In her senior year at Fordham University, Kathleen Galvin was told where to apply to graduate school. The two professors in Fordham’s Department of Speech asked their top students to apply to various schools across the country, “so they could see how good their department was,” she told the RoundTable. She wandered into the office one spring day with a letter of acceptance from Northwestern University and told her professors of the offer.
“They were high-fiving and congratulating themselves on their success – my admission to a place I’d never heard of,” she said. The professors assured her it was a great opportunity, so she packed her suitcases, her fondness for the big city and the Catskill Mountains – where she had spent many summers – and headed to a small but growing university in the flat Midwest.
Fifty-one years later, she retired as one of the longest-serving tenured professors at Northwestern University, having been instrumental in enlivening and elevating how speech is taught in high schools and later being one of the pioneers in the field of family communications.
The Northwestern campus, even in the late 1960s, was a revelation to her. Its lakeside beauty and the spacious lawns between the buildings were new to this New Yorker, who had attended Fordham University when female students were prohibited from taking classes on the main campus and relegated to a Manhattan office building.
After earning her master’s degree, she was hired as a speech teacher, one of 16, in the robust Speech Arts Department at Evanston Township High School in 1967. She recalled for the RoundTable her first day at ETHS, which coincided with the opening of the school’s four new buildings. “In 1967, ETHS served more than 5,000 students, and on the first day, each one of those students was as lost as the new faculty members – and most seasoned faculty. That morning each hallway was filled with fresh faces milling around, searching for their classrooms.
“I arrived early for my first class, only to discover the assigned classroom number was on the door of a broom closet. Within minutes I had a group of 22-plus young faces staring at me, expecting directions.
“After helping me search for any open room, a sympathetic security guard suggested the group head to the space directly in front of the superintendent’s office, where students could sit on the floor.
“So, for 40 minutes I held forth, shakily, on communication, while on display to hundreds of other lost teachers and students. When I returned to my office a colleague reported that her class had been assigned to a men’s restroom. … For the first two weeks students and teachers arrived late for classes as they tried to negotiate the new building plan. … Being pioneers served to bond the new faculty quickly. Even today, we remember the adventures that initiated us into careers we loved.”
Having earned a doctorate in Communication Education, she taught speech education at Northwestern while still serving part time on the ETHS faculty between 1968 and 1974.
David Zarefsky, retired Dean of Northwestern’s School of Speech (now School of Communications), said, “Kathy and I came to Northwestern at the same time.
“She quickly became a member of the faculty and, when she became department chair, she was one of the few women department chairs at Northwestern.”
Dr. Galvin’s research first centered on teaching the art of communication. With Cassandra Book, Ph.D., of Michigan State University, she co-authored several books. “It all started,” Dr. Book recalled, “with ‘Speech Communication: An Interpersonal Approach for Teachers,’ at a time when there was just the beginning of a shift in what was taught in communication classes, first at the university level and then migrated, largely by us, to the high school levels.”
“An Introduction to Speech Communication: Person to Person” followed. It was “a risk Leonard Fiddle at National Textbook Company took after he published our book for teachers,” Dr. Book said. “Kathy persuaded him we could produce an innovative, contemporary book for students that would set his publication apart from anything else that was on the school shelves. … My favorite anecdote is by a high school teacher who said her students literally stole the books from her room to keep at home.”
Between editions of the high-school text, Dr. Galvin wrote “Listening by Doing” (1985).
She served as Associate Dean in the School of Speech for 12 years, when Dr. Zarefsky was dean – one of the few women Associate Deans, he said. She was in charge of such academic issues as hiring and promotion and tenure.
“She was highly regarded in her teaching, and, as a dean, she had a reputation as being approachable and very fair,” he said.
Maureen Cleary, a former student, who became a high school teacher and later, a librarian, told the RoundTable, “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say thousands of high school students of drama/theatre, debate, radio, TV & film students across the country were touched indirectly by Dr. Galvin’s courses in Speech Education & Family Communications.
Speech education – teaching teachers – dwindled as tuition at Northwestern increased, Dr. Zarefsky said, and Dr. Galvin turned to family communications, a little-studied field at the time.
“She was one of the pioneers in family communications, particularly in identifying the constellations of families there are – blended families, families with divorced parents or families with a disabled or sick child.” said Dr. Zarefsky.
“There were no books about how family members talk to each other,” Dr. Galvin said. So she co-authored “Family Communications,” which covered topics such as family conflict, intimacy in families and communication stresses (e.g. death, divorce and well functioning families). The 10th edition of “Family Communication: Cohesion & Change,” which she co-authored with Dawn Braithwaite, Paul Schrodt and Carma Bylund, was published this fall.
She also wrote or co-authored studies on family communications about genetics, families in crisis, cancer in a child, gay parenthood, and how and whether a woman would choose to preserve fertility when facing chemotherapy.
She coined the term “narrative-dependent” family to identify a non-traditional family that seemed to require an explanation to others, Ms. Cleary said.
Dr. Galvin received many awards for both teaching and curriculum innovations. Among these awards were the Outstanding Young Teacher Award from the Central States Association, the Excellence in Teaching Award from the NU Alumni Association, the Galbut Outstanding Faculty Award in the School of Communication.
As much as her peers and students honored her, she nurtured and loved them as well.
“My students came from many types of families – divorced, different ethnic backgrounds, different religion, different stressed. It was a pleasure to read their final term papers. Being a professor at a place like Northwestern University was a pleasure. You keep learning with your students. … Also, I am so pleased when they stay in touch after graduation.”
Last month, at “Her Friends and Family” celebration, former students, colleagues, friends and admirers celebrated Dr. Galvin’s teaching career and her influence on their careers and philosophies.
Dr. Book said, “I am indebted to Northwestern for introducing me to you but equally grateful for the friendship we have and continue to have.”
Ms. Cleary, another student-turned-friend told the RoundTable, “How fortunate I was to win the Northwestern advisory lottery and be assigned to Professor Kathleen Galvin. I remember she had a sign on her wall: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,’ a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.
“Back in the ’60s, that was the first I had seen this, and I thought, how appropriate it was for a professor in Speech Education. Little did I know it would symbolize Kathy’s relationship for me, and, I believe, for all her students over these many years. …
“Professor Galvin’s classes were challenging. … Her courses truly prepared us well to teach, and, as a high school teacher I have been reminded many times of things learned in her seminars. … The true gift of the lottery was having Kathy as a friend after graduate school. Kathy has generously been an abiding influence in my personal and professional lives. Her amazing 51-plus years of scholarship, teaching and devotion to family, students and colleagues would make Lao Tzu proud.”