Joyce Thierer

Joyce Thierer, Emporia State professor emeritus and pioneer in historical interpretation, died Monday night at the age of 73 after a long illness. Here, Thierer listens to speakers honor educators lost in the field during the rededication ceremony on campus for the National Memorial to Fallen Educators in June, 2022.

“She broke the glass ceiling in western interpretation of women on the frontier.” 

Joyce Thierer, Emporia State professor emeritus and pioneer in historical interpretation, died Monday night at the age of 74 from complications due to a long term illness. Now, she is remembered by members of the ESU community, including Christopher Lovett, Thierer’s long-time friend and colleague, quoted above. 

“She wasn't afraid of anything,” Lovett said. “She was as hard as nails. There wasn't a thing that she couldn't do or wouldn't try.” 

Thierer graduated with her master’s degree from ESU in 1986 and was hired as a history professor soon after. She retired from her 30 year career at the university during the 2020 fiscal year due to health complications, according to Lovett.  

“Dr. Thierer really lived history,” said Michael Smith, professor and chair of Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology. “It wasn't a job. It was who she was. One of the classes she used to teach was called country folk and the land and that really captures her perfectly, she was country folk and the land.” 

In addition to teaching history at ESU, Thierer interpreted and performed historical accounts with her wife, Ann Birney, who survives her. Together they made Ride into History, traveling, performing and teaching historical societies, retreats, universities and other audiences about who came before them, according to their website 

“They'll use other primary source documents to research not only what they (women in history) would have said, but how they would have said it, what their word choices would have been, and so forth,” Smith said. 

Thierer’s performances of history, embodying women like Calamity Jane, are renowned in both Kansas and the world of western interpretation.  

“She did a performance of Calamity Jane for our annual celebration of Founders Day,” Lovett recounted. “And how she had the faculty in the audience eating out of her hand- how every word that she said, every mannerism, people were pulled to.” 

While she performed as women throughout history, she was also a “pioneer for women’s rights” and was determined to get things done on her own, according to Lovett.   

“I think women all across the campus should have looked up to her,” Lovett said. “For not only her knowledge and her expertise in your field, but sort of that groundbreaking pioneer that she really was.” 

Smith said he remembers how her office was filled with artifacts and how she used to teach by telling stories, calling her a true storyteller. There was even a student of hers who had a hard time adjusting to Thierer’s teaching style, and after Smith helped the student and Thierer talk about the situation, the student quickly came to “absolutely love” the class.  

“It was just amazing to watch her work,” Smith said. “She's irreplaceable. There's not another person in the world who's like her.” 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.