Knowlton Johnson ’39 dies
Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’39, a lifelong member
of the Reed community, died in her sleep, on October 17 at age 86 in Beaverton,
Oregon. As both an alumna and a former staff member, Johnson was known
for her warmth, understanding, and dedication to Reed College.
Johnson was born to a
Reed faculty family on September 30, 1916. As the daughter of Ansel A. “Tony” Knowlton,
distinguished professor of physics, she lived on campus throughout her
childhood. Raised amid a spirit of academic passion, Johnson grew up
with professors and fellow faculty children, all sharing a love of learning.
Eventually attending Reed herself, Johnson spent five years in undergraduate
studies before graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in French language
When Johnson graduated from Reed in 1939, her commitment
to the college had only just begun. Initially, she worked for the Portland
Library Association (Multnomah County Library) as an assistant librarian
at Washington High School. In 1940 she married her college sweetheart,
Kenneth Johnson ’40. Soon after, she returned to Reed and started
working part time for her father in 1942 as a secretary and “book
checker” in the physics department. Following that period Johnson
began her 36-year association with Reed’s registrar’s office,
first as assistant to the registrar, then as recorder, and finally as
registrar, a position she maintained for 19 years.
As registrar, Johnson
combined dedicated standards with friendly generosity and grace. She
was known as a thoughtful leader and mentor for faculty and staff members
alike, always seen with a smile on her face. In particular, she worked
to fit a growing student body into a limited number of classrooms, kept
student records, made out schedules, and assigned rooms to faculty members,
all with only pen, ink, and a typewriter. In the faculty resolution passed
on her retirement, Marvin Levich, professor of philosophy, said, “Ellen
as registrar was a remarkable human being, embodying the standards and
spirit of Reed. She knew and was committed to standards, but she also
had the rare sensitivity of knowing when an exception was warranted and
the rare skill of knowing how to get it approved.”
served as assistant secretary for the board of trustees during her time
as registrar. After retiring, she continued her dedication to the college
as a member of the alumni board and later as an alumni trustee from 1997
to 2001. As a fitting tribute to her achievements and wisdom, Johnson
and her husband established the Ellen Knowlton Scholarship Fund. During
a recent visit to campus, she shared the fact that she had known and
met every president of Reed from Foster to Koblik.
Throughout her lifetime
Johnson participated in many activities, including volunteering at the
Beaverton City Library, doing book reviews for her reading group, volunteering
for college reunions, working as a member of the Foster-Scholz steering
committee, and, of particular interest to her, growing orchids and gardening.
Kenneth Johnson died in 1989. She is survived by three nephews.