In Memoriam: Dr. Daniel J. Wilson (1949–2021)

Dr. Daniel J. “Dan” Wilson, 71, passed away peacefully in his sleep on June 11, 2021, at his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

A native of Wisconsin, Dan received his BA in 1972, from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he majored in history and English. He pursued a Ph.D.in American history at Johns Hopkins University, which awarded him a doctorate in 1976.

Following teaching stints at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and a position at the Maryland Historical Society, Dan landed at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1978, which became his academic home for the next forty years until his retirement in 2018.

Dan’s scholarly trajectory began with an interest in American intellectual history, specifically the history of philosophy. His doctoral dissertation, which served as the basis of his first monograph, was a study of Arthur O. Lovejoy, an American philosopher and intellect. But Dan’s interest eventually pivoted to the history of medicine and public health, and disability studies. Born out of his own experience of contracting polio as a child, Dan began researching and writing about polio epidemics. He was especially interested in polio survivors who, like him, were afflicted by polio prior to the introduction of a vaccine in 1955. Dan published three monographs on polio epidemics including the most recent one, Polio: Biography of a Disease (2009). Prestigious fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies funded this important work.

Dan was a dedicated teacher who garnered two teaching awards. He taught a variety of courses in his four decades at Muhlenberg including Civil War and Reconstruction, American Cultural and Intellectual History, and Nineteenth-Century U. S. He came to realize there was a need to offer courses in women’s and African American history so he bravely retooled and became the first history professor at Muhlenberg to teach in those important sub-fields. The History of Disease and Medicine, and the History of Public Health, though, were the courses that allowed him to draw on a deep reservoir of knowledge, personal experience, and to model advocacy for a greater historical understanding and empathy for the disabled.

Asked recently to share his most impactful moment during his time at Muhlenberg, Dan unhesitatingly recalled a chance meeting on a September day in 1981, in the campus snack bar. A colleague introduced him to the new director of career planning, Carol Shiner. Two years later they were married in the college chapel. Together they enjoyed passing time by listening to classical music and jazz, walking their dogs, and traveling, especially to rural France.

The Muhlenberg community shares in Carol’s sorrow and mourns his loss. They valued his quiet leadership, wisdom, and upstanding character. He was kind, funny, and brilliant. His life and contributions will be celebrated at a later date at Egner Chapel at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Gifts in Dan’s memory may be designated to the Wilson Grant for Scholarly Projects at Muhlenberg College. Checks should be made payable to Muhlenberg College and mailed to 2400 West Chew St, Allentown, PA 18104 or gifts can be made online at https://give.muhlenberg.edu/

Posted: June 28, 2021
Tagged: In Memoriam