Professor Offers the Promise of a Quality Education

Coming from a long line of educators — both grandmothers and both parents went to college and became teachers — you could say Professor Beth Daugherty’s fate, a lifetime of teaching British and American literature, was sealed early growing up in Quaker City, a small town of about 500 located in southeastern Ohio.

“I really did grow up in a family where everybody valued education,” said Daugherty, who as an infant, lay cradled in her mother’s left arm while her mom used her right hand to finish writing her master’s thesis on William Faulkner. 

One of her earliest memories, when Daugherty was about four or five years old, is of her writing on a little blackboard easel on the front porch, teaching her younger sister a lesson.

“I have no idea what I thought I was teaching her. I hadn’t been to school yet,” Daugherty said. “But I was very interested in words and letters from early on. I can remember constructing and writing stories, and creating books.

“That belief in the power of an education and what it can do for people was very much a part of my growing up,” she added.

Daugherty also saw a lot of generosity in her family as a child in Quaker City. “If you had something, you shared it,” she said, remembering how one of her grandmothers secretly and regularly gave money to a local restaurant to make sure the town alcoholic had enough to eat. It was the same grandmother’s generosity that allowed Daugherty to attend the University of Mount Union.

Seeing the value her family placed on education and generosity is a part of what led to the Daugherty Promise Scholarship, an endowed scholarship for an English major set up by Daugherty and her husband, Gary, earlier this year as part of the Otterbein University “Where We Stand Matters” campaign.

“Gary and I have always been deeply grateful for the chance to attend college and deeply aware that not everyone gets that chance,” Daugherty said. “Coming from small towns that did not hold out much promise in the way of identity exploration, learning or fulfilling work, we experienced a literal broadening and deepening in college. For us it was real, not a cliché, to say the world opened up.”

The couple contributed $25,000 to seed the scholarship with more to come through fundraising. “The English Department is very interested in helping with fundraising,” Daugherty said. “We’d like to see the scholarship grow much larger.”

Beth and Gary met at Mount Union as undergraduates. While Beth was finishing up her bachelor’s degree in English with secondary education certification at Mount Union, Gary, two years ahead of Beth, was wrapping up his master’s degree in French at Ohio University. The pair taught at Barnesville and Union Local high schools for two years before heading off to Houston, Texas, where Beth discovered a new love in her life — the English author Virginia Woolf — while a graduate student at Rice University, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in 19th and 20th century British and American literature.

“I read To the Lighthouse in grad school in a 20th-century British literature course, and I have a journal entry that says, ‘this is the most amazing novel I’ve ever read,’” Daugherty said. “I just really fell in love with her. She didn’t have the reputation that she does now. Critics were just starting to get interested in her and her feminism.”

One thing led to another and Daugherty had to fight to find a professor at Rice who would allow and direct her dissertation on Woolf titled, Virginia Woolf’s Use of Distance against Patriarchal Control of Women, Death, and Character.

Upon receiving her doctorate, Beth and Gary moved back to Ohio. The company Gary had been operating in Houston, a distributor of wooden framed windows, wanted to expand into the Midwest, and the couple decided to move home in 1982.

Within two years, after teaching writing courses at Ohio Wesleyan University and The Ohio State University, Daugherty found a permanent home at Otterbein University, becoming an assistant professor of English at Otterbein in 1984.

“It’s been a wonderful place to work,” said Daugherty, who is affectionately known as “Dr. D.” by her students at Otterbein. “I have been free to pursue the passions that brought me here in the first place, but also go in different directions. I can see that operating with our students, too.”

Daugherty, who is working on a manuscript about Woolf’s apprenticeship as an essayist, begins most of her classes with Woolf’s short essay, How Should One Read a Book.

“She didn’t have a formal education,” Daugherty said about Woolf. “She was taught at home, and taught herself a lot of things.

“Her essay made me think about ‘how should one teach a class?’ because it describes a developmental arc for becoming a critical reader and thinker,” Daugherty continued. “It literally changed the way I teach. I now give students some choice in what they read; I use book clubs in First Year Seminars, Integrative Studies and English classes; and I encourage students to use websites like Amazon to find books about their passions. I hope that as a result, students will enjoy some of their reading and perhaps learn that reading isn’t just about analysis, tests, and grades.”

Daugherty was tenured in 1990 and became a full professor in 1996. She has taught courses in 20th century British literature, Appalachian literature, Latin American magical realism, women’s literature, Woolf, various technical and professional writing courses, as well as First Year Seminar, Integrative Studies and Senior Year Experience courses to more than 1,000 Otterbein students over the course of her career.

Growing up surrounded by loving parents and grandparents who believed in the power of education and generosity, Daugherty wants to pay it forward through the Daugherty Promise Scholarship.

“I liked to read as a child,” Daugherty said. “But college surrounded me with the transformative power of words. I want future students to have the chance to feel that expanding universe; to fall in love with language, reading and writing; to learn how literature helps us move through our lives.”

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