Professor of American and Women’s Studies
October 22, 2004
Toni Flores arrived at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1971, at a transformational time for the Colleges. Armed with her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College (1967) and her Ph.D. in folklore and folk life from the University of Pennsylvania (1971), she taught first in the Anthropology and Sociology Department and then, starting in 1974, in women’s studies and American studies.
By training and temperament, Flores was perfectly suited to the interdisciplinary teaching and scholarships for which the Colleges have long been known. Her work at Hobart and William Smith was a constant process of bridging the gaps between theory, the arts and humanity, according to her colleagues. Integration also was the salient characteristic of Flores’ life as a whole. Her house on St. Clair Street was home to five children: Adam, Kristen and Andre Flores-Fratto and John and Anthony Belliveau-Flores. Students and children were to be found in every combination there, learning and teaching each other.
Flores’ academic interest spanned folklore, folk art, Native American traditions, cultural anthropology, childbirth, body politics, poetry and feminist theory. She received the Faculty Prize for Curriculum Development in 1981 and was appointed to the Harter Chair in Humanities and Social Sciences from 1990 to 1992.
Recognized as a prolific writer, poet and essayist, Flores was inspired by her observations and experiences as an anthropologist. Her published work includes research on humanistic anthropology, field poetry, ethnicity and gender, the birthing movement, ethnic cooking, Mexican folk artist Teodora Blanco, and 19th century feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage. Flores’ influence had extended well beyond the Hobart and William Smith community through her role as poetry editor of Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly. After her death, her view of the world as expressed in poetry was compiled and edited by her friends in the book “In Place.”
Her academic accomplishments were many, but the impact that Flores had upon the lives of her students was as a teacher. Her boundless joy and passion for learning drew her students in and shaped their thinking. A former student noted of Flores’ involvement with the development of the women’s studies department “Toni was right there, opening up this brave new world for us at William Smith and Hobart.”
In 1993, Flores delivered the convocation speech, memorably titled “Silence and the Blazing World.” Her message to the incoming first years was one that she lived day in and day out: observe, experience, appreciate, learn and celebrate life.
“Chew your food slowly. Look at the sky at least twice a day, not to see
if there will be rain but to see what is moving in it and what color it is.
Leave off your gloves and stick your hand in the snow. At least once
a week read about something you never thought was interesting.
Sniff everyone you hug. Dance whenever you feel like it.”
Toni Flores’ joy of living spilled over to enrich the lives of her students, colleagues, friends and family. A colleague summed up her gifts well:
Anthropologist, teacher, mentor, friend, mother, poet, dancer--a goddess in her own right. Toni left her legacy to all she touched. In her own words...
“All of it--feel all of it--but don’t forget the joy.”