Professor Mary Bilder, a faculty member at BC Law School since 1994 and the 2016 winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize in history, has been appointed Founders Chair professor, an esteemed University honor.
“This appointment recognizes her excellence as a teacher, a scholar, and a University citizen,” said Dean Vincent Rougeau. “I cannot think of a more deserving person to hold the Founders Chair.” Rougeau called Bilder a “beloved” teacher and mentor to her students and a groundbreaking historian, pointing out that “her latest book, Madison’s Hand, has catapulted her into the national spotlight, elevating the stature of Boston College in the process.”
Madison’s Hand, which offers a close reading of James Madison’s notes on the 1787 Constitutional Convention (see previous BC Law Magazine story), has been featured on the front page of the Washington Post. A Wall Street Journal review called the book “superb.” It recently won the Bancroft Prize, perhaps the highest honor for an academic study of US history. Past winners include such luminaries as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., George F. Kennan, and Samuel Eliot Morison.
University Provost David Quigley echoed Rougeau’s praise of Bilder, saying, “Mary Bilder’s teaching and scholarship have long been exemplary, and this spring’s Bancroft Prize is just the latest recognition of her pioneering work at the intersections of law and history. Her many fans at Boston College are pleased to see her appointment to the Founders Chair, and we look forward to the next chapter in her remarkable career.”
A frequent lecturer and guest on panels, Bilder welcomed the appointment, explaining that it “signals that your university is behind you…. In a field where most of the writers are men, it’s a very helpful signal when one goes out in the public-speaking world.”
The daughter and granddaughter of lawyers, Bilder came to BC Law School straight out of Harvard, where she earned a JD and a doctorate in history. She teaches constitutional history, as well as property and estates and trusts. Her students, she said, are “very interested in the founding generation as people. I think you see that in the popularity of [the Broadway hit show] Hamilton. The Founders were great men but flawed in interesting ways”—an insight that informs her book on Madison.
“I’ve spent my whole career at BC Law,” said Bilder, “so [the appointment as Founders Chair professor] really means a lot to me.” Citing the support of colleagues and summer stipends from the Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar program, she added, “I don’t think I could have written Madison’s Hand anywhere else.”
A public lecture and reception marking the Founders Chair appointment will be held in the fall.