Gave plays life on stage and in class at Ursinus

Joyce A. Henry was a professor at Ursinus College for 27 years before retiring in 2001.
Joyce A. Henry was a professor at Ursinus College for 27 years before retiring in 2001.
Posted: July 17, 2011

Joyce E. Henry, 83, professor emerita of theater, English, and communication studies at Ursinus College, died of cancer Monday, July 11, at her home in Collegeville.

Dr. Henry was born in Orange, N.J., and grew up in West Hartford, Conn. She was a 1948 graduate of the University of Michigan, studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York, and earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1973.

Dr. Henry was able to teach theater at the college level because of her training at the Neighborhood Playhouse, her friend Rebecca Jaroff said.

Dr. Henry worked as an actress, an opera singer, and a theater manager in New York and Milwaukee before joining the English faculty at Ursinus in 1974. She taught courses in Shakespeare, speech, acting, drama, and literature.

She directed and produced more than 40 plays at the Ritter Center on campus, most of them Shakespeare. She retired in 2001.

In retirement, Dr. Henry was a paid speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, showcasing Shakespeare's female characters.

"She would do dramatic performances, showing their bravado and courage," Jaroff said.

In similar fashion, Dr. Henry gave readings for the PHC from the journals of British actress Fanny Kemble, depicting Kemble's antislavery stance, and about dancer-choreographer Martha Graham, "whom she called Martha" because the two were friends, Jaroff said.

"She had studied with Martha in New York," Jaroff said.

Dr. Henry also taught at the Main Line School Night in Radnor and volunteered for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in King of Prussia.

She won the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1976, Jaroff said.

In the classroom, Dr. Henry was enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter, said Jaroff, who was her student as an undergraduate and, later, her colleague at Ursinus.

"She was interested in helping her students any way she could. She was very inspiring, especially to young women in the 1970s, because we didn't have a lot of women professors," Jaroff said.

Dr. Henry wrote and edited numerous articles and six books, including The Wisdom of Shakespeare.

"In his works, Shakespeare delves into the human experience as no other author before or since," says a synopsis on Google Books. "His understanding and knowledge of men, women, nature, politics, education, life, death, family life, and grief are as pertinent today as those of any contemporary artist."

"That's exactly how she felt about Shakespeare," Jaroff said.

Dr. Henry is survived by a sister, Marilyn Nelson; a nephew; and two nieces.

A memorial service will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, in Ursinus' Bomberger Hall, where a reception will follow. Dr. Henry's remains were cremated.

Dr. Henry was a dog lover whose favorite was the standard poodle. Memorial donations may be made to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 424 E. 92d St., New York, N.Y. 10128.

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or Read her blog, "MontCo Memo," at

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