In Memoriam: Vincent DeSantis, 1916-2011

VINCENT P. DE SANTIS, noted historian of the Gilded Age, died in Victoria, British Columbia on June 5, 2011 at the age of 94. A faculty member at the University of Notre Dame for over sixty years, he was a native of Birdsboro, PA. where he was born on December 25, 1916 to an Italian immigrant and his American wife. After graduating from Birdsboro High School, he spent two years at manual labor earning money for college. He graduated from West Chester State Teachers’ College in 1941, at which time he entered the Army as a private and served with the 19th Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division in New Guinea and the Philippine Islands. He left the service in December 1945 as a captain.

He used the GI bill to enter graduate school in history at Harvard University and then completed his doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins, studying under the eminent C. Vann Woodward. He began teaching at Notre Dame in 1949 and continued his tenure until 2010, producing fifteen doctoral students and being a favorite undergraduate teacher. He received three Fulbrights for teaching and research in Italy, India, and Australia.

His first book Republicans Face the Southern Question, The New Departure Years, 1877-1897 is the definitive work on southern politics and the freed people in the late 19th century. His textbook, which covered the Gilded Age through the Progressive Period, is widely used in college classrooms around the nation. He meticulously kept a daily diary beginning with his college days in the 1930s. He continued to research and write until his last days, still able to hold his own on the latest historiography.

He was a regular attendee at history conferences and was well known for his ability to tease his friends and colleagues. He could remember jokes about them for years. He also financially supported a variety of individuals and academic institutions.

He was married twice, his first marriage producing four sons. He is buried in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania.

John F. Marszalek
Ulysses S. Grant Association
Mississippi State University

Posted: August 23, 2011
Tagged: In Memoriam