Raymond Muse became a teacher at the urging of his father, a farmer in the Ozarks, who didn’t want to see his son spend the rest of his life “looking at the hind end of a team of mules.”
During more than three decades at Washington State University, the history professor earned “favorite teacher” status from thousands of students. Faculty peers praised his leadership. His tenure as chairman was the longest in the department (1956-79).
Muse died October 28, 2003 in San Diego after a long illness. He was 88.
His teaching career began at age 18 in a rural one-room school, not far from Marshfield (Missouri) High School, where he had been a champion debater. The school board adjusted its school year so he could spend part of the year attending Southwest Missouri State University, where he graduated in 1938. He completed his master’s degree (1943) and a Ph.D. (1948) at Stanford. His master’s thesis was entitled, “The Constitution of Provincial Massachusetts.” His dissertation evaluated the work of William Douglass, a physician and historian in colonial America.
He joined the Army in 1942, and married Alberta Baldridge on Easter Sunday 1944 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Muse was a traffic analyst and cryptoanalyst in Asia, primarily in Delhi, India, until World War II ended. Then he taught at Southwest Missouri State before completing his doctorate at Stanford. He joined the WSU Department of History and Political Science in 1948. By 1956, he had become chair of the newly formed Department of History. By the time he retired, the history department was ranked among the top 15 percent in the U.S. The department had seven professors and offered courses in U.S., Latin American, European, and Asian history when he was named chair. By 1979, the department had grown to 22 faculty members and two lecturers.
“Ray had a national reputation among colleagues who knew him as a ‘consummate’ department chair, thanks to his ability to know all the buttons to press when he needed a new desk, a promotion for a department member, tenure, or whatever,” said long-time colleague Ed Bennett.
Muse played a major role in the establishment of the WSU Faculty Senate and the creation of the Asian studies and American studies programs.
“Ray’s strong suit was the ability to cast a rosy glow on the direst conditions or the gloomiest prospects and make a person or an entire department feel good about themselves,” offered David Stratton, Muse’s successor as chair. “He was a ‘human engineer.'”
Muse’s sense of humor was legendary. Not only did it appear in relations with colleagues, but it also enlivened his classes.
C.J. “James” Quann, WSU registrar emeritus, was enrolled in Muse’s American History class in the spring of 1951. It was a period when President Truman was being widely criticized. Quann remember Muse predicting, “You students mark my words. In due time, history will prove that Truman was one of the best president this country has ever had.”
Muse loved teaching, particularly the introductory U.S. history course.
“That’s where the freshmen were-and potential historians,” said Muse.
“There will always be a place [job] for top history graduates . . . It’s quite appropriate for historians to go into communications, journalism, government service, and many other places where they should have been going all the time but didn’t because they loved to teach. And that would include me.”
Muse served as a state committeeman for the Democratic Party. He was a fervent supporter of civil liberties and free speech, demonstrated best perhaps by his testimony in the landmark John Goldmark libel trial in 1964.
The eighth floor of Orton Hall, a student residence, and the history department office in Wilson Hall, are named for Muse.
Alberta, Muse’s wife of 24 years, died in 1968. In August 1969, Muse married Marianne Johnson, widow of the late Verner L. Johnson of Pullman. Muse’s survivors include his widow and stepsons, Dean L. Johnson (’65 English), Annapolis, Maryland; Owen V. Johnson (’68 History), Bloomington, Indiana, and Kyle R. Jansson, Monmouth, Oregon. Memorial gifts may be made to the Raymond Muse Scholarship Fund, WSU Department of History, PO Box 644030, Pullman, Washington 99164-4030.