Jeffrey Steele ’69

10 May 2018

Class: 1969

Major: English

Residence: Madison, WI

Deceased: May 5, 2018

Alumni survivors: Ms. Jocelyn Riley ’71 W69 (Widow/Widower)

Jeffrey Allen Steele, age 71, of Madison passed away on Saturday, May 5, 2018, in Madison. He was born February 15, 1947, in Berkeley, California, where his father was in graduate school at UC Berkeley. His parents were Charles William Steele and Eleanor Townsend Steele. Jeff married Jocelyn Carol Riley in Northfield, Minnesota, on September 4, 1971. Jeff graduated from Granville High School in Ohio in 1965 and magna cum laude from Carleton College in Minnesota in 1969. He earned a master’s degree in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1971, a master’s degree in English from Harvard University in 1977, and a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University in 1981. He was awarded the Arthur Lehman Fellowship from Harvard in 1978. 

A man of great conscience, Jeff served two years of alternative service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston from 1971 to 1973. He and Jocelyn traveled in Europe for 13 months from 1973 to 1974 on a Thomas J. Watson Traveling Fellowship. Jeff loved to learn and to teach. He began teaching in the English Department of UW-Madison in 1981 and taught there for 37 years. He was a beloved teacher and was awarded the James R. Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award (given each year to four teachers in the statewide UW System) in 1992. Jeff was also an enthusiastic scholar. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Ralph Waldo Emerson and later became an expert on Emerson’s friend and co-editor, Margaret Fuller, who had been nearly forgotten. Jeff helped found the Margaret Fuller Society and served as its president for years. He also served on the Advisory Board of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers.

His books include The Representation of the Self in the American Renaissance (1987), The Essential Margaret Fuller (1992, Choice “Outstanding Academic Book”), and Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller’s Writing (2001). He published numerous articles on Margaret Fuller and her contemporaries, as well as essays on the politics of mourning and nineteenth­ century racial stereotypes.  Jeff was preceded in death by his mother, father, and sister, Laura Steele Evans.  He is survived by his sisters, Lisa Norby (David Shaver) and Martha Hamilton and by his beloved sons, Doran Riley Steele (Frances Scharko Steele) and Brendan Riley Steele (Erin Hannah) and his three precious granddaughters, Adelaide Elizabeth, Imogen Viola, and Alina Kathryn Steele. He cherished his family and dedicated one of his books to them with a quote from Margaret Fuller: “These not only know themselves more, but are more for having met, and regions of their being, which would else have laid sealed in cold obstruction, burst into leaf and bloom and song.”

Jeff was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader for many years and taught dozens of boys how to   tie knots, fish, and set up a sturdy tarp. He was a collector and relished studying, finding, organizing, and cataloging African masks, fish and frog decoys, American advertising trade cards, coins, and more. Jeff joined Midvale Community Lutheran Church in 1986 and was active as a Search Bible study leader and a narrator of many cantatas there. A memorial service was held on May 12, 2018, at MIDVALE COMMUNITY LUTHERAN CHURCH, 4329 Tokay Boulevard, Madison, with Pastor Katie Baardseth presiding.  Jeff was buried at Natural Path Sanctuary, 2299 Spring Rose Road, Verona.  Gifts can be made in Jeff’s memory to Midvale Community Lutheran Church or to a scholarship award for English majors to be established in the UW Madison—English Department at, Department of English Fund, UW Foundation, US Lockbox 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807.

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  • 2018-09-24 21:30:52
    Paul Smith

    Please note that the photo accompanying this obituary is not Jeffrey Steele.  It is Eldon Spencer.

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