Constance Marie Fulmer (11 November 1938 – 17 March 2020)
by Donelle Ruwe
Constance Fulmer, a mainstay of the British Women Writer’s Conference (BWWC) and an enduring role model, passed away after a brief bout with cancer. She died peacefully in her home in Malibu, California, on March 17, 2020. Constance and her partner Margaret Barfield were life-long members of the Association. Constance attended the second annual conference in 1993 and thereafter came to almost every conference for the next 27 years.
Constance often presented on the two loves of her scholarly life: Edith Simcox and George Eliot. Her scholarly dedication culminated in two major publications: George Eliot’s Moral Aesthetic: Compelling Contradictions (2019) and A Monument to the Memory of George Eliot: Edith S. Simcox’s Autobiography of a Shirtmaker (co-edited by Constance Fulmer and Margaret Barfield, 1998). The latter is a magisterial work of literary recuperation of Edith Simcox (1844-1901), a suffragist, Socialist, activist, and author. In addition to publishing books and multiple periodical essays, Simcox and her friend Mary Hamilton founded the successful shirtmaking co-operative, Hamilton and Company, to employ women and offer them decent working conditions. Simcox met George Eliot in 1872 when she was preparing her review of Eliot’s Middlemarch. Simcox adored and admired Eliot, who was 25-years older than she, and although her “love-passion” was not reciprocated, Simcox made it her life’s mission “to love rather than be loved” and to shape her life and work as a tribute to Eliot.
It is no wonder that Constance was drawn to the works of George Eliot. Constance daily lived the ethics that Eliot espoused. As Constance wrote, the foundation of Eliot’s moral identity is charity, the act of “solidarity or reaching out to others.” I recall a particular moment at the 2012 BWWC at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As I walked into the conference hotel, I saw Constance carrying out containers of food from the hotel restaurant. She handed out sandwiches and warm meals to a group of homeless people sitting in the curbside shade of the hotel entrance. It was a simple act of generosity, but not one that I had considered doing myself until that moment.
Constance Fulmer saw people and their needs, and she acted on their behalf. This is one of the many qualities that made her such a gifted mentor to students. Constance embodied the spirit of the BWWC, which is to chip away at the professional divide between graduate students and experienced faculty, to provide mentorship for early career scholars of all levels, and to create a more inclusive scholarly community. At conferences, she was beloved for her approachability and genuine desire to talk with graduate students about their work and their lives. As a tribute to her legacy, the BWWA Executive Board voted unanimously to retitle the Association’s mentorship award “The BWWA Constance Fulmer Award in Mentorship.” In her final year, she was unable to attend the BWWC hosted by Texas Christian University, but she was there in spirit and already fostering her legacy of mentorship and generosity. She sent in her stead a group of young women from Pepperdine, and it was their first scholarly conference. It was no surprise to hear how fondly they spoke of their mentor and to see how well they represented her.
Constance had an extraordinary academic life, especially for a woman born in the 1930s. She received a BA in English with a minor in Psychology from Lipscomb University, a Master’s in Education from Harding University, and a Master’s in Mathematics from the University of Alabama. She received a third Master’s degree in English and eventually a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. She taught at Lipscomb University for twenty years until accepting, in 1980, the position of Director of Continuing Medical Education at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1990 she joined the faculty of Pepperdine University. At Pepperdine she accepted a variety of administrative roles: the Blanche E. Seaver Chair in English Literature, the Divisional Dean of the Humanities and Teacher Education Division, and the Associate Dean of Seaver College from 2007 to 2016. Beyond Pepperdine, Dr. Fulmer was a board member of the Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States.
For those who want to honor Constance with a financial contribution, you can contribute to a scholarship that she established in honor of her parents, The Clyde E. Fulmer and Constance R. Fulmer Scholarship, c/o The Development Office of Lipscomb University, One University Park Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37204.