Publication Date

January 1, 2004

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Raymond Muse, 88, long-time chair of the Washington State University history department, died October 28, 2003, in San Diego, after a long illness. Muse dedicated himself to educational leadership as a department chair and an unexcelled undergraduate classroom teacher, and to sophisticated, scholarly graduate training. Although warm, relaxed, and outgoing in personality, he had an intense passion to share the camaraderie of learning with his colleagues and students alike. Not one to stand on the sidelines, he was totally committed to the welfare of a university, his community, the world around him, and humankind in general.

Muse was born on a farm in Webster County, Missouri, September 24, 1915, at the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. He graduated from Marshfield High School, where he was a champion debater, in 1932. He began teaching at a one-room country school near Marshfield. The school board adjusted its school year so that Muse could spend part of the year attending Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, from which he graduated in 1938.

Muse taught at the Pipkin School in Springfield (1938–40), before a mentor suggested that Muse could be an outstanding college professor. The mentor not only encouraged Muse, but gained him admission to Stanford University's graduate program in 1940. While attending Stanford, Muse taught English and was a residence counselor at Menlo School and Menlo Junior College (now Menlo College). He received his AM in 1943, after completing a thesis, "The Constitution of Provincial Massachusetts." Muse entered the military in November 1942 and served with the 91st Division as a traffic analyst and cryptoanalyst in Asia, primarily in Delhi, India.

Muse taught at Southwest Missouri State in the spring and summer of 1946 before returning to Stanford to complete his PhD in October 1948. His dissertation (written under the direction of Max Savelle and Edgar Eugene Robinson) evaluated the work of William Douglass, a physician and historian in colonial America. In fall 1948, Muse became an instructor in the department of history and political science at Washington State University (WSU). The following year he was promoted to assistant professor. By 1956 he had become chair of the newly formed department of history, a position he held until his retirement in 1979, by which time it was ranked among the top 15 percent of history departments in the United States. When he retired, Muse had been chair of a department longer than anyone else in WSU history.

In August 1969, Muse married Marianne Johnson, widow of a long-time family friend. They had their first date at the 1968 AHA annual meeting in New York City. He relished the "instant family" her three sons provided him. Today two of them are practicing historians, one academic and one public. Two of his grandchildren have also earned history degrees.

Muse had a national reputation among colleagues who knew him as a "consummate" department chair, thanks to his ability to know all the buttons to press when he needed a new desk, a promotion for a department member, tenure, or whatever. Despite administration demands for heavier teaching assignments, he arranged reduced loads for those with research and service commitments. When he went to meetings, other chairs would corner him and ask him how he handled this or that departmental crisis or higher-level administrator. As the supreme tribute for a chair, deans and vice presidents often sought his advice.

Muse's strong suit was the ability to cast a rosy glow on the most dire conditions or the gloomiest prospects and make a person or an entire department feel good about themselves. He was a "human engineer" who specialized in building self-confidence and a sense of hope and well being in people. He could also be a scathing critic of those trying to water down the traditional requirements for degrees or turn the faculty away from scholarly approaches.

Muse's sense of humor was legendary. Not only did it appear in relations with colleagues, but it also enlivened his classes. Students didn't come late to his classes for fear of missing his opening joke. He loved teaching, particularly the introductory U.S. history course.

Above all Muse was a humanist who fought for his colleagues, friends, and causes dear to him. He was a fervent supporter of civil liberties and free speech, demonstrated best perhaps by his testimony in the landmark John Goldmark libel case in 1964. If the word totalitarianism were changed to terrorism, the passionate speech he delivered to the Pacific Northwest Librarians' Association in 1956 would be fully applicable today.

The eighth floor of Orton Hall dormitory on the WSU campus is named in Muse's honor, as is the history department office. He played a major role in the establishment of the Faculty Senate at WSU, and the creation of the American studies program. As a member of the AHA he served two terms on the executive council of the Pacific Coast Branch. He was also a member of OAH, AAUP, ASA, Phi Alpha Theta, Pi Sigma Alpha, as well as Kappa Mu Epsilon, a mathematics honor society.

—Owen V. Johnson, Indiana University

—Kyle R. Jansson, Oregon Heritage Commission

—Edward M. Bennett and David H. Stratton, Washington State University

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