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Otto Eugene Schoen-René

Professor of English
1945-1967

Friday, September 22, 2000

Otto Euguene Schoen-René was born in New York City on February 23, 1909, the son of Otto Karl won Schon and Karolina Breitemoder von Schon. Both his parents died in 1918, and Otto was placed in foster care under the guardianship of a Lutheran minister.

In 1920, he was found and adopted by his father’s sister, Anna Eugene Schoen-René, a renowned singing teacher who would become head of the Department of Voice at the Juilliard School. Schoen-Rene accompanied his aunt to Germany where he attended German schools from 1920 until 1923. He then returned to the United States to complete his college preparations at the Blake School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Schoen-Rene entered Harvard College in 1926, the recipient of scholarships in each of his four years there. He was awarded two detur prizes for outstanding scholarship but also found time for freshman soccer, service as manager’s assistant on the freshman hockey team, and work in the Widener Library. He was assistant editor of the Red Book and Literary Editor of the Advocate. He graduated second in his class, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude.

Immediately following graduation, he attended Cambridge University as the Lionel de Jersey Harvard Student.

In 1935, Schoen-Rene returned to Harvard to continue his graduate studies, receiving his M.A. in 1938 and his Ph.D. in 1942. His doctoral thesis was titled Shakespeare’s Sonnets in German 1978-1939. In 1941, he held Sheldon Traveling Fellowship for study in England, but because of World War II studied instead at the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., and the Newberry Library in Chicago. While pursuing his graduate degrees, he served as instructor of English at both Radcliffe and Wellesley Colleges and taught public speaking to employees of General Electric in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Upon completion of his doctorate, he was called to the Department of English at Harvard where he taught a variety of courses and also instructed in physics.

Dr. Schoen-René came to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1945 at the invitation of President John Milton Potter. Appointed professor of English and professor of comparative literature, he was named the Horace White Professor of English and Rhetoric in 1950. He was also head of the English Department for 20 years and director of Freshman English. He served as director of the Summer Session from 1948 until 1960, and as acting dean of Hobart in 1964.

In addition to his departmental responsibilities, he played a pivotal role in the development of the Western Civilization curriculum so revered by alumni and alumnae of those decades.

Although he complained that his campus activities kept him too busy to engage in many community activities, he served as chair of the Ontario County Liberal Party and as a vestryman of Trinity Episcopal Church. He was a president of the local AAUP and of the Zeta (N.Y.) Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Otto married Mary Louise (Molly) McMahon in 1936. They had two children, Ernst William and Juliet Anne. Molly died in 1953. In 1955, Otto married Renee Stevens and they had two children, Karl Alexander and Augustus Stevens. Otto died October 10, 1967.

His former student, colleague and friend, Professor William Brady ’50 remembered Schoen-Rene with a quote from Beowulf. “Of all kings, he was the gentlest, the most gracious of men, the kindest to his people and the most desirous of praise.”