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Princeton Classics mourns the loss of Janet Martin

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Published Date

September 27, 2023


We announce with great sadness the death of Janet Martin on August 30th. An expert in medieval Latin, early leader in the Women’s Classical Caucus, and the first woman to receive tenure in the department’s history, Janet taught at Princeton Classics for thirty-seven years before transferring to emeritus status in 2010. 

Janet Marion Martin began her collegiate career as an undergraduate of Radcliffe College, where she received her A.B. in the history and literature of the Middle Ages. After gaining a master’s in classical studies at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in medieval Latin at Harvard University in 1968, Janet became the first woman to be hired by the Harvard Classics Department, spending four years as an instructor and assistant professor, including a year as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. She then moved to Princeton in 1973, where she would stay the rest of her career, being promoted to associate professor in 1976. Latin, literature, and history of the Middle Ages remained at the center of her teaching and scholarship at Princeton. Janet’s edition of selected letters of Peter the Venerable was published by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in 1974, and there followed a series of papers on the reception and circulation of classical literature in medieval Europe and a study on the text and music of Hildegard of Bingen. A decade’s service on the executive committee of the Program in Medieval Studies was among her many contributions to the University community, and she was a longtime mainstay of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, of which she served as president.

As the first woman promoted to tenure in the Classics Department’s history, Janet was also in the vanguard of the feminist movement in the profession, in the classroom and beyond. From undergraduate courses on the tragic heroine and women’s writings to a graduate seminar on feminist literary theory and the classics, her teaching helped to open new vistas in the field and raise consciousness when it much needed raising. In 1996, she co-organized the conference “Feminism and Classics: Framing the Research Agenda” as one of the gatherings held to celebrate Princeton’s 250th anniversary. Nationally, Janet was an early member and active participant in the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC), a major force in the discipline for supporting woman classicists and making the field a more equitable, hospitable, and interesting place than ever before. 

As the WCC celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, we were reminded of how profoundly generations of students at Princeton and beyond are in Janet’s debt. In the words of Judith P. Hallett, celebrating Janet’s retirement in 2011, “She enriched the university of dei sub numine viget with her teaching, service, and research... may we therefore applaud Janet Marion Martin." She will be deeply missed.

(Revision, 10/23/23. The university communications office has since released its official obituary for Prof. Martin, which may be read here.)