In memoriam: Jane Knowles

Jane Marie Boyle Knowles, who had a long and distinguished career as an administrator in the College of Agricultural and Life Science, died of pneumonia at Meriter Hospital on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010.

As Assistant for Human Resources, she advocated tirelessly and outspokenly for gender equity and staff diversity, and as Associate Director of International Agriculture Programs she traveled widely to establish and supervise programs in foreign countries.

Jane Boyle was born on May 11, 1936, in Charlestown, Mass., to a large family of Boston Irish, who in time moved to Lexington, Mass. and then to Southington, Conn. In her early years, she was trained by the Sisters of Marycliff Academy, then in 1952 moved on to take a bachelor’s degree in American Studies at Syracuse University. She completed a doctoral degree in American Civilization at the University of Pennsylvania, writing a dissertation on social class in nineteenth-century luxury hotels while working as book review editor for American Quarterly.

In 1962, she accompanied her husband, the Shakespearean scholar Richard Knowles, to the University of Wisconsin, working for a while as an editor at the University of Wisconsin Press. Gradually, through her work as executive Assistant (through 1984) and later (through 1990) as Associate Director of the Land Tenure Center, she was drawn increasingly to international work, eventually becoming Associate Director and then acting Associate Dean of International Agriculture Programs. She established exchange programs with England, the Netherlands, Trinidad and Zimbabwe and worked actively with the Midwest University Consortium for International Activities (MUCIA), becoming the resident expert on USAID and the World Bank.

Her long interest in women’s roles in agriculture in the U.S. and developing countries and their access to land in those countries led her to publish several articles on these subjects. She was an organizer of the Second Annual Conference on the History of American Farm Women, and co-edited a book of its proceedings, Women in Farming: Changing Roles, Changing Structures (1988). She was a founding member and first national president of the Association of Women in Development (AWID), now over 2,000 members strong, and a contributor to Developing Power: How Women Transformed International Development (2004). She prepared and conducted reviews of development projects in Botswana, Indonesia, The Gambia, Zambia and the Eastern Caribbean.

More locally, she was active in Madison’s Four C’s (Community Coordinated Child Care), encouraging facilities that would enable women to have both families and productive professional lives, as she herself did. She was devoted to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, serving on its Vestry and becoming its Senior Warden, singing in its choir and leading a campaign to secure its new Taylor and Boody tracker organ. She loved her shoreline house in Door County, and loved sharing it with others.

Her family and friends consider themselves privileged to have known her. She is survived by three brothers, William, Michael and Gerald Boyle; a devoted and loving husband, Richard; two adoring children, Jonathan Edwards and Katherine Mary; and an adorable grandchild, Declan.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 3, 2010, at ST. ANDREWS EPISCOPAL CHURCH, 1833 Regent St., Madison, with a reception to follow. Donations may be made in her memory to St. Andrew’s or to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.