In Memoriam: Frances Bartlett Kinne

May 23, 1917 to May 10, 2020

Frances Bartlett Kinne
Frances Bartlett Kinne

A trailblazer in education, both in Jacksonville and throughout the world, Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, matriarch of Jacksonville University, passed away May 10 at the age of 102. She was only two weeks shy of her 103rd birthday.

A small-town Iowa girl, who had a love for music and literature, Kinne rose to become the first woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Frankfurt in Germany, and later became the first female dean of a fine arts college in the United States and the first woman to serve as president of a Florida university – Jacksonville University – as well as the first chancellor of JU.

In Jacksonville, she was also the first female member of the Downtown Rotary Club and of the River Club and was the inaugural winner of the EVE Award.  In 1973 she received the first Florida Governor’s Award for the arts. She is also a Florida Women’s Hall of Fame inductee and is listed on 24 different Who’s Who lists, including Who’s Who in the World.

In 2000, her autobiography, Iowa Girl: The President Wears a Skirt, was published, which included forewards by Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and Winston Churchill, grandson of Britian’s former prime minister.

“Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne leaves behind an incredible legacy,” said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “She was an inspiration for women across the globe. Not only was Dr. Kinne and incredible educator, administrator, accomplished musician, and author, she was the first female university president in the State of Florida, and the second in the United States. She paved an important path for women everywhere, and she will be greatly missed.”

Born in Story City, Iowa, to Bertha Olson Bartlett, who ran the town library and Charles M. Bartlett, who published her hometown newspaper, Kinne graduated from high school in 1934 and attended Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, which is now known as the University of Northern Iowa. She took piano lessons at Iowa State University in the summers, and later received her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Drake University. After graduation, she worked as a public-school music teacher and as a choral and instrumental conductor for several central Iowa schools.

In World War II, she became a U.S, Army entertainer and served as a United States Army Hostess at Camp Crowder in Missouri, eventually becoming the head hostess in a program that served 70,000 servicemen.

Once the war was over, Kinne served as recreational director at a V.A. hospital in Kansas, which was where she met her first husband, Lt. Colonel Harry Kinne. The couple lived in China in 1948 and were forced to be evacuated to the country’s interior during the communist revolution. Later, during the Korean War, her husband was posted to General MacArthur’s staff, and she served as director of music and assistant entertainment director for the Far East Command for the U.S, Army’s Special Services.

In 1955, her husband was posted in Germany, and Kinne completed her Ph.D. at the University of Frankfurt. In 1958 the couple moved to Florida, where her husband accepted a position in the Florida National Guard and Kinne became involved with Jacksonville University.

She initially joined the riverfront college as a humanities professor, a position she only expected to hold for a short time. However, her tenure ended up spanning 62 years. 

In 1960 she founded JU’s College of Fine Arts, and nine years later she rose to become dean of the program, before taking over as president of the university in 1979, a position she held for a decade. During her tenure as president she established the Davis College of Business, the Keigwin School of Nursing, and eliminated the university’s debt within 18 months of her appointment. In 1983, she launched the university’s 50-year Golden Anniversary Campaign and raised $16 million for the school.

“Fran was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime mentor. What’s remarkable about her is that she represented that role to literally hundreds and hundreds of people,” said JU President Tim Cost, who added she was famously known on campus as “capturing the lady in red.”

“She had rare and special gifts that she was able to share. Her combination of enthusiasm, optimism, and pragmatism was unrivaled in any leader I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my 40 years since graduating from college.”

Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne with Hollywood superstars Jack Benny (left) and Bob Hope (right)
Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne with Hollywood superstars Jack Benny (left) and Bob Hope (right)

Kinne raised the national profile of JU by inviting world-famous celebrities to visit the school, including President Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Charlton Heston, Duke Ellington, Linus Pauling, Margaret Mead, Ross Perot, and Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops. She also convinced George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, to have his baseball team play an exhibition game against JU’s collegiate team as a fundraiser for the school. 

Upon her retirement as JU president, she was immediately elected as first chancellor of JU by its board of trustees.

JU named her Professor of the Year in both 1961 and 1962, and Business and Professional Women’s Clubs of Greater Jacksonville granted her the Distinguished Achievement Award. She was also named by President Ronald Reagan to chair the President’s Council of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. On Nov. 1, 2012, the City of Jacksonville proclaimed Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne Day.

“Dr. Kinne was an excellent connector, mentor and role model for JU students through their undergraduate years and beyond,” said Nina Waters, president of The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida and an alumna of JU.

Cost agreed. He said every holiday season, when he would visit with Kinne at her home, he usually found her to be in the middle of corresponding with more than 2,000 JU alumni that stayed in regular touch with her. “To see the joy and gratitude in her interactions with our graduates was unforgettable,” he said.

Kinne was preceded in death by Col. Harry L. Kinne, her first husband who died in 1981, and Col. M. Worthington Bordley Jr., her second husband who died in 1996.

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