In Memoriam, Lee Benson, History

Dr. Lee Benson, professor emeritus of history and a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, died on February 10 from complications after a fall. He was 90 years of age.

He was co-founder of the Netter Center’s university-assisted community school program that has, since its inception in 1985, been seen as a national model of university civic engagement. Dr. Benson continued to be fully engaged with the Netter Center, serving on its Faculty Advisory Board, writing and co-teaching with the Center’s director an undergraduate seminar on “Urban University-Community Relations” until his death. He was co-executive editor of the Netter Center’s Universities and Community Schools journal, co-author of Dewey’s Dream (2007), and was the author or co-author of dozens of articles and chapters on university civic engagement and the role of higher education in educating students for democratic citizenship.

Dr. Ira Harkavy, director of the Netter Center called his colleague, “a distinguished scholar, inspiring and beloved teacher, and active citizen, who devoted his life to working to change the world for the better. Lee’s pioneering work, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy, introduced the application of social science theory and methodology to the discipline of history.”

Dr. Benson also authored numerous books, chapters and articles pertaining to history. He also received many grants and honors throughout his academic career.

Prior to coming to Penn in 1964, Dr. Benson held positions of research associate, instructor and lecturer at the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University from 1952-1960, and professor of history at Wayne State University from 1960-1964. In 1976, he served as the first president of the Social Science History Association. He became a professor emeritus at Penn in 1990.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Benson earned his BA from Brooklyn College in 1947 after serving as a first lieutenant in the Army during World War II, leading a platoon involved in the liberation of Dachau. He was honored with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for Valor. He earned his MA from Columbia University in 1948, and his PhD from Cornell University in 1952.

Dr. Benson is survived by his daughter, Sally.

Donations in Dr. Benson’s memory may be made payable to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and sent to the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania, 133 S. 36th Street, Suite 519, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

A memorial service to honor Dr. Benson and his accomplishments is planned for May 1, at 3 p.m. in Houston Hall. Inquiries may be directed to the director’s office of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, (215) 898-5351.