Graduate School

Dorothy Carter: A Woman For All Seasons

Posted by Elisabeth Jakab on September 21, 2012
Dorothy Carter
Dorothy Carter

Dr. Dorothy Ateca Carter, one of the first African American Graduate Faculty members at Bank Street from the late 1960s to her retirement in the 1980s, who then again worked at Bank Street in the 1990s, died on September 14, 2012, at the age of 94.

Inspiring Teacher and Colleague

Dorothy taught child development and language, literature, and emergent literacy. She headed up Bank Street’s Teacher Corps, the urban education program focused in Central Harlem, and worked as a consultant for the Follow Through program. She was also Bank Street’s first Diversity Committee chair.

Linda Levine, a longtime member of the Graduate Faculty, remembers being Dorothy’s student in a children’s literature course in the 1970s. Says Linda, “she inspired us all with her profound insights and eloquent reading of classic and more recent books for children.” When Linda became Dorothy's colleague in the 90s, she was similarly inspired by Dorothy’s dedication to advance social justice in and through education.

Graduate faculty member Sal Vascellaro recalls her visits to his graduate literature class: “She talked about the deep meanings of literature in children’s lives. Students were intrigued by the power of her thinking, by her passionate caring for children, by the way she so articulately evoked the world of children. Both in my class and in her children’s books, she illuminated the universal — the child struggling with aspects of the human condition, pivotal moments in a child’s life.”

Early Days in the Theatre

A 1942 drama graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Dorothy received a Rosenwald Fellowship to The New School’s Dramatic Workshop, studying with Stella Adler and Workshop founder Erwin Piscator. On Broadway, she had roles in Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit (1945) and Louis Peterson’s Take a Giant Step (1953); she also acted Off Broadway and was a member of the American Negro Theatre. Adler greatly praised her talent, but cautioned that roles for African American women were limited.

When her husband, Dr. James M. Carter, died in 1957, Dorothy had to raise two young children alone. Having always been interested in how children learn and the role of literature in their lives, she had taught high school English in 1944 while her husband interned at the Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. Now she returned to teaching, getting her certification in 1958, and an M.S. in Education, specializing in Reading and Children’s Literature, in 1964. She was a schoolteacher, Milwaukee Elementary Curriculum Supervisor, and University of Wisconsin Reading Instructor. After being recruited to Bank Street by Dean Gordon Klopf and President Jack Niemeyer, she studied at Teachers College, Columbia University, receiving her Ed.D. in 1981.

Dorothy Carter with Elisabeth Jakab and Dorothy's daughter Carol.
Dorothy Carter, Elisabeth Jakab, Carol Carter

Books, the Writers Lab, and Directing

In her semi-retirement, Dorothy published three children’s books with Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All of them drew on the small segregated Southern town of her childhood:

Eric Carle and Dorothy Carter
Eric Carle with Dorothy Carter

From 2004, she chaired the Bank Street Writers Lab, a supportive workshop for professional children’s book writers founded by Lucy Sprague Mitchell in 1937. Under Dorothy, Writers Lab meetings were hugely stimulating, visionary, and energizing. As one member summed it up, “I learned from her and was inspired by her every time I had the privilege of being in her presence.”

She also directed many plays for the Morningside Players, a repertory theatre company that draws on professional actors for its productions. A Writers Lab member who attended her presentation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard said  “It was, hands down, the best, most illuminating, and nuanced version I have ever seen, and that was also the opinion of an actress friend who came with me.”

An Award from Bank Street

In June 2006, then-Bank Street President Augusta Souza Kappner presented Dorothy with the first Lucy Sprague Mitchell Award, “For embodying and carrying on the values of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Bank Street founder, in her work with children, educators, the Bank Street Writer’s Lab, as a longtime faculty member, and as the author of outstanding books for children.”

Dorothy is survived by her children, Carol Anne Carter and James M. Carter, Jr.; a grandson, James Yates Carter; three brothers; and many nieces and nephews.

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About the Author

Elisabeth Jakab, formerly a writer and project manager in Bank Street’s Division of Institutional Advancement, and who has published three children’s books, worked closely with Dorothy Carter in helping to manage the Writers Lab, and also participated as a member.