Bernice was born on February 19, 1911, in Ashland, Kentucky. She was the only child of Elbert Munsey and Myrtle L. Fox. Her father died in 1934. She attended school in Ashland, where she studied Latin and earned a medal which she displayed proudly in her home throughout her life. This medal is now on display in the Capron Classics Room at Monmouth College. In 1932 Fox graduated magna cum laude from Kentucky Wesleyan College, a private Methodist college in Owensboro, Kentucky and then earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Kentucky in 1934.
At that time the University of Kentucky did not offer a Ph.D. in English but had an arrangement with the University of Michigan to accept one Kentucky MA to its Ph.D. program if the individual accepted a teaching assistantship. Kentucky usually submitted the names of three candidates to Michigan for this award but in 1934 only offered one candidate, Bernice Fox, in order to ensure her acceptance. Michigan returned their recommendation unopened, with an explanation that they were not interested in admitting a woman to their program, especially a young woman, because she would be a “distracting influence” on the men in the department (!).
So, Fox entered the Ph.D. program at Ohio State University, where she served as a graduate assistant and completed successfully all her pre-doctoral work for the degree except the oral exam which she took in 1939. Due to circumstances which Fox later described as unfair, she did not pass the oral exam which she took in 1939 and which would have made her ABD (“all but dissertation”). One of her professors even told her that she should “go home, find a nice fellow, get married and raise a family (!) (!).”
Fox left OSU at the end of that academic year and spent the next eight years completely divorced from academic work. Among other things, she served as a weather observer at the Columbus airport, as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and as an assistant to a CPA. She enjoyed these various jobs, but her real love was for teaching.
In 1947 one of her professors from the University of Kentucky was attending a professional meeting in Columbus, looked her up and convinced her to reconsider a teaching career. He argued that colleges were desperately in need of professors with all the veterans returning to the college and the teaching ranks so depleted by the war. So she applied for a position at Monmouth College where she was hired in 1947 to teach English. After becoming a professor, Fox contacted OSU about the possibility of completing her doctorate and was told that they would be delighted to have her in their Ph.D. program but that the statute of limitations on her previous work had expired and she would have to start all over.
Several years later, faculty at the Department of Classics at Loyola University told Fox that if she could satisfy their one-year residency requirement they would promise that they would send her back to Monmouth with a Ph.D. Unfortunately, her personal circumstances and obligations made it impossible for Fox to take a leave of absence from Monmouth for that purpose.
At Monmouth she eventually began teaching courses in Latin as well as English and gradually transitioned entirely to the Classics Department, where she taught all levels of Latin and developed very popular courses in Word Elements and Classical Mythology for which she wrote her own, privately published, textbooks. After the retirement of Prof. Harold Ralston in 1970, she was named chair of the Monmouth Classics department and also began teaching Greek, usually as an overload. In 1977 she was promoted to full professor. She retired from Monmouth College in 1981. Although she had at least one serious marriage proposal while she was living in Monmouth, Fox never married, in part, she said, because she had had a hysterectomy, She lived for many years in Monmouth with her widowed mother, who died in 1978, and with Lucille D. (“Lucy”) Winters, whom Fox always referred to as her “cousin” (a term commonly used in her day to indicate that they were not related but just friends). An Illinois native, Lucy was a World War II Marine Corps veteran and for many years worked for the Illinois Extension Service in Monmouth. She had been married and had a daughter. Lucy died in 1992.
In recognition of her many years of dedication to the Classics, the college in 1985 established both a Classics Writing Contest for high school students and an annual Classics Lecture series in her honor and in 1991 the college awarded her an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In 1992 the college published Foxfestschrift, a collection of essays by her colleagues and former students in honor of her 80th birthday. She died in 2003.
Fox was known for her enthusiastic and unconventional teaching methods. “I teach on top of my desk,” she once said. “I don’t put on a dance up there; I sit up there while I teach. It keeps the desk from separating me from the students.” She taught many of her advanced Latin classes in the basement recreation room of her home at 1025 Cramer Ct. in Monmouth, only a few blocks from campus. Often these classes ended with servings of strawberry shortcake.
