In Memoriam: Rosemary Keefe Curb

June 20, 2012

Rosemary Keefe Curb
(Photo by Lisa Curb DeVore)
Rosemary Keefe Curb
(Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

Rosemary Keefe Curb died on May 24, 2012, at the age of 72 from complications following a lung transplant.

Best known for coediting the bestselling and controversial book Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, champion of women’s rights and Rollins professor of English from 1979-93, Keefe Curb will be remembered for the legacy she left at Rollins and the impact she had on the American feminism movement.

Born in Chicago, Keefe Curb received her BA in biology from Dominican University Rosary College of Arts and Sciences. Teaching high school biology for several years before continuing her studies in the arts and humanities, she went on to receive her MA and Ph.D. in English from the University of Arkansas.

Early in her career, Keefe Curb spent eight years as a Dominican nun and took on the name of Sister Mary Geralda with the Dominican Sisters at Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. This experience inspired her to coedit the groundbreaking anthology Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, published in 1985. The book, which presents a collection of several dozen essays by current and former nuns, achieved national attention for its effort to "break the silence" on women's sexuality.

Professor of English Twila Papay recalled how she assigned her students to read Lesbian Nuns in one of her classes and asked Keefe Curb to come and speak. “I always remember how astounded she was that my students were so engaged with her book. It told her that what she wrote could really change the world.”

Keefe Curb was responsible for creating the Rollins Women’s Studies program during her tenure as a professor. While serving as the director of that program, she motivated faculty and students to examine the issues of gender roles across all disciplines, developing an innovative education style that remains a core quality of the Rollins curriculum.

“The fact that the Women’s Studies program sustains is the prime example of her legacy,” said Wendy Brandon, associate professor of education. “She will continue to influence the education of future generations of Rollins students.”

“Rosemary is there every time we think about developing new courses,” said Papay. “She helped us all move into a new way of thinking about gender by teaching us to think about it as a global issue.”

A committed advocate for women's rights, civil rights, and equal rights, Keefe Curb is considered by former colleagues and students to have been one of Rollins’ most passionate and engaging faculty members. “She never just clung to her own position. She really wanted to hear how other people thought about the issues,” Papay said. “I saw how eager students were to meet and talk with her about women’s studies. Her warmth and sense of humor made her very accessible to and very supportive of students and faculty who wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Even in illness, Keefe Curb remained dedicated to the Rollins community by supporting Brandon in the coordination of the Winter Park Institute’s Feminist Forum.

“The Feminist Forum was Rosemary’s gift to Rollins. She offered such a great wealth of experience and I still am in awe of her energy, excitement, and forward-thinking,” Brandon said.

Of her many notable accomplishments, Keefe Curb is remembered for serving as dean of faculties at the University of Wisconsin Superior, head of English at Missouri State University, president of Southeast Women's Studies Association, president of Orlando NOW, and serving on the National Women’s Studies Association Coordinating Council. In addition to being honored as an American Council on Education Fellow in 1997-98, she received a Hellman/Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch, a Fulbright Senior Lectureship in American Studies at University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and a Rollins Barden Distinguished Teaching Award and Arthur Vining Davis Fellowship.

As a writer, speaker, teacher, mother, and activist, Keefe Curb spent her final years writing memoirs, enjoying creative arts, and rejoining the world of activism. She will be remembered by the Rollins community for the remarkable impact she had on the lives of her students and colleagues, as well as a liberal arts education.

By Justin Braun

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