Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau (1926-1990)
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Dr. Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau, a nationally recognized constitutional historian, started her career at the University of Louisville as a part-time master’s degree student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She was a 1948 graduate of Oberlin College, and after having three children, began taking graduate level classes at UofL. Soon after completing a master’s degree in history from UofL in 1958, she began teaching for the University. She obtained her doctorate in history in 1972 from the University of Kentucky. She retired from the University of Louisville in 1990 with the distinguished title of Professor Emerita.
Dr. Tachau’s scholarly expertise on constitutional law and history became widely known, especially after the publication of Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky 1789-1816 ( Princeton 1978). Remembered as a leader and innovator for women, and as one of the pioneers of women’s studies at the University of Louisville, Dr. Tachau worked passionately for feminist causes and to promote policies that would provide women equal pay and promotion opportunities.
She was the first chairwoman of the University’s history department and the first female faculty member to preside over the Faculty Senate in 1976, thus also becoming the first faculty woman to sit on the Board of Trustees. She served, too, on the College’s Curriculum Committee, as University Ombudsman, as Chair of the University’s Committee on the Status of Women, and in the American Association of University Professors.
Dr. Tachau’s service and leadership extended beyond the University as well. She chaired the Kentucky Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. She also was a member of the state Commission on Human Rights, served as a historical adviser to the Senate Watergate Committee, worked with the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, and was Vice President of the teaching division of the American Historical Association.
Dr. Tachau received the University-wide Distinguished Teaching Award and the Governor’s Award of the Kentucky Historical Society. The Organization of American Historians memorializes her promotion of highschool teaching of constitutional history with an annual Tachau Teacher of the Year Award. The President’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Women’s Center at the University of Louisville give the annual Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau Gender Equity Award to a past or present member of the UofL community whose work has furthered gender equity.