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Remembering Charles Larsen

Charles Edward Larsen, widely known at Mills for his commitment
to scholarship, his zestful involvement on campus and his
dedication to his students, passed away on Dec. 21, 2003. Larsen
was actively involved at Mills for 36 years.

A professor of both history and government with a PhD from
Columbia University, Larsen had a brilliance that radiated outward
which carried over into all aspects of his life.

“Being a teacher and a scholar was truly central in his whole
existence,” said Dr. Marianne Sheldon, history professor and
associate provost at Mills. “Charles truly loved Mills and loved
scholarship. He had a rare ability to teach others.”

“He was a fellow that just always walked around with a twinkle
in his eye!” said Dr. Bertram Gordon, head of the History
Department. “[Larsen] took Mills very seriously and was always
concerned for academic excellence. He was deeply committed to
helping Mills women advance their lives and their careers…He was
very popular with the students.”

Gordon went on to talk about Larsen’s noticeable impact upon his
students, and the emphasis he put on keeping in touch with them
after they left Mills.

“One time he pointed to a filing cabinet he had in the corner of
his office and told me that the record of every student he had ever
taught was in there,” Gordon said.

Larsen’s fields of particular interest were the American
constitution and social and political history, according to
Sheldon. Gordon said that he was also particularly intrigued by the
progressive field of family law. Larsen wrote a book involving this
progressive form of law called “The Good Fight: The Life and Times
of Ben B. Lindsey.” This biography centered upon the chief
spokesman of the juvenile court movement.

Larsen contributed to the Dictionary of American Biography, The
American West, “Pacific Historical Review,” “The Journal of
American History,” and Encyclopedia Americana. He also received
numerous awards for further progressive studies, including a
Fulbright grant to study Chinese civilization and a Danforth grant
to investigate methods of teaching international relations.

Dr. Larsen was equally active at Mills as he was in his other
pursuits. He served as the dean of the faculty from 1980 to 1983,
but was otherwise the head of the History Department. “He once told
me that he was on every faculty committee at Mills at one point or
another,” said Gordon, chuckling.

“[Larsen] was simply a lovely, urbane gentleman with sparkle and
wit. [He was] a brilliant teacher and scholar with an incredible
memory and insight. He could always put major events into
historical context. [He] had great stories and anecdotes to share,”
Myrt Whitcomb, dean of students, said.

According to Sheldon, another historian, he did have quite a
rare knack for historical context. “Charles could almost always
tell you exactly what happened on your birthday,” she said. “He had
a memory that most don’t.”

That memory was also apparent in his ability to do exact
impressions of old movie stars. “He loved old films,” said Gordon.
His particular affinity was for films from the ’30s and ’40s.

Dr. Larsen brought his passions, talents, and inspiration to
Mills from 1957 to 1993, and it is agreed campus-wide that they are
still here today.

Dr. Charles Edward Larsen is survived by his wife Grace and his
two sons, Charles Eric Larsen and Douglas Edward Larsen.

“[Larsen’s] wisdom, humor, and zest for life will be greatly
missed,” Sheldon said.