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Dr. Alison Comish Thorne

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Dr . Alison Comish Thorne 1914 ~ 2004  Dr. Alison Comish Thorne, Professor Emerita of Utah State University and a civic leader and community activist, died in Logan, Utah on October 23, 2004 with her five adult children at her bedside. She was ninety years old. Her contributions as a scholar, teacher, and community leader were recognized by an honorary doctorate from USU in 2000; the Utah School Boards Association Distinguished Service Award (1965); the Utah Governor's Award for Volunteer Service (1980); the USU Distinguished Service Award (1981); and by the Women's Achievement Award from the Utah Governor's Commission for Women and Families (2002).  In 2002 USU Press published Alison Thorne's memoir, Leave the Dishes in the Sink: Adventures of an Activist in Conservative Utah, which provides a first-hand perspective on progressive social movements – for women's rights, education reform in public schools and universities, protection of the environment, the ending of poverty, and the movement for peace during the Vietnam War – which she helped bring to Cache Valley. The book is also Alison Thorne's account of raising a large family with her husband, USU Professor and Vice President David Wynne Thorne, who died in 1979. Alison Thorne was born on May 9, 1914, the daughter of Newel Howland Comish and Louise Larson Comish. She was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, where her father was a professor of economics and her mother was involved in civic activities. Alison Thorne was an undergraduate at Brigham Young University and went on to become the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in the Economics Department of Iowa State College; she was then 23 years old. She also studied at the University of Chicago. Her academic career was entwined with that of her husband, Wynne Thorne, whom she married in 1937. When he joined the Agronomy Department at Utah State University in 1939, anti-nepotism rules blocked her from pursuing a conventional academic career. However, Alison Thorne sustained her intellectual interests and pursued an active civic life, while also raising five children.  Educated in consumption economics, Alison Thorne often reflected upon the values that guide various approaches to household living and childrearing. The title of her memoir, Leave the Dishes in the Sink, was also the title of a talk that she gave to many women's clubs around the state, arguing that nourishing the creativity of children is more important than sustaining the perfect housekeeping standards promulgated in the 1950s and 1960s. In her talks she described some of her own homemaking strategies, like "the quick pick-up," which involved mobilizing her kids to join her in throwing clutter into a big laundry basket for later sorting. She was also an advocate of the "junk drawer" as a holding site for objects-in-transit. As a mother with an introverted temperament, Alison Thorne knew the importance of claiming time for her self. Even when she had three young children in diapers, she tried - with the help of her older children – to spend two hours a day reading books on philosophy and other challenging subjects; "I like to wrestle with ideas," she often told her children. In 1965, at age 51, Alison Thorne became a lecturer in sociology and in home economics and consumer education at USU. These appointments were partly the result of her legislative efforts on issues of social and economic justice, such as helping to bring federal "war on poverty" programs to northern Utah. She continued to teach, serve on committees, and publish until 1985, when her achievements were finally recognized with promotion to full professor. Noting Alison Thorne's diversity and breadth of accomplishments, a department head wrote in 1985: "I don't know another person who would be qualified to teach for four different departments and serve on graduate committees for five. Alison is capable of doing this because she is a 'real' scholar. She is interested in many areas and has taken the initiative to continually learn about a wide variety of subjects. . . Alison did far more for the University than her assigned work. Throughout her career she did not become bitter or resentful of her treatment. Instead she worked in all possible ways to improve the situation for other women." In the 1970s Alison Thorne helped organize and served on the USU Status of Women Committee. She helped create the USU Women's Studies Program, the Program for Women in International Development, and the USU Women's Center. In 1985 she presented the USU Faculty Honor Lecture, which she titled, "Visible and Invisible Women in the History of Land-Grant Colleges, 1989-1940." In 1988 she was invited to give a Centennial Lecture at USU on "Family and Community Studies from a Feminist Perspective." She was a founder and an active member of the League of Women Voters of Cache County, and also an active member of the American Association for the Advancement of University Women and the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. From 1964-69 she was a member (and in 1968-69 chair) of the Utah Governor's Committee on the Status of Women. Karen Morse, formerly on the USU faculty and now the President of Western Washington University, wrote in 1999 about the confidence that Alison Thorne engendered in women at USU: "One felt that so many things were possible by seeing and hearing this woman, unusual herself by the fact that she received an Economics Ph.D. when women rarely received graduate degrees, quietly talking, thinking, and acting in service to USU – and making progress and changes that were needed."  Alison Thorne's civic leadership extended across the region and the state. In 1959 she was elected to the Logan Board of Education and served, with four one-year terms as president, until 1971. As a member of the Cache Migrant Council in the 1960s, she helped pave the way for the education of migrant farm children by local public school districts; her grant-writing resulted in the creation of a Head Start Program in the Valley. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Utah School Boards Association (1965-70); Chair of the Urban-Rural Committee of the Utah Governor's Committee on Children and Youth (1970-71); member of the Utah State Building Board (1965-77); and a member, and for several years chair, of the Advisory Council to the Utah State Department of Employment Security (1966-82). Alison Thorne is survived by five children: Kip Thorne, the Richard Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (and his wife, Carolee Winstein); Barrie Thorne, Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley (and her husband, Peter Lyman); Sandra Thorne-Brown, an urban forester and environmentalist in Pocatello, Idaho (and her husband, Robert Brown); Avril Thorne, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz (and her husband, Joe Christy); and Lance Thorne, an environmental activist and an artisan and builder of fine handmade furniture in Takilma, Oregon.  Alison Thorne is also survived by five grandchildren - Kares Thorne, Bret Thorne (and his wife, Regine), Andrew Thorne-Lyman, Abiga
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 26, 2004
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