Remembering Don B. Wilmeth

February 26, 2020

Don B. Wilmeth 2015 Lecture, courtesy of Brown University LibraryDon B. Wilmeth 2015 Lecture, courtesy of Brown University Library

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts & Performance Studies, Don B. Wilmeth.


Don led the department for many of his 36 years at Brown until he retired in 2003. He was a tireless and important scholar of American popular culture and performance, a renowned teacher and editor and a sometime actor. Please see his full bio below. 

In lieu of flowers, consider donating to the Wilmeth Lecture Fun at the Brown University Library. 

1. By check made out to Brown University, sent to:

Brown University Library
10 Prospect St, Box A
Providence, RI 02912
Include "Wilmeth" in the note field

2. Online:
Choose "other" and type "Wilmeth Fund" in the box

Don B. Wilmeth (Ph.D., U. of Illinois, 1964), born in Houston, Texas, in 1939, who resided in Keene, New Hampshire, was Asa Messer Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Theatre and of English, Brown University, retiring in 2003 after thirty-six years there, sixteen as chair of the theatre department.

He was the author, editor, coeditor, or series editor of over four dozen books, including the award-winning three-volume Cambridge History of American Theatre, which has been issued in a paperback edition. For a dozen years, he was series editor for Cambridge University Press's "Studies in American Theatre and Drama" and was editor of Palgrave Macmillan's "Studies in Theatre and Performance History." In 2007 he completed a new edition of the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. In recent years, in addition to Brown, he has taught at Smith College, Tufts University, and Trinity University (Texas), and been a distinguished speaker at various universities and professional meetings, including the Universities of Indiana, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the Mid-American Theatre Conference where he served as respondent. 

He is considered a pioneer in the serious study of American popular entertainment (he has been an on-screen interviewee for PBS specials on Houdini and Annie Oakley) and an established authority on the history of American theatre and drama (he was recently called the “dean of American theatre history”). A former president of the American Society for Theatre Research and dean emeritus of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, Don Wilmeth recently served as vice president of the International Shaw Society, hosting an international Bernard Shaw conference at Brown, June 2006, and as a member of the board of the Theatre Library Association. He was the recipient of career and research recognitions from the New England Theatre Conference, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the Society for Theatre Research (UK), the American Society for Theatre Research, and the Theatre Library Association. ATHE also honored him for his work as an editor. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Mr. Wilmeth was an actor (recently Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun and Capt. Hook in the musical Peter Pan) and director, and an ardent collector of theatre and entertainment ephemera and memorabilia, as well as books on the history of the theatre (over 5,000). He was a proud member of the local (Keene) Hourglass Readers. He has mounted recent exhibits drawn from his collection at Franklin Pierce University as well as one at the Cheshire County (NH) Historical Society. During the Brown University commencement in 2008 he received the William Williams Award, the most prestigious honor given by the Brown University Library. It is presented on an irregular basis to individuals who have provided extraordinary support for the Brown library. 



Click here for the American Theatre Magazine Tribute: 

Don B. Wilmeth: Theatre Historian of Olympian Proportions
The writer, editor, and professor leaves behind a legacy of joy and generosity as well as his influential contributions to performance scholarship.