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Children's literature professor dies at 85
September 28, 1998
Francelia McWilliams Butler, professor emerita of English, who taught at the University for 27 years, died September 17 after a lengthy illness. She was 85.
Butler was an internationally recognized expert on children's literature and was the creator of the International Peace Games Festival. Before her retirement in 1991, her course on children's literature was one of the most popular at the University. Students packed her classroom to hear nationally renowned figures including illustrator and author Maurice Sendak, baby doctor Benjamin Spock and actress Margaret Hamilton (who played the Wicked Witch from the West in the film The Wizard of Oz).
Butler founded the journal Children's Literature in 1972 and is credited with being one of the most influential figures in the movement to establish children's literature as a field of study in American higher education..
In 1990, Butler launched the International Peace Games Festival to promote peaceful resolution of conflict. The idea of the games was born in the late 1930s when Butler and her husband narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Paris, where she was a drama critic for the International Herald Tribune.
"Francelia Butler was an original thinker and a warm, dear friend," says Sam Pickering, professor of English. "She loved people and their stories. She created the Peace Games in hopes of making distant years better. Yet she celebrated birthdays with cakes and gifts so that the present would be rich and sweet."
Norman Stevens, former director of University Libraries says, "Francelia was a delightful storyteller who always had a sparkle in her eyes and a giggle in her laugh. She was able to recount in detail all of the hardships she had endured and all that she had accomplished in her ardent support of civil and human rights, children's literature and world peace."
Butler authored many articles and books including The Lucky Piece, Sharing Literature With Children: A Thematic Approach to Children's Literature and Skipping Around the World: The Ritual Nature of Folk Rhymes. She was a champion for the rights of the elderly and founder of the Connecticut League Against Age Discrimination..
She received a bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College in 1934, a master's degree in 1959 from Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in 1963 from the University of Virginia.
Butler was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 25, 1913. She was the widow of Jerome Butler, a journalist for the International Herald Tribune, who died in 1949. She leaves a daughter, Annie Wandell, son-in-law, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, October 3, at 5:30 p.m. at Mansfield Center Congregational Church on Route 195 in Mansfield. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Peace Games at 249 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144.