Gloria Ricci Lothrop, a pioneering California historian who was the first female professor hired to teach in Cal Poly Pomona’s history department, died Feb. 2 in Arcadia after battling chronic pulmonary disease and pneumonia. She was 80.
Lothrop joined the faculty at Cal Poly Pomona in 1970. She spent the bulk of her career at the university before heading to Cal State Northridge in 1994, when she became the first W.P. Whitsett Professor of California History. She retired in 2004.
Cal Poly Pomona Professor Emeritus John Moore recalled when Lothrop was interviewed for a position on the faculty. Moore recounted that then-chair Werner Marti, a distinguished scholar in his own right, was determined to hire Lothrop.
“It was a big deal because there had never been a woman in the history department,” said Moore. “There were very few women on Cal Poly Pomona’s faculty at the time. Everybody was excited about it.”
Lothrop was born and raised in Los Angeles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and a master’s in 1963 from Immaculate Heart College, according to an obituary in the Los Angeles Times. She attended USC, earning her doctorate in history in 1970. She studied under noted early California historian Doyce Nunis Jr. and later co-wrote with him “A Guide to the History of California.”
Professor Emeritus Ralph Shaffer says that his colleague and friend taught a variety of courses in the department and was particularly passionate about women’s and California history. Before coming to the university, she taught at Beverly Hills High School. She later tapped into that experience to train others, he said.
“I think her greatest contribution at Cal Poly Pomona was that she directed our student teachers in the social sciences,” Shaffer says.
Lothrop and Shaffer remained close friends over the years, speaking once a week. After he lost most of his eyesight, Lothrop would call Shaffer to tell him about articles in the Los Angeles Times she thought he might like, he says.
Fellow Professor Emeritus Tony Brundage says that Lothrop brought history to life for her students by bringing household items to class so they could get an idea of what life was like in the past.
He described Lothrop as very warm and social, often hosting gatherings at her home for colleagues.
“She was wonderful,” Brundage says. “She was very engaged in the whole life of the department, not just on the teaching end, but on the social end. She really was a spark plug in the social life of the department.”
Besides her interest in women’s and California history, Lothrop, the daughter of immigrants from Tuscany, also had a passion for the history of Italian-Americans in the West. She helped to lead an effort to restore the historic Italian Hall on Olvera Street.
Thomas Andrews, former executive director of the Southern California Historical Society, writes in a tribute that Lothrop’s most personal research and writing was about Italian immigrants in Los Angeles and in the American West.
She told their story in her teaching, in public lectures and in numerous articles she wrote in The Californians, the Los Angeles Times, Journal of the West, Southern California Quarterly and L’Italo Americano, Andrews says. Her writings were compiled in “Fulfilling the Promise of California: An Anthology of Essays on the Italian American Experience in California,” published in 2000.
Andrews adds that Lothrop also assisted him with several projects and efforts at the historical society, including launching a speakers series for the organization’s centennial, compiling a “Guide to Historical Outings in Southern California and serving as one of the founding members of special collections at Azusa Pacific University.
“I will always remember Dr. Gloria Lothrop as a prodigious worker who fleshed out the skeletal frame of history and breathed new life into it through the fullness and intensity of her passion for what she felt were the important untold stories,” Andrews writes. “Her longstanding love affair with history thereby opened doors for the rest of us to come to a more complete understanding of our national identity.”
Lothrop was married four times, twice to her first husband. She is survived by her brother, George Ricci.