Glen Jeansonne (1947–2018)
Glen Jeansonne, a distinguished historical biographer, died in August 2018, three years after retiring from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM), where he had served as a popular professor of history for over 35 years.
Raised in New Roads, Louisiana, Glen earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He completed graduate studies under William Ivy Hair at Florida State University. Hair, a fellow Louisianan, solidified Glen’s interest in the history of the South. Glen’s first book, Race, Religion, and Politics: The Louisiana Gubernatorial Elections of 1959–60 (1977), stemmed from his master’s thesis. His PhD dissertation was published as Leander Perez: Boss of the Delta (1977).
Gerald L. K. Smith: Minister of Hate (1988) sealed Glen’s reputation as a meticulous researcher and dispassionate biographer, unafraid to turn the historical lens on American political extremism and demagoguery. For his biography of Smith, a follower of Huey Long and notorious anti-Semite, Glen received a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, given annually for leading scholarship on bigotry in the United States. Glen’s next major biography was Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression (1993).
Glen maintained a broad interest in the history of Louisiana throughout his career. In addition to early service as an associate editor of Louisiana History, he edited (with Light Townsend Cummins) A Guide to the History of Louisiana (1982). From the 1970s through his final years, Glen worked with various filmmakers on documentaries, notably those centered on Perez and Long. In 2000, Glen’s lifetime contributions to Louisiana history earned him election as a fellow of the Louisiana Historical Association.
In the 1990s, Glen turned briefly to collective biography. His Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II (1996) helped pioneer historical study of women’s roles in American conservatism. But presidential history dominated Glen’s final decades. TheLife of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker, 1928–1933 (2012) helped lead the recent reassessment of the 31st president. He completed his full-length biography, Herbert Hoover: A Life (2016), during his retirement. Personal challenges, including a search for a compatible religious home, undoubtedly influenced Glen’s understanding of Hoover and other biographical subjects. Explaining Glen’s success, his colleagues recall the months he spent researching in archives and writing in his home office, as he brought one carefully crafted biography after another to fruition.
Glen, moreover, was a distinguished teacher. He joined the UWM Department of History in 1978, after three years as an assistant professor at Williams College. His popular courses centered on 20th-century American history and historical biography. He enjoyed the rare honor of receiving a UWM Career Research Award as well as two coveted teaching awards: the UWM Undergraduate Teaching Award (based on student and peer review) and the UWM Alumni Association Teaching Award. Since, for the majority of Glen’s tenure, UWM did not offer a PhD in history, Glen served as major professor for over 70 master’s students, avidly following their careers and rejoicing at their achievements.
Glen published fourteen books, two edited collections, a hundred book reviews, and scores of scholarly and popular essays. His books include two survey texts: Transformation and Reaction: America, 1921–1945 (1994) and (with David Luhrssen) A Time of Paradox: America from the Cold War to the Third Millennium, 1945–Present (2006). Glen collaborated with Luhrssen, one of his master’s students, on a modest biographical study of Barack Obama (2009) and many other projects. Resolved to bring history to a wide audience, Glen—often with Luhrssen—penned over a dozen articles for such magazines as History Today and Louisiana Cultural Vistas.
Glen reveled in puns and other forms of humor. He published a few satirical pieces, such as “You Can Write a Book—or You Can Roast One” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2000). During the lean years at UWM, he often quipped that he decided to go into history because “that’s where the money is.”
Surviving Glen are his daughters Leah (Eyal) Yaakov and Ariella Pace Jeansonne, their mother Sharon Pace, other relatives, and friends.
Joseph Rodriguez and Helena Pycior
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
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