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Kern, Jean B.



  • Existence: 1913 -


Jean Kern, a Professor Emerita of English and an independent scholar, was born in Indiana on April 30, 1913 to John S. and Stanta Bordner. She lived in South Bend, Indiana, from birth until 1919 when her family moved to Wisconsin. Her parents were educators interested in rural culture and nature conservation. Her father received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in biology, soil chemistry and forestry. From 1927 until retirement in 1947, he worked with the State Department of Agriculture developing an economic inventory of the land, lakes and streams of Wisconsin.

In 1936, at the age of twenty-three, Kern completed her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She received her degree in English literature specializing in eighteenth-century drama. In September of that year, she married Alexander Kern. They had two children.

During her professional career, Kern taught in Iowa as well as abroad in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Her publications include a book entitled Dramatic Satire in the Age of Walpole: 1720-1750 (1976), numerous essays on drama and women in the eighteenth-century and several book reviews. After retirement in 1975, Kern continued to be active in her profession, publishing and presenting papers at various conferences.

Kern's professional experiences were not unique for women professors beginning their careers in the 1930s. The antinepotism policy at the University of Iowa significantly constricted her professional life. The policy forbade two family members from being hired at the university. Because her husband taught in the English and American Studies Departments, Kern was not eligible for tenure at the University of Iowa. Thus, she taught at the private liberal arts colleges in the area. While these positions allowed her to remain with her family in Iowa City, the lack of affiliation with a larger university stunted her professional life, making her a "commuter throughout [her] career as a professor of English" (Box 3, Professional life, Published essays, 1960-1985, "The Long, Hard Road").

Despite these obstacles, Kern creatively developed alternative paths to secure teaching positions and established a career independently and in partnership with her husband. She found employment abroad as a woman professor without difficulty. Thus, she and her husband taught overseas as frequently as possible. She discusses her experiences with gender discrimination in the essay "The Long, Hard Road" (Box 3, Professional life, Published essays 1960-1985).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Jean Kern papers

Identifier: IWA0631

Professor of English and an independent scholar who taught in the Middle East and Eastern Europe as well as in Iowa.

Dates: 1921-1988