Mabel Kate Whiteside, 1879-1960.
Born in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, Mabel Kate Whiteside developed her love for
Greek at the Webb School for boys, from which she graduated at the age of 16.
She immediately took up her first teaching position in Murfreesboro, before
she continued her own education two years later at the University of Chicago.
She came to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, in Lynchburg, Virginia, in
1904. She taught Latin and especially Greek, her true love, for the next fifty
years. She was also the College’s first Dean of Students, and served the
College in a remarkable number of official and unofficial capacities.
Prof. Whiteside’s legacy derives from her direction of the Greek Plays,
starting with Alcestis in 1909 and continuing annually, with very few
interruptions, through a performance of the entire Oresteia in 1954,
the year of her retirement. The productions, which ranged throughout the extant
corpus of Greek tragedy, and even into comedy, drew the attention of amateurs
and scholars alike, in Virginia and beyond, who treasured the opportunity to
see the plays outdoors in the original Greek with music and choreography composed
for the occasion. The celebrated series of productions raised interest in Greek
and the Classics on campus and in the community and made an impact on the lives
of hundreds of students.
To them, she was simply “Miss Mabel”—a trusted teacher who
would let no participant of the productions fail; whose students would wait
for her no matter how late she came to class; and who, though “apparently
indifferent,” had a “genius for friendship, especially with her
students.” Fifty years after her last play, alumnae still know their lines
in Greek and speak in glowing terms of the professor who challenged and inspired
Those alumnae have appointed the Dell, the natural space in which the plays
were performed, with a stage, dressing rooms, and a beautiful curve of stone
seats in Miss Mabel’s honor, and the venue is now the Mabel Kate Whiteside
Greek Theatre. After her retirement, she was awarded the Gold Cross of the Royal
Order of Benificence from King Paul of the Hellenes, as well as an honorary
doctorate from Washington and Lee University.
(Summer 2008: This page will soon have more pictures and more details from
Miss Mabel's life. If you would like to make a correction or share a remembrance,
please e-mail us.)
- Betty Jo Hanna ('50), "'Miss Mabel of Randolph-Macon," in Randolph-Macon
Prose and Verse: A Collection of Undergraduate Writings, vol. III. (Richmond,
Dietz Press, 1951). PDF (special thanks to Betty Jo
Harper, née Hanna)
- Robert Lloyd, Whiteside entry in Biographical Dictionary of North American
Classicists, edited by Ward W. Briggs, Jr., under the auspices of the
American Philological Association (Westport, CT: Greenwoood Press, 1994).
- Gertrude Malz, obituary in Classical Journal, 56 (1960-61) 143-144
- Roberta D. Cornelius, The history of Randolph-Macon Woman's College
from the founding in 1891 through the year of 1949-1950, (Chapel Hill:
UNC Press, 1951).
- Alumnae Bulletin of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Volume XLIX,
Number 3, April 1956.
- Archive materials from the R(-MW)C Alumnae Office. (special thanks to Stacy
- Conversations with Mabel Whiteside Ehlert.