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Professor, author connects to past through writing
Posted 06/07/2017 08:43AM


Jean Choate has always loved to learn. It started when she was a child, growing up in the Mid-West and followed her all the way through college. She had plans to earn a doctorate degree. Fate, however, stepped in.

"After college, I went on to graduate school where I had a fellowship, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. I had a boyfriend too ... and he was going to seminary," she said.

"And he proposed to me and I was thinking about it for about a year. I finally looked around. I thought, 'he's the nicest man that I've seen around.' So I accepted his offer. I said OK I'll marry you then I went off to the graduate department and said, 'I don't need a PhD ... I'm getting married,' which is crazy but at the time it seemed logical."

The two did marry and went on to have four children. Choate's husband, Woodrow, spent his time preaching in rural churches while she taught in high schools and colleges.

"I did finish the master's degree in political science so I could do that," she noted.

While she was content, Choate was plagued by the fact that she never got that PhD she so wanted. Finally she decided it was something she must do. She went back to school and wrapped up the degree.

"My husband told me after ... 'Jean, you have followed me for 30 years and haven't complained. If you get a job, I will go retire and go with you,'" she said.

That was precisely what happened. The couple moved to Michigan, where she pursued teaching on the college level. The harsh winters began to take a toll and after seven years, they were ready to make a change.

"My husband said 'can't you find another place ... it is awful cold,'" she said with a laugh.

"So when our last child was in college, I started sending letters around. And I got an offer here."

Choate has now taught history at the College of Coastal Georgia for 18 years. Her husband, ever supportive, also found a role as a chaplain at Hospice of the Golden Isles.

She continued to teach but also developed a passion for writing books. Her first publication was "Disputed Ground: Farm Groups That Opposed the New Deal."

But that wasn't the end of her writing career, instead it was just the beginning. The second book, Choate was asked to write by Nova Press.

"That was about Eliza Johnson," she said.

Choate continued on, taking on another book. This time, however, it was something a little more personal.

"I was thinking about my ancestor who was impressed into the British Navy and thought I might be able to find out something about that. I found out that a lot of men were impressed into the British Navy," she said. "Most of them didn't have a lot of education but they wrote about their experiences. So I put together a book on these oppressed fellows."

Most recently, Choate turned her attention to the women of Coastal Georgia.

"I read a book called 'Mothers of Invention.' I thought ... this was a book about Civil War, women on the plantations and how they became more independent," she said. "I have four real talented kids ... one was a lawyer and is now a judge. She suggested that I check with the author to see if I could use some of her ideas (for a book)."

The author is the president of Harvard University, Drew Faust.

"I wrote her and she wrote me back and said she would be delighted. So I started doing research," she said.

That was the beginning of "Voices Seldom Heard: Women, Blacks and Children on the Georgia Coast, 1850 to 1870." The book is currently available at the college, Hofwyl Broadfield, as well as at the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.

"When it was done, I actually felt like crying because it was done ... because there isn't any more to do on it," she said. "I haven't decided what is next though."

Sadly, Choate's husband passed away, but she continues to follow her passion of teaching and writing. She also finds time to do volunteer work in a number of capacities throughout the community. Among those are reading to preschoolers through the Reading Rockets program and serving at the International Seafarer's Center. Choate is also a guide at Hofwyl Broadfield.

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