Ann Berthoff
Ann Berthoff

Ann Berthoff

December 9, 2022

Ann Evans Berthoff, 98, Professor of English emerita at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and a longtime resident of Concord, Mass., died at home on Nov. 26.

Born Feb. 13, 1924 in New York City, she was the daughter of Marsee Fred Evans and Zeta Hester Anderson Evans. She spent her childhood in Iowa and in Birmingham, Alabama, where her father headed the Department of Speech at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC).

Ann herself attended BSC, then finished her B.A. degree at Cornell College in Iowa, her parents’ alma mater. In college she developed a keen interest in writing, which foreshadowed her lifelong dedication to teaching others to learn from writing. After graduation in 1945 she worked in Manhattan as a copy girl at Womens Wear Daily, while absorbing the exhilarating cultural life of postwar New York City. Upon deciding to pursue a graduate degree, Ann Rhys Evans headed for Cambridge, Mass., where she earned her M.A. in English from Radcliffe College in 1948. That year she took her first teaching job, as an instructor in English at Bradford Junior College in Bradford, Mass.

In Cambridge she met her future husband, Warner B. Berthoff, who was studying in Harvard University’s American Civilization program and was to become a noted scholar of American literature, a professor at Bryn Mawr College and then Harvard. They were married June 29, 1949 at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, in Manhattan; their marriage lasted 69 years, until his death in 2018.

In 1951 Mrs. Berthoff moved with her husband to Bryn Mawr, Penn., where their children were born and they lived until 1967. In the 1950s and 1960s Ann “did it all,” teaching creative writing at Bryn Mawr between 1951 and 1962 and later at Haverford College and Swarthmore College, all the while raising two children. She is remembered as an inspiration by her students from those years, some of whom became lifelong friends, and by her own and other children who thrived on her creativity and realized years later how much she had promoted theirs.

She was a political and civic activist in the Philadelphia area, engaging in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement as a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

 After the family moved to Massachusetts in 1967, Ann completed her book The Resolved Soul: A Study of Marvells Major Poems, on the 17th-century English poet. She joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1969 as a lecturer, becoming an associate professor the next year and a full professor in 1978. She taught in the UMB Department of English until retiring in 1987. There she further developed and applied her philosophical approach to teaching composition, which was especially influenced by the American philosophers C.S. Peirce and Susanne K. Langer, the English literary scholar I.A. Richards (she edited a 1991 collection of essays, Richards on Rhetoric), and the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Her textbook Forming/Thinking/Writing: The Composing Imagination was published in 1978. Three subsequent books she edited were anthologies of talks and essays by herself and others: The Making of Meaning: Metaphors, Models and Maxims for Writing Teachers (1981), Reclaiming the Imagination: Philosophical Perspectives for Writers and Teachers of Writing (1984), and The Sense of Learning (1990). They established her as an invaluable mentor to scholars and teachers and a major figure in controversies within the composition and rhetoric field.

She was a regular lecturer at the Bread Loaf School of English, the summer graduate school in Vermont. She was honored by the Conference on College Composition and Communication with its Exemplar Award in 1997, and in 2007 received the Robert B. Heilman Prize from the Sewanee Review, to which she contributed essays from 1963 through 2016. Audits of Meaning: A Festschrift in Honor of Ann E. Berthoff, edited by Prof. Louise Z. Smith with an introduction by Freire, appeared in 1988.

In retirement she wrote the scholarly book The Mysterious Barricades: Language and Its Limits (1999) and Too Late for the Frontier: A Family Chronicle (2004). She edited the memoir From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography (1993) by her friend of five decades Margaret Fay Shaw, of Scotland. She was Randolph Visiting Distinguished Professor at Vassar College in 1989-1990.

Ann had a lifelong love of music, dating from a family culture of singing and playing the violin, and the influence of her Birmingham friend, the harpsichordist Eugenia Earle. Her enthusiasm for travel abroad began with a family visit to Wales in 1937 and lasted until she was in her eighties. In her last years she continued to write, working with handwritten drafts of articles as she always had, and persevering through a switch to editing by audio recording as her eyesight failed. She kept up correspondence with her many friends and delighted in their visits in Concord and at her beloved summer cottage in Westport, Mass.

She is survived by her daughter Rachel Douglas (Allen), of West Virginia, and son Frederic Berthoff, of Massachusetts; granddaughter Jessica Berthoff Klein (Bruce), of Texas; nephew David Evans (Amy Parelman), great-niece Grace Evans, and great-nephew William Evans, all of Massachusetts. She was predeceased by her husband Warner Berthoff, her brother Dr. Frederic Evans, and nephew William Frederic Evans.

A memorial gathering is planned for May 2023.

In lieu of flowers memorial contributions are welcome to Doctors Without Borders (, 40 Rector Street 16th Floor, New York, NY 10006. Arrangements under the care of Concord Funeral Home, A Life Celebration Home, Concord.  To share a memory or offer a condolence visit: