Dr. Jean Gould Bryant (1939-2020)
We mourn the passing and celebrate the life of our dear mentor, former colleague, and friend Jean Gould Bryant. Jean joined the FSU History Department in 1972. A leader and trailblazer, she became an inspiration to aspiring young women who dreamed of a career in academia. Jean introduced the first Women’s History courses at FSU, and was instrumental in the creation and development of what is now the University’s interdisciplinary Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. Jean served as the passionate and steadfast director of the Women’s Studies Program from 1972 until her retirement in 2001. Professor Bryant worked tirelessly to advance women’s rights, empower women, and light a path for the careers of many. Her contributions are undeniably part of the foundation of FSU’s meteoric transformation into a University renowned worldwide as a premier institution of higher learning. We remember Jean as a loyal friend and colleague, a consummate teacher and mentor, and a sweet and gentle soul.
--A tribute by Dr. Maxine Jones, Professor of History
The Department of History community shares memories of Jean Bryant
Please continue to check this page for an ongoing memorial. Please contact Dr. Maxine Jones if you'd like to contribute to the memorial.
Jean Gould Bryant gave me dreams and the academic tools to achieve them. In 1975, with my Associates degree from Gulf Coast Community College, I entered Florida State University with every intention of becoming a high school history teacher. During winter quarter of 1976, I enrolled in a U.S. women’s history class, the first such course offered at FSU. The professor Jean Gould Bryant asked me a question that changed my life. “Will you come to my office hours?” I gathered up my courage and with a feeling of dread, I knocked on her door. “What had I done wrong?” Instead, she asked me about my major and future plans. I told her I was an education major with the goal of teaching high school history. She queried, “Do you enjoy your education classes?” I blurted out, “No, I hate them.” And I did. Her eyes twinkled; she laughed a gentle laugh; and she asked if I had considered graduate school. Such a thought had never crossed my mind because to me, a first-generation college student, graduate school was for people who were rich or who were smart. She assured me that I certainly had the capacity for graduate work and there existed such magical things as fellowships.
Over the next eighteen months, she charted my progress, offering encouragement, counsel, and much needed constructive criticism. Early on, she and Jim Jones persuaded me to set my sights high. Or as Jim bluntly explained, “In graduate school, you are going to take shit, you might as well take shit from the best.” On their advice, I took a series of one-unit courses that I called “Sandbox English,” to sharpen my prose. Jean was not only my role model (the first woman professor I had ever known and with a young child to boot) but also my defender. When a senior professor decided that I was a “C” student, I showed up at her office distraught and confused. Always professional, she did not show anger but as she read my paper and his comments, I could tell she was none too pleased. Later I learned that Jean, an assistant professor, had marched into her senior colleague’s office and informed him what she thought of his grading. I survived his snide remarks by keeping my head down and getting my work done.
Jean aspired for me to attend Stanford, her alma mater. I can’t remember who was more excited when I received a letter of admittance with full funding. During my first month on “The Farm,” I met her mentor Don Fehrenbacher who shook my hand and said, “You must be Jean’s student.” Throughout my career, Jean Gould Bryant’s feminist mentorship has been my Lode Star. I have strived to emulate her wonderful balance of support and tough love. I carry a joyful responsibility to “re-gift” her mentorship so pivotal to my own professional journey, one that began with a visit to office hours.
--Vicki Ruiz, Distinguished Professor Emerita of History and Chicano/Latino Studies, University of California, Irvine. Past President, American Historical Association and 2014 National Humanities Medalist
As a new assistant professor in the FSU History Department, I found the most welcoming presence in Jean Bryant. I always appreciated her willingness to listen and offer advice when I needed it. And she was so generous as the hostess for professors' book launch parties at her home. Her friendship is one of my best memories of my time at FSU.
--Betty Dessants, former FSU History Professor
Jean Bryant devoted her life to the fight for women's equality. She was an amazing teacher, scholar, leader and mentor whom I am very proud to call my friend. I was a young secretary in the History Department when Jean arrived at FSU—the first female faculty member hired by the department since the 1940s. I was in awe of her intelligence, grace, and tenacity as she developed the Women's Studies Program. Along the way, we became friends. She encouraged me to complete my Bachelor's degree in history—a feat I seriously doubted I could ever achieve. But achieve I did, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
We both loved music, and I was honored when she and Jerry asked me to sing at their wedding. We sang together many times over the years, but that sweet day remains one of my favorite memories of Jean. Thank you, Jean, for helping to make this woman so much better than she thought she could be.
--Gerry Frost, former member of staff
I first met Jean in the fall of 1976 when I came to graduate school at FSU to study women’s history. I was her first graduate student and became a lifetime admirer and friend.
In every class I took from Jean, no matter the subject, I found her to be one of the most demanding professors I had at FSU. She created a learning environment that fostered critical thinking. That is, she taught her students how to think, not what to think. As a beginning graduate student, this lesson was invaluable to me. It served me well throughout my PhD program as did Jean’s advice, counsel and encouragement.
Jean did not limit her interest in women’s history to the classroom or to the university. She worked tirelessly in local and statewide groups and organizations to advance women’s rights and opportunities. I fondly remember marching with her and a group of history friends in the statewide ERA March in Tallahassee in 1982.
Over the years Jean and I became close friends who shared a lot of the same interests outside of history. These often involved competition such as playing tennis (poor me) running in 5 K races (she won most of the time) volleyball, bocce, and swimming. Most of all I remember sharing good times with Jean and a small cadre of history friends who made these years some of the happiest of my life.
