UL in History: Memories of Dr. Ashe

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

A friend of mine was the first person I knew who had the chance to study abroad.  He was enrolled in a program sponsored by the University of Birmingham at Stratford upon Avon during the summer of 1960.  The chance to study under Allardyce Nicoll, one of the recognized authorities on British drama, made the program particularly attractive.  When he returned in September, I asked my friend about his experience. He enjoyed working with Dr. Nicoll, but he did not hesitate to tell everyone he knew that the course on Shakespeare taught by Dr. Dora Jean Ashe, was better than one he had just finished in England. Those of us who had taken one or more of her literature courses were not surprised.  Dr. Ashe was the best of the best.

A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Dora Jean Ashe took her bachelor’s degree from Emory and Henry College, and her masters and doctorate from the University of Virginia.  In 1956, she joined the Lynchburg College English Department. For the next twenty-nine years, until her retirement, she captivated generations of students with her scholarship and her genuine interest in introducing them to authors who were often ignored or relegated to a few minutes at the end of a class.  I learned to appreciate and understand Donne, Bunyan, Swift, Addison, and a host of other writers from the silver age of English literature in her classes. Her mixture of erudition and humor was an irresistible combination for students who were willing to learn.

Her wit was dry, timely, and topical.  She had just finished a discussion of Alice in Wonderland in one of her sophomore literature classes when she spied one of the junior members of the administration scurrying across the Circle looking at his pocket watch.   Without changing her tone of voice, she said, “Oh there goes the White Rabbit.”

Everyone, when they could stop laughing, immediately made the connection, and as long as he remained at Lynchburg College, that gentleman was known by that nickname.

In 1985, Dr. Ashe edited an anthology of selections from poems, biographies, novels, essays, histories, and letters about Virginia by Virginians and those who wished they were.  Four Hundred Years of Virginia, 1584-1984 was received with critical acclaim.  Her second compilation, A Maryland Anthology, 1608-1986 appeared in 1987. Retirement for Dora Jean Ashe did not mark the end of her career as a student of literature, but the beginning of a new phase in it.  She was one of the first scholars at Lynchburg College to realize the possibilities of the internet for in-depth research. She never learned to drive, but she knew that the electronic revolution that was just beginning in the mid 1980s had the potential to bring the riches of the great libraries to her with the click of a mouse. Unfortunately for her, that adventure was never realized. One of the healthiest people I have ever known, she died suddenly of a heart attack. In her will, she left a considerable sum to Lynchburg College for the completion of Schewel Hall where all those electronic devices are to be found that can bring the world to you.