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Passionate Historian Forever an Illini

by the College of Education at Illinois / May 16, 2018

Linda Marie Perkins

Alumna Linda Marie Perkins, Ph.D. ’78 EPS, has a long and storied connection to the University of Illinois.

Her collegiate journey in Urbana-Champaign is notable for its breadth of searching and discovery—accompanied by a roadblock along the way—leading to the moment when Perkins knew exactly what she wanted to pursue.

“Illinois has just been so pivotal in my life in so many ways,” she said.

She earned a master’s degree in music education at the College of Fine and Applied Arts in 1973 and remained on campus to work in the Graduate College as a recruiter. Perkins was good at her job and eventually landed a position as the first-ever assistant director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs.

While working, Perkins took courses in education and discovered she really liked them—so much so that she quit her job and became a full-time student studying history. One of her professors suggested she focus on the history of black women’s education, a subject she’d never considered before.

Suddenly, Perkins’ career path was crystal clear. She began pursuing a doctorate in educational policy studies (EPS), which she attained in 1978.

Perkins remembers EPS as being a sort of “outlier” department that was globally integrated and focused on important social justice issues. And though there weren’t many female educators around during her studies, she felt fortunate to learn from and collaborate with male scholars who treated her as a peer.

“I was struck by the progressiveness of it and also the support,” Perkins said. 

Today, she is an accomplished historian of higher education for women and African-Americans. An author of two books, she serves as the director of Applied Women's Studies and director of Women's and Gender Studies at Claremont University.

Not surprisingly, the person who stands out the most to Perkins during her time at Illinois is scholar Jim Anderson, who assisted her greatly when her educational pursuits were in limbo and things weren’t working out with an adviser. Feeling helpless and lost, Perkins related her situation to Anderson, who discussed the matter with his academic colleagues.

“My life changed enormously, but that couldn’t have happened without Jim. At the time Jim was untenured, so that was really courageous of him to speak up for me like that,” Perkins said.

In 1991, after having been away from campus for more than a decade, Perkins was invited to return to give a talk. Little did she know she was being recruited to come back and teach at the College of Education. Life as a scholar with her family in California was good, but Perkins decided to return to Urbana-Champaign to continue her distinguished career in academia. She remained on campus as a tenured professor until 1996 and is a lifetime member of the Alumni Association thanks to her father, who paid for the membership because he wanted his daughter to stay connected to the institution that has influenced her life so much.

More than two decades later, Perkins came back to campus yet again to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Education. Her Illinois legacy was magnified on the evening of the awards ceremony as she received the honor alongside two of her former Illinois students, Timothy Eatman and David Stovall.