In Memoriam: Maurianne Adams, Local Scholar And Community Advocate

Maurianne Adams

Maurianne (Schifreen) Adams, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst, died on October 6, 2020 at the age of 82. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, the older daughter of Rita (Fuld), of German Jewish ancestry, and Clement Solomon Schifreen, of Polish/Russian Jewish ancestry. At the time of her birth, Nazi invasions in Europe were affecting many members of Maurianne’s extended family and her family in the U.S was working tirelessly to bring as many of them as possible to safety. Acutely aware that some members of her mother’s family, including a cousin of her own age, had been murdered by the Nazis, and shocked by their stories of religious persecution and survival, Maurianne understood at an early age that only an accident of history enabled her to survive. This awareness contributed to Maurianne’s early involvement in the civil rights and feminist movements, her distrust of authority, and her lifelong commitment to social justice.

Maurianne studied the piano seriously into her mid-teens, then decided to focus on academic study, earning a scholarship to college and working toward a professional academic career. She attended Swarthmore College from 1955-59 and earned a BA with high honors in History and Literature. She received her PhD in English Literature from Indiana University in 1967. While at Indiana, Maurianne met Charles Siegel Adams, whom she married in 1961 and divorced twenty years later. Maurianne moved to Massachusetts and taught English Literature at Smith College from 1964 to 1973, published scholarly and feminist articles and was instrumental in creating faculty seminars and scholarly organizations in the field of Victorian Studies.

After leaving Smith, Maurianne moved to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she worked closely with John Hunt, who supported her creation of a new social justice curriculum and helped foster her administrative skills. Maurianne and John became close friends and sailing buddies, as well as working partners, married in 1991, and lived in downtown Amherst. Together they enjoyed traveling, music concerts, theater, and movies. Maurianne was a devoted wife to John and cared tirelessly for him when he became ill in his later years. Their marriage was adventuresome, happy, and mutually supportive, and Maurianne was devastated when John died in 2015.

Maurianne was a prolific scholar and presenter who wrote more than 8 books and 50 articles and book chapters, was a speaker or presenter at more than 78 conferences, received 21 awards and grants and was deeply involved in over 50 types of university service. She was an outstanding and passionate teacher who taught both undergraduates and graduate students and directed many doctoral dissertations while also serving as General Editor of the College of Education’s journal, Equity & Excellence in Education, for twelve years. In 1988, Maurianne completed post-doctoral work in Cambridge, MA, to better understand how cognitive development might address the challenges of teaching in the burgeoning field of social justice education. Back at UMass, she identified other faculty with an interest in social justice and, together, they became the founding faculty of the Social Justice Education (SJE) Program, a ground-breaking masters/doctoral program. Maurianne will be remembered by her hundreds of former students and colleagues, as well as by her family, for her vitality, thoroughness, high standards, bureaucratic diplomacy, intelligence, keen sense of humor, irreverence, and unstinting support.

An avid reader and gardener who loved spending time at her summer home and beloved family retreat on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, Maurianne was also active in Amherst town politics. Among her many contributions, Maurianne researched and wrote the history of several hundred historical properties in her own 19th century Amherst neighborhood and helped establish a Local Historic District to protect it. For this effort, she was given a Founders Day Conch Shell award from the Amherst Historical Society. In 2014, Maurianne helped found and became an officer and board member of the Amherst Community Land Trust, which seeks to help low- and middle-income workers achieve affordable home ownership in Amherst.

While recovering from several joint replacement surgeries, Maurianne discovered earlier this year that the cancer that had been successfully treated many years earlier had returned. Maurianne brought her skills as a scholar to her understanding of her illness, thoroughly researching the disease and all of the possible treatment options. After a brave, and all too brief, battle for her life, Maurianne died peacefully in her sleep of acral melanoma, one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. Throughout her illness, Maurianne continued to live life to its fullest and was still trying to complete several book chapters in the last weeks of her life. When it was clear that the “endgame,” as she called it, had come, Maurianne faced her death with courage and equanimity.

In addition to the loss of her husband and best friend, John Austin Hunt, Maurianne was deeply affected by the loss of her parents, Rita and Clement Solomon Schifreen, and of her niece, Leah Zisser, who died of neuroblastoma at the age of four. Maurianne will, in turn, be deeply missed by her sister, Carolyn Schifreen Zisser (Elliot), who was inspired by Maurianne from an early age; by her nephew, Jonathan Zisser, and his daughter Lily-Rose; her niece, Alison Zisser Nathenson (Robert); and great nephew, William Ronan Nathenson; her cousins, Barbara Blumstein Blechner and Bob Blumstein and Robert and Joe Field; and her “chosen” family member, Jeremiah Woolley.

In keeping with her lifelong commitment to collaboration, this brief summary of Maurianne’s life is a collective effort that includes contributions from the many family members and friends who volunteered to write about Maurianne and what she meant to them. Shivah for Maurianne, arranged by her sister, Carolyn, is being observed virtually and a virtual gathering of Social Justice Education alumnae has been arranged by Maurianne’s SJE colleague and friend, Ximena Zúñiga. A gathering to celebrate Maurianne’s life is currently being planned for the Spring. Donations in Maurianne’s honor can be made to the Fisher Home (Amherst, MA), Dakin Humane Society (Springfield, MA), Amherst Survival Center, Amherst Community Land Trust, or a nonprofit of your choice.

Editor’s note: Maurianne Adams was a writer for The Amherst Indy.

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8 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Maurianne Adams, Local Scholar And Community Advocate

  1. A loss of a vibrant and delightful person, deeply committed to justice and knowledge. I’m so sorry she’s not with us any more.

  2. I met her just recently when we would talk after CPA meetings, though I had long known of her because of town meeting. She was a great advocate for affordable housing and we had a number of memorable conversations. A true citizen. So sad to read this news.

  3. This is a lovely obituary. I only knew Maurianne in recent years, when we served together on Town Meeting. Later I interviewed Maurianne about her research with Laura Lovett into the Lincoln-Sunset Historic District and its early integrated neighborhoods. Whatever subject was at hand, Maurianne spoke intelligently and persuasively, with a consistent emphasis on the common good. Her passing saddens me, but I am comforted in knowing that she lived a very interesting and highly productive life.

  4. A lovely and insightful obituary. Maurianne is one of the most strategic thinkers I have known. Always 3 steps ahead of the conversation, smiling cheerfully while she moved things in the right direction.

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