After Jean and Jerry married, my husband Ted and I spent many fun times with them including sailing on the Gulf, spending time at the beach, and going to plays and other university events. Their annual Christmas party gave Jean the perfect venue for what she so loved doing, getting together and singing with her friends.
Jean had a generous and loving spirit. She had an infectious joie de vivre that lasted throughout her life. I have missed her terribly over these last years and will continue to do so. I feel blessed to have known her.
--Glenda Allice Rabby, former doctoral student and colleague
Jean and I met in 1972 at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, where we were graduate students at the OAH competing for the same job at FSU. Happily, she got it. She was hired to teach Women’s History as well as traditional fields in US history and was the first woman added to the department faculty since the 1940s. Jean created the interdepartmental Women’s Studies Program and assembled its library, momentous ventures that occupied much of her time—and that of students and colleagues across the university—until her retirement. She was always a strong voice for women’s rights. Jean was a loyal confidante, a gracious hostess, a dear friend to those of us lucky enough to share her time and space. We were a close-knit group who enjoyed the best of times with Jean and Jerry. She loved opera, Stanford football, and gathering us at the piano. Stan and I will always remember breakfasts at the beach.
--Valerie Jean Conner, Professor Emerita of History
I guess I remember her best down in the "swamp" on third floor Bellamy. She always seemed to be in her office, ready to help, always gracious, always smiling. It would have been way, way more difficult to adjust to FSU and Tallahassee without her. I fondly remember visiting her at Alligator point and long walks on the sand. She was unique, a true friend.
--Peter Garretson, Professor Emeritus of History
We remember many times. I guess the most poignant were the Christmas parties, and we would sing carols, Jerry Frost was always great, another name, another wonderful memory. And some of you remember St. George Island, staying at "El Cheapo." I remember going to Dog Island with Jean and some of you, when we could go by ferry. The last time we saw Jean and Jerry was at the Azu restaurant, with Peter and Rufina. Memories are what we have, of all of you. But Jean was special.
But especially to Jerry, who entered our lives because he saw what we knew--that Jean was special. She laughed, she looked you in the eye. She was special. At her retirement party, I remember just one thing that I said about Jean--that "she was loyal to the core, loyal to the core." And after all these years, and perhaps we all have slipped away, but like Jean we are still, loyal to the core--Maxine, Pat, Darrell, Peter and Rufina, Glenda. You are all, with Jean and Jerry, in our hearts and memories, good, funny, sometimes tears, but always strong, clear memories.
--Rod Anderson, Professor Emeritus of History, and Marti Anderson
Jean Bryant: A Remembrance
Jean was one of the colleagues with whom I first developed a close friendship after I joined the FSU History Department in September 1974. At that time there were only three women in the department, Jean, Mary Elizabeth Thomas, and Jeannie Conner, who was hired when I was. So, for many years, Jean developed her interest in Women's History in a daily working environment dominated by men. Jean and Jeannie once joked, with a touch of irony, that Jeannie had been hired to give Jean a playmate.
Women's History had not been part of my education up to then, but I became interested in adding women's experiences and perspectives to my teaching of Latin American history. Jean helped me find resources and explained what the important issues of Women's History were. In turn, I shared with her some information about the history of Latin American women I acquired over the years.
Jean had high standards as a teacher, researcher and writer. I helped her a little with the revision of her dissertation on nativism in the nineteenth-century U.S.; she labored over individual words and phrases, achieving a high degree of accuracy and readability. I believe she had a reputation as a rigorous grader of student essays, which she maintained in the midst of the climate of grade inflation.
Our friendship was rooted in part in our both being Californians by birth, general outlook, and education. Jean's PhD was from Stanford and I received my BA from its rival, UC Berkeley. I used to tease her about having attended a "rich man's private school" while I had attended a public university. For us, the Big Game was Cal-Stanford, or as she would have it, Stanford-Cal, rather than FSU-UF. Stanford had better teams, and I recall Mondays when Jean would come out of her office with a smile, anxious to rub it in (gently) when, as usual, Stanford won the Big Game. A great deal of back-and-forth teasing spiced our friendship For my 50th birthday in 1990 Jean gave me a pair of atrocious running shorts decorated with FSU logos; we enjoyed the joke.
Jean was athletic and fit. Several members of the History Department were serious runners, and on one occasion Jean ran a 5K that finished in Myers Park.& But swimming, not running, was her main athletic and fitness commitment. She was very proud of her brother, Dick Gould, Stanford's men's tennis coach from 1966 to 2004. His teams won an astounding 17 NCAA championships, and Jean often spoke proudly of him.
Jean was also very proud of her son, Steven Hales. She kept me up to date on his various travels and academic achievements. I met Steven once and he struck me as a young man who embodied Jean's excellent parenting; he was polite, friendly, well-spoken.
Jean enhanced a smaller circle that included Glenda, Gerry, Rod Anderson, Jeannie Conner, and me. We sometimes got together for Friday afternoon Happy Hour, sharing the ups and downs of academic and personal life. We all benefited from those get-togethers. I also enjoyed getting together with Jean and her husband Jerry Bryant at their beautiful home for holiday cocktails, singing, and talk.
In sum, my friendship with Jean was the best sort of professional and personal experience one could have, and I'll always be grateful for it.
--Darrell Levi, Emeritus Professor of History
Photos from early 1991 showing a happy Jean (left).