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Nina Oliver Dean (1901-1978):

Nina Oliver Dean, born on July 19, 1901, grew up in Columbus, Mississippi with her parents John and Laura (Sturtevant) Oliver. As a little girl, Dean, along with her brother and two sisters, received the Sunday afternoon uplifting treatment by having the Bible and Shakespeare read to them by their parents[1]. Inspired by her childhood readings, Dean attended Mississippi State College for Women and later Columbia University for her Masters, where she majored in English literature. While at Columbia, Dean studied under the illustrious Brander Mathews, a scholar who introduced her to the idea of combining the literary with the dramatic study of Shakespeare. Dean’s interest with Shakespeare cultivated even further with her attendance to the Claire Tree Major Dramatic School, where she took part in its Shakespearean series. Dean continued to study the great master at Harvard, where she worked towards her doctorate while simultaneously serving on the staff of the Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine. After graduation, Dean taught for a brief period at Mississippi State College.

Inspired by Hamilton Holt’s Conference Plan for Rollins College, Dean joined the faculty of Rollins in 1943. She immediately gained popularity for her attitude towards teaching. Those that enrolled in her class felt tha
t she made the poetry of her Shakespeare course “a personal living experience” and the content of her Southern literature course, “an epitome of her own self.”[2] Others admired her dedication as faculty advisor for Libra, the women’s honorary leadership society which later merged with Omicron Delta Kappa. Hamilton Holt also noticed her commitment towards teaching and promoted Dean from assistant professor to associate professor in 1947. Dean continued to impress those around her, especially on the Annie Russell Theatre stage, where she played various roles, including Amanda, the mother in The Glass Menagerie. Despite her dedication, the financial situation at Rollins necessitated the release Dean’s services to the College. In 1967, President McKean reappointed Dean to the Rollins faculty. Dean only stayed for two years, a period in which colleague Wilber Dorsett recalled, “Dean was prone to accidents, and for a long time, she wore a metal body brace for an injury caused by an automobile accident. Her office was on the second floor, but she was loath to ask for favors and would not tolerate any suggestion that her office be moved to the first floor.” [3]

ecause of Dean’s indomitable spirit and stubborn nature, Nina Oliver Dean’s life came to a sudden end on April 30, 1978. To honor the memory of such an outstanding woman, a Nina Dean Awards Fund, memorializing the associate professor of Rollins, was established at the College. The awards fund, set up by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Andersen and Howard Phillips with an initial contribution of $1000, enables the annual cash award to a Rollins English major who presents the best critical essay for senior independent study. [4]

-Alia Alli

[1] Ruth Smith, “Shakespeare’s Fan,” Department of Archives and Special Collections, Box 45E, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Wilber Dorsett, “Personal Memories of Nina Dean,” Alumni Record, 1978.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Charlie Wadsworth, “Fund Memorializes Outstanding Woman,” Sentinel Star, May 22, 1978.
Project Home List of Names Rollins Archives Olin Library Rollins College