During her long career at Monmouth, Fox never once took a sabbatical, although she traveled frequently to Europe during summers, usually accompanied by two or more of her students. On these trips she always stayed at the Hotel Forum, a short walk from the Imperial fora in Rome. In her lectures she often included slides from her travels as well as cartoons depicting Classical themes from newspapers and publications like The New Yorker, and even erotic cartoons from such publications as Playboy magazine.
She had a razor-sharp wit. When a well-meaning alumnus once remarked that she had not changed a bit since he last saw her, she responded, “I hope I didn’t look this old fifteen years ago!” She was also very conscious of grammatical rules in English as well as Latin, and did not hesitate to correct those who used language incorrectly.
In 1956 she founded the Gamma Omicron Chapter of Eta Sigma Phi at Monmouth College and faithfully took students to the national convention every year. Under her leadership the chapter did not fail to attend convention from 1957 until 1985, an attendance record unmatched by any other chapter and a record of which Fox was very proud. Fox served as a national trustee of Eta Sigma Phi from 1970 until 1980 and continued as an honorary trustee from 1980 until 2003. In 1973–74 she served as editor of Nuntius, the newsletter of Eta Sigma Phi. Thanks to a generous bequest from the Fox estate, Eta Sigma Phi established after her death the Bernice L. Fox Teacher Training Scholarship to encourage student members of the society to pursue careers as K-12 teachers of Latin.
Fox was also very active in the Illinois Classical Conference, at which she gave many presentations and which she served as president in 1964, when the organization met at the Pere Marquette Hotel in Peoria, Illinois. She also several times hosted the Illinois Latin Tournament at Monmouth College.
Fox was a prolific correspondent and developed epistolary friendships with a number of classical colleagues and writers, including Alexander Lenard, a Hungarian writer and translator who wrote Winnie Ille Pu, a Latin translation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Lenard’s translation was the first Latin book to reach the best seller list of the New York Times in 1961. Fox was so taken with this book that she wrote to Lenard and they became not only frequent correspondents but also good friends. Lenard even visited Fox in Monmouth and his son Hans-Gerd attended the college for a number of years.
Inspired by Lenard and by her own love of Latin, Fox translated several English language books and stories into Latin. One of her earliest translations was Fabula de Quarto Mago (Van Dyke’s Story of the Other Wise Man). Following her retirement, she published privately, in 1990, Sex Fabulae Breves, a collection of six short stories including Maupassant’s “The Necklace” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi. She also translated E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web into Latin as Tela Charlottae. published by Harper Collins in 1991.
Fox also developed a long correspondence and friendship with Richard Lederer, a popular writer of books and newspaper columns about the English language. In 1991 Lederer was invited to be give the annual Fox Classics Lecture, which he entitled “Latina Non Mortua Est.”
Other long-term correspondents included Peter Arnott, professor of Drama at Tufts University and known for his one-person marionette shows of Greek and Roman plays; Konrad Gries, professor of Classics at Queens College of the City University of New York and editor of The Classical Outlook; Brent M. Froberg, professor of Classics at the University of South Dakota; Raymond Den Adel, professor of Classics at Rockford College in Illinois; Josef Eberle, a German poet and newspaper editor, who spendt his leisure time writing and publishing volumes of modern Latin poetry; and D. Herbert Abel of Loyola University in Chicago.
She was especially proud of those of her students who went on to become high school teachers of Latin or college professors. These included Andrew Adams MC’66, who taught Classics at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois; Mary Ryder MC’72, who first taught Latin at Normal High School in Normal, Illinois and later taught English at South Dakota State University; Betty Moore Whittaker MC’64, who taught Latin at high schools in Illinois and Indiana; and LeaAnn Smoley Osburn MC’72, who taught Latin at Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois. Marcene Holverson Farley MC’84, who became the Latin teacher at Pekin High School, front-loaded most of her college Latin as a first-year student at Monmouth because Fox was retiring at the end of that year. Also among Bernice’s students were Jackie Urban and Virginia Hellenga, both of whom taught Latin at Monmouth High School. Hellenga also later taught Latin at Monmouth College.