Remembering Mavis Mate (1933-2016)
Mavis Mate first invited me to lunch the minute I arrived on campus in 1987. We had a monthly lunch for a number of years thereafter. She understood how important it was to have face-to-face conversations to sustain professional friendly beneficial relationships, and she nurtured her women colleagues with precision and heart.
I think that in 1987 Mavis was especially excited to have new medieval colleagues — my husband Jim Earl and I had just arrived from New York. Through serendipity but also owing to Mavis’s effectiveness as an administrator, the university found itself, just a few years later, with a cadre of new medievalists in Romance Languages, Art History, Religious Studies, History, and Classics. Mavis was a moving force getting these new faculty to organize themselves and create a new major on campus, Medieval Studies. Through her patience, perseverance, and expertise, Mavis moved mountains and made Medieval Studies a reality. We all owe this deeply humble, deeply effective intellectual a debt of gratitude.
I learned from Mavis that, while she had attended Somerville College at Oxford– the same college Margaret Thatcher attended – she had come to the States with her husband because he had received a teaching position here. After her husband’s early death, and now the breadwinner for herself and their two young sons, Mavis pursued her own career as a history professor at the UO.
Mavis was one of the most important foremothers of the medievalist feminist movement. Mavis knew everyone among the most eminent medieval feminist historians: a veritable who’s who including Maryanne Kowaleski and Judith Bennett. Mavis was deeply respected for her work on women brewers in late medieval London. From Mavis I learned that ale is made by spitting into the mash, and that beer requires hops. Beer was a more expensive beverage than wine in the Middle Ages!
Mavis served as department head of history and was an effective administrator – the kind that gets under the skin of administrators whose own predilection discounts the opinion of faculty. Mavis was faculty first and foremost, and even in the face of controversy she kept her good humor and her principles. A family member of ours who met Mavis at our family’s Easter dinner some years ago said, “That’s a real lady.” Indeed.
Associate Professor and Associate Dean
Clark Honors College
University of Oregon