In Memoriam: Daniel Wilson

Emeritus Professor of History Daniel J. Wilson of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, died on Friday, June 11. Wilson will be remembered in a celebration of life on October 10 in Muhlenberg's Gideon F. Egner Chapel.

 Friday, October 1, 2021 00:02 PM

The memorial service for Professor Daniel Wilson will be held on Sunday, October 10 at 2 p.m. Guests must be vaccinated and wear a mask for the duration of the service. A live stream will be available for those unable to attend in person.


Daniel WilsonFor more than 40 years, Wilson served as a professor in Muhlenberg’s history department. He earned his bachelor’s from The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and his master’s and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to his work at Muhlenberg, he taught at John Hopkins and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Wilson joined the Muhlenberg faculty in 1978 and made countless contributions to the College community during his decades of service. He retired as professor of history in 2018.

In his early childhood, Wilson contracted polio, months before the Salk vaccine was available for children his age. During graduate school, he distanced himself from the history of medicine due to the significant degree that a disease had shaped his own life. While teaching at Muhlenberg in the 1980s, his own health complications—and history with health stigma—coincided with the growing fear and uncertainty that was present at the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Research and writing about polio from a survivor's perspective shaped his interest in the history of medicine, which resulted in valuable additions to public health, the emerging field of disability studies and Muhlenberg's curriculum.

During his time at the College, Wilson introduced new courses in African American history (now Africana studies), women's history, environmental history and the history of medicine. He served on the faculty committee that successfully proposed the addition of a women’s & gender studies minor, served on the curriculum committee when a film studies major was adopted and was one of the faculty who championed the creation of the Public Health Program at Muhlenberg.

His contributions to scholarship include the publication of eight books, including three on the polio epidemic and its survivors. He was a prolific author and editor, writing or contributing to dozens of articles and other works in his decades of study. Throughout his career and into retirement, he continued to serve as an expert on disability studies and on polio and related outbreaks in newspapers and on radio; his final interviews drew comparisons between the COVID-19 and polio responses, including the need for the development and distribution of vaccines.

Wilson participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute on Disability Studies—an emerging field of study—in 2000 and was the recipient of several prestigious fellowships and grants from institutions including the NEH, The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the American Council of Learned Societies. He was awarded the Pennsylvanians with Disabilities Day Award in 2012.

His colleagues remember Wilson as a mentor in pedagogy and scholarship and as someone who could navigate difficult situations with an appropriate degree of good humor. His approach to teaching and his rapport with students was grounded in the belief that students must have ownership of their educational journey, with faculty and staff available to serve as mentors and guides. Wilson influenced generations of alumni, many of whom credit their career paths and research interests to his influence and encouragement. He has been lauded as an outstanding citizen of the College, with service on a majority of faculty committees and a commitment and passion for ensuring the College was following its mission to serve its students, faculty and staff. For many years, he served as advisor to the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program.

Dan and his wife of 38 years, Carol, were perennial supporters of Muhlenberg College and its faculty and students. The couple created an endowed fund, The Daniel J. and Carol Shiner Wilson Grant for the Completion of Scholarly Projects, to assist faculty with the completion of a significant work of scholarship or comparable professional work. The Wilsons have been recognized as members of the Anna Maria Weiser Muhlenberg Circle of the College's Lifetime Giving Society, of the Circle of 1848 Society and of the Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Society.

At Muhlenberg, he was frequently cited for his contributions to scholarship, teaching and service. He was awarded the Class of 1932 Research Professorship in both 1986 and in 2008 and was also a recipient of the Paul C. Empie Memorial Award (2005) and Outstanding Advisor to First-Year Students (1998).

Beyond Muhlenberg, he helped establish the Disability History Association and served on the editorial board of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine— the premier journal in the field. He was a board member and president of the Board of Post-Polio Health International. He also served on the board of the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, including two terms as president, as well as three terms on the board of the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital. 

Wilson is survived by his wife, his brother, his brother-in-law, sister-in-law and nieces and nephews.