Elizabeth Rudisill Homann
(December 21, 1907 – October 26, 1981)
Elizabeth Homann was a dedicated scholar, a lively and effective teacher, a loyal and congenial colleague. Members of the English department at Davis will remember her wit, vivacity, and charm. They will also remember the encouragement she gave to younger scholars and teachers in the department.
She was born December 21, 1907, in Coalgate, Oklahoma, the daughter of Walter and Josephine Rudisill. By January 1912, the family of five was living in Scotia, California; later they moved to Santa Rosa. When, in 1926, that town's best-known citizen died, Beth (as she was called) sent the widow an original sonnet on Luther Burbank. At that period, Beth typed her own anthology of contemporary poetry, illustrating it with her drawings. She also composed at least thirty-five promising poems, signed Brian Ramsey Bates. Despite this masculine pen name, she was an ethereal-looking blonde, resembling Sir Thomas Lawrence's Pinky, the painting that is often used as a companion piece for Gainsborough's Blue Boy.
Although Beth had poems and stories in her high school magazine and edited the yearbook, her interest in music was stronger than her desire to write. She composed a school hymn. Trained by her mother, a music teacher, she played the piano well and, according to the Little Theatre Magazine for March 1922, tried some of the largest pipe organs in California. In the 1950s she gave a harpsichord concert at the Crocker Gallery in Sacramento.
Beth Rudisill studied ballet and had an early interest in drama. In 1929, she and her eighteen dancing pupils appeared not only in Santa Rosa but in San Francisco (at the Letterman Hospital). A file of programs and clippings also records her performances in plays. In 1926, she studied acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and appeared in Barrie's Dear Brutus. At home, two years later, she had the lead in Quality Street. Her future husband heard her recite all the characters' lines from Dear Brutus, play and sing all the songs from H.M.S. Pinafore. Long afterwards, at Davis he and she presented scenes from The Four-Poster and Private Lives.
Beth was literally a movie star at fourteen. In March 1922, the Little Theatre Magazine of San Francisco carried her photograph as Joan of Arc, in a film that the Lilliputian Studies intended for child audiences. A year later she was on location at San Rafael, starring in Mistaken. An impressive booklet offered stock for sale in the Lilliputian Studio venture; it featured Beth Rudisill.
Absorbed in such activities, Beth attended no school between the ages of twelve and nineteen. But she read widely; she devoured the complete works of Dickens at an age when most children can barely read. In 1928, she decided to become a professor. Making up for lost time, she undertook a crash program at Santa Rosa High School. Secretly, on January 16, 1929, she married Leonard Homann, a fellow townsman whom she had met at a dramatics club tryout in 1926.
Beth Rudisill Homann entered U.C. Berkeley in 1930. Because of the depression, she left college at the end of her second year. But she returned: in 1936 she took her A.B. in English and entered graduate school. When, in 1939, an ulcer attack compelled her husband to give up his small business in Santa Rosa, she persuaded him to enter Berkeley as a freshman. Eventually he made Phi Beta Kappa; he and she became teaching assistants.
In 1946-47, Mrs. Homann completed a much-admired dissertation on kinesthetic imagery in Chaucer. Already she was commuting to U.C. Davis, first as an acting instructor, then as a regular member of the faculty. Her husband found teaching positions in Davis. After the advent in 1951 of the College of Letters and Science, Elizabeth sometimes taught not only Chaucer and seminars in medieval literature, but also Shakespeare, The English Bible, and The History of the Drama.
In 1952, 1958-59, 1962, 1966, 1969, and 1972, Professor Homann spent sabbaticals at the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale, and other English and French libraries; also in Padua, Belgrade, and Budapest. Her report on the 1966 sabbatical mentions studies related not only to Chaucer but to Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William Ockham. She gathered some of this material to help three Ph.D. candidates whose dissertations she was guiding or helping to guide.
Mrs. Homann served on the Letters and Science Executive Committee. As a member of the Academic Senate's Library Committee she did valuable work in developing collections in humanities. Her own fine collection of books on Chaucer has now been placed (as she wished) in Shields Library at Davis. When she retired, in June 1975, the department gave her an elaborate reception and a beautiful copy of the Book of Kells.
She had had severe setbacks--for example, the breaking of her right wrist at the start of her sabbatical; the misery of cataracts and eye operations. Soon after her retirement her health declined. She had a bout with pneumonia. She broke a leg. By 1977, she was an invalid in a nursing home. On October 26, 1981, she quietly died. She is survived by Leonard Homann, her husband of fifty-two years.
Beth was active in the faculty club. Her own annual lawn party always drew a crowd of graduate students and faculty. She was kind and thoughtful to her junior colleagues, especially those with young children. Although she and Leonard had no children of their own, both enjoyed playing grandparents with presents at Christmas and birthdays. The couple were official godparents to several children, for example, a baby of the Robert Below's. Professor Below was then the organist of Saint Martin's Episcopal Church. The Homanns helped to establish that church in Davis and continued to be loyal members.