Richard William Leopold: NU professor was in elite `Quartet' of historians

Historians in the News

Richard W. Leopold came to Northwestern University from Harvard in 1948 and helped put together a small group of elite historians dubbed the "American Quartet" for their scholarship on U.S. history.

Dr. Leopold, 94, died Thursday, Nov. 23, in Evanston, an NU spokesman said.

Dr. Leopold, a Manhattan native with a gilt-edged academic resume, specialized in American diplomatic history and taught at Northwestern until 1980. For the last 17 years at NU, he was the William Smith Mason professor of history and taught a small-group discussion class on the history of American foreign policy.

He was a popular professor whose classes invariably filled up quickly despite a deserved reputation as a tough grader. "In a period of grade inflation, he never relented to the pressure to inflate his grades," said Steven Harper, a former student who is writing a biography of the professor due out next year.

Throughout his teaching career, Dr. Leopold, a lifelong bachelor, lived in a university apartment shared with graduate students. Retired history professor Clarence Ver Steeg recalled that Dr. Leopold readily accepted dinner invitations from married colleagues but said his focus was always on students. He maintained a steady correspondence with many long after they graduated.

"He was a person who attended to his students, particularly his undergraduate students," Ver Steeg said. "He was a great one for keeping in touch with students. They became an extended family for him."

Among those taking classes taught by Dr. Leopold were former U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, and current U.S. Rep. James Kolbe (R-Ariz.)....

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