After a long career as an associate professor of sociology, Anne Wortham is retiring. Wortham has taught at Illinois State since 1991, adding to a diverse set of experiences including service as a Peace Corps volunteer and as a journalist.
In 1959, Wortham enrolled in Tuskegee University, where she obtained a degree in secondary education and planned to pursue social work.
In the summer of 1962, while at Tuskegee, Wortham participated in an international community development project called Operation Crossroads Africa. The project united American, Canadian, and African college students to construct community resources in Africa while fostering cross-cultural relationships.
Wortham then joined the Peace Corps in 1963 and served as a primary school teacher in Tanganyika, which is now Tanzania.
“I enjoyed the challenge of teaching students from British, Danish, Israeli, and Tanganyikan families, but who were adept in communicating in British English,” Wortham reflected.
Wortham was in Africa when she and other Peace Corps volunteers learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961.
“As we listened to the news on Voice of America radio, we were shocked and disoriented. It was deeply disturbing, as it forced us to view our country from afar in a manner for which we were totally unprepared,” Wortham said.
Although her time in the Peace Corps showed her that international relations was not her intended career field, it gave Wortham the opportunity for self-reflection and growth.
“Because we volunteers were of diverse backgrounds, different ages and levels of education, being a PCV involved not only the development of transcultural appreciation of our Tanzanian hosts, but also of each other,” said Wortham.
Interested in philosophy and history, Wortham began penning essays. She branched into media, working as an editorial researcher and then assistant editor at Esquire. Wortham also created public service announcements for radio and wrote freelance articles.
“Working in the media was truly an educational and broadening experience for me,” Wortham said. “In broadcast media, I got to see how news was gathered, edited, and reported.”
Wortham worked in the media during important moments in history.
“There was so much news: the Vietnam War, anti-war protests; the hot summers of racial violence; the explosion of the youth movement; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; the turbulent 1968 Democratic Party convention; the ongoing space race and landing on the moon. News was being made every hour of the day,” Wortham said.
While working in the media for 12 years, Wortham wrote extensively on the side, including her book The Other Side of Racism: A Philosophical Study of Black Race Consciousness, which was published in 1981.
“As I reviewed research and analyses of race relations, I became increasingly convinced that if I were to contribute anything significant to contemporary discourse I would need the credentials of a graduate degree,” Wortham said.
Torn between philosophy and sociology, Wortham decided to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology at Boston College.
“To this day, I cannot do sociology without philosophy and history books nearby,” Wortham said.
After obtaining her Ph.D., Wortham taught at Wellesley College, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Washington and Lee University. She began teaching at Illinois State University in 1991 and was awarded tenure in 1994.
Wortham has appreciated working with students and helping them reach their “aha!” moments.
“I’ll miss my colleagues,” Wortham said. “I’ll miss the daily chats with the departmental staff; they have been wonderful in their support and assistance.”
Wortham plans to stay busy in her retirement, devoting time to previously abandoned projects. She will also remain active in campus life.
“I want to continue my association with the Stevenson Center and contribute to its Peace Corps recruitment program, as well as work on the Dr. Hoon Mok Chung undergraduate scholarship for study abroad. Some of ISU’s brightest students are involved with the Center’s programs and I need to be inspired by their aspirations,” Wortham said. “I will continue my service on the Illinois Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”
“Dr. Anne Wortham is an important part of the Stevenson Center family,” said Director Frank Beck. “Her Peace Corps service in Tanganyika/Tanzania is inspiring to students, alumni, and staff. She always offers a smile and loves meeting with students. We are grateful for her exemplary service.”
Wortham will also take time to enjoy herself.
“Now and then I will take a break and visit with family around the country, spend time with friends and former colleagues, attend classical music concerts, attend lectures on campus, and take pleasure trips,” Wortham said. “So, as always, I will begin each day with plenty to do. In this, I am truly blessed.”
Learn more about Peace Corps programs managed by the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development at Illinois State.
Sarah Aten is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.