was held on campus Sunday, Sept. 8.


Power’s career as a senior lecturer of English and as a senior lecturer and coordinator of women’s studies, both in Arts & Sciences at WUSTL, spanned more than 30 years.

During her 10 years as coordinator, she is credited with helping expand the interdisciplinary program, now called Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), by adding resources, faculty, courses, a professorship and connections with faculty throughout campus.

“Helen Power was a vital part of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Washington University for over 20 years. Without her the program may not have survived those years,” said Mary Ann Dzuback, PhD, associate professor and director of WGSS.

“She made critically important contributions to Women and Gender Studies, to the lives of the students and faculty who have known her, and to Washington University.

“She was an exemplary citizen of the university in her teaching, her collegiality and her service,” Dzuback continued. “We in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies are all grateful to have been a part of and to continue this amazing woman’s life work.”

Inspirational teacher

Power, who was born Oct. 9, 1935, in Chicago, graduated from the University of Chicago in 1955 and worked as a writer, editor and reporter.

She moved to St. Louis when her late husband, Richard, took a position at Saint Louis University law school.

After earning both a master’s (1964) and doctoral degree (1966) in English from Washington University, she joined WUSTL’s Department of English as a lecturer.

When she was asked to fill in for a colleague and teach a women’s literature course, it set her career in a new direction.

After joining the Women’s Studies Program as an instructor in 1983, Power immersed herself in the discipline. She developed several courses, was named the program’s associate coordinator and then coordinator in 1992 when Joyce Trebilcot, one of the program’s founders, retired.

According to a 1999 Washington People profile of Power, her teaching was so inspirational that Susan Stiritz, PhD, then a doctoral candidate in English literature, gave a $1 million gift to the women’s studies program after taking a course taught by Power.

Stiritz’ husband, William, followed with a $500,000 challenge grant, creating the first endowed professorship in women’s studies, the Susan E. and William P. Stiritz Distinguished Professorship.

Power helped raise funds for the matching grant to provide continued support and development of the program.

Nancy E. Berg, PhD, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature in Arts & Sciences, had been friends with Power since Berg arrived on campus in 1990. Berg said Power was not only a gifted mentor to students but also to fellow faculty.

“Helen was gracious and witty,” Berg said. “She helped me countless times think through or revise a paper, or a class, or response to a colleague, and, as she did for many others, she helped me become a better reader, writer, teacher, scholar.”

In 2007, the program honored Power, who had retired in 2005, by establishing the Helen Power Award for Scholarship and Service, which is presented annually to a graduating senior in WGSS.

Power is survived by a daughter, Carla Power (Antony Seely) of Brighton, England; son Nicholas Power (Penelope Haskew) of San Juan Island, Wash.; and four grandchildren.

The family has requested that memorial gifts be made to Planned Parenthood or the St. Louis Food Pantry.