Black and white photo of Jacqueline MithunJacqueline Mithun, class of 1934

Building on a legacy of public service

Sisters Jill and Susan Mithun honored their mother with support for future elementary teachers

Jacqueline Mithun, BS ’34, was an early believer in making sure young children receive a strong educational foundation. While attending the University of Minnesota during the Depression, Jacqueline lived at home with her family and clerked at the Golden Rule Emporium for 25 cents an hour to help meet expenses.

Jackie chose to study elementary education because she believed it was critically important for students to learn to read and write in first grade to establish a basis for future learning in any eld. Her daughter Jill remembers her mother’s genuine enjoyment of children, sharing with the family the “memorable expressions that came out of the mouths of babes.”

After teaching assignments in New Richland and West St. Paul, Minnesota, Jackie married Howard Mithun, JD ’36. It was a time when married women could not teach, but when Howard enlisted in the Navy during World War II, Jackie returned to teaching. She continued periodically after the birth of her daughters, Jill (officially named Jacqueline, after her mother) and Susan. One assignment was substitute teaching Jill’s first-grade class. After the war, Jackie’s savings bought the family’s first house.

Jill Mithun in Norway, 1984

Both her daughters embraced Jackie’s love of education. Jill earned MA and MSW degrees at the University of Minnesota and a PhD in anthropology from SUNY–Buffalo. Susan, who passed away in 2017, taught junior high students and ran after-school and summer programs in Washington, DC, and Santa Fe. She was elected to the Santa Fe School Board in 2013 and served as board president in 2016–17.

Susan Mithun

Jackie Mithun passed away in 1996, just before her 86th birthday. Howard followed her in 2002 at age 89. To honor their memory and ties to the University, Jill and Susan established funds to benefit students who reflect their parents’ legacies.

The Howard W. Mithun Scholarship assists U of M law students with financial need who demonstrate academic achievement. With his law degree from the U, Howard served as vice president and general counsel for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 27 years.

The Jacqueline R. Mithun Fellowship has supported 29 CEHD graduate students in elementary education who have potential for teaching children from varied economic and cultural backgrounds. Recently, the fund has supported students in CEHD’s residency teacher preparation program for staff already in schools who want to pursue licensure. These programs are designed to create a more diverse teacher force through individuals who would otherwise be unable to earn their teaching license due to financial and time constraints.

Jackie and Howard Mithun, 1980

Jackie’s instinctive belief in the importance of a strong educational foundation is a key tenet of today’s early childhood and elementary education programs.

“My mother was incredibly grateful to the U of M for the opportunity to obtain her degree,” says Jill. “We hope CEHD Mithun Fellowship recipients will carry out her commitment to early learning and pass it on to succeeding generations.”

Rollins and Robert

If you have ever driven on Rollins Avenue Southeast in Minneapolis or Robert Street in St. Paul, you’ve connected with the family history of Jill and Susan Mithun. Their great, great grandfather John Rollins was among the earliest European American settlers of the Saint Anthony Falls area in Minneapolis, operating one of the first our mills as well as the first steamboat above the falls. Their great, great grandfather Louis Robert was a fur trader, riverboat captain, and steamboat owner who helped locate the state capital in St. Paul. Contributions of Rollins and Robert helped make the Twin Cities a thriving metropolis. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Story by Ann Dingman | Photos courtesy of the Mithun family except as indicated | Fall 2018