Cynthia Earl Kerman, Villa Julie professor

Cynthia Earl Kerman

Cynthia Earl Kerman, a retired Villa Julie College faculty member who wrote biographies of a Quaker economist and a Harlem Renaissance writer, died of pneumonia July 22 at the Glen Meadows retirement community. She was 89 and had lived in Lauraville.

Born Cynthia Earl in Srinagar, Kashmir in India, where her father was teaching physical education for the YMCA, she attended the Kodaikanal School. Family members said living in India made a lasting impression on her, and she revisited the country and occasionally prepared Indian meals for her guests when entertaining.


She was the valedictorian of her high school class in Flint, Mich., and earned a degree in philosophy from Kalamazoo College in 1944. She later received a distinguished alumni award from the school.

While a student, she met her future husband, Ralph Owen Kerman, who later taught at City College. Both had won a competitive scholarship to Kalamazoo. They later joined the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, and helped found the Kalamazoo meeting.


"Almost from the moment he saw my mother, he was ready to marry her," said her daughter, Nancy Parker of Frederick. "They married during World War II and after he went into the Army Air Corps, they wrote constantly, sometimes more than once a day."

She became a secretary to the English-born Quaker economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding, who was teaching at the University of Michigan. She also continued her education and earned a doctorate in American culture in 1971. She wrote her doctoral thesis on Mr. Boulding, and it was published in 1974 as "Creative Tension: The Life and Thought of Kenneth Boulding."

More than 40 years ago, she and her husband, who was active in the American Friends Service Committee and who also taught at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, moved to Northeast Baltimore's Lauraville. They lived on Elsrode Avenue, where her husband helped create a neighborhood vegetable garden.

Family members said that while she was not much of a gardener, she was a photographer and watercolor artist who made pictures and notecards of flowers and wildlife observed in the nearby Herring Run Valley and the Gunpowder Falls area as a member of the Mountain Club of Maryland.

After retiring to Glen Meadows, she continued her nature photography and enjoying walking in Glen Arm, where she helped stake out four hiking trails, including one along the old Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad line.

"My mother cared deeply about the environment, about creating world peace and about racial justice," said another daughter, Caroline K. Wildflower of Port Townsend, Wash. "In 1942, she participated in a summerlong American Friends Service Committee work camp in Chicago and worked in a settlement house with women and children who were homeless or had low incomes. She also participated as [part of] an integrated group in a wade-in at a segregated Chicago beach."

Dr. Kerman became a professor of English language and literature at Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University. Family members said she enjoyed reading the works of Charlotte Bronte and Henry James. She retired in 1985.

"She loved teaching literature and enjoyed the process of getting students excited about something they may have not been exposed to in high school," said Mrs. Parker. "In her early years at Villa Julie, she taught English grammar. She was soft-spoken, but when she communicated she was forceful. She was patient in the classroom."

In 1975-1976, she had a Fulbright fellowship to teach Amekrican studies at the University of Islamabad in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the University of the Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan.

About 30 years ago, she began collaborating with Richard Eldridge on a biography of Jean Toomer, an African-American novelist and poet — and a Quaker — who was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

"I admired her for her patience, her hard work and her centeredness," said Mr. Eldridge of Hartsdale, N.Y., who is the former head of the Buckingham Friends School. "She was the more experienced writer, but she never made me feel I was second to her."

Their work, "The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness," was published in 1987.


Dr. Kerman was an active member of the Stony Run Friends Meeting. She served as clerk on committees and recommended books for the meeting's library.

"She really enjoyed people and loved to entertain friends at her Lauraville home," said a friend, Joan Thompson of Baltimore. "She would cook dishes from India and serve them surrounded by the crafts she had brought back."

Mrs. Thompson said her friend was extensively involved with the Stony Run Meeting. "She was really good with details. She had a lot of intellectual curiosity and drive. When she spoke, you listened carefully," she said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Stony Run Friends Meeting, 5116 N Charles St.

In addition to her daughters, survivors include a son, Edwin Owen Kerman of Marlborough, N.H.; another daughter, Jody Richmond of Baltimore; a sister, Barbara Earl Thomson of Olivet, Mich.; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Her husband of 57 years died in 2001.

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