Arthur Power Dudden, 87, a history professor at Bryn Mawr College who chronicled political humor in America, died of kidney failure Oct. 14 at home.
Dr. Dudden wrote or edited 16 books, including The Assault of Laughter, American Humor, and Pardon Us, Mr. President!
In 1975 he told an Inquirer reporter: "Making fun of our political leaders is the ordinary person's way of fighting back against a system that promises more than it delivers." He said humorists H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Dick Gregory "surely caused us to look at the familiar pomposities, hypocrisies, and injustices with new, different eyes."
Dr. Dudden explained to a reporter in 1987 that "the state of political humor often is a barometer of the country's political health." World War II and the Cold War and its aftermath, he said, "suppressed our traditional toleration for poking fun at our leaders." Watergate, though, he said, let the fun shine in again with lapel pins such as "Impeach With Honor" and "Jail to the Chief."
Dr. Dudden's daughter, Kathleen Rowlands, said that her father had a wonderful sense of humor, and that she and her two sisters had asked friends to share funny stories at his memorial service.
Dr. Dudden's more scholarly books include The American Pacific: From the Old China Trade to the Present, which he was inspired to write while visiting his daughter when she lived in Hawaii. He would look out at the ocean and wonder, "How did we get here?" she said.
The American Pacific was published in 1992, the year he retired from Bryn Mawr after a 42-year career. He was a charismatic teacher and a mentor to his students and other young people, his daughter said.
Drew Gilpin Faust, an academic administrator and historian, was a student of Dr. Dudden's at Bryn Mawr. At her invitation, he attended her installation as the first female president of Harvard University in 2007. "He was an important formative influence in my evolution as a historian of the American past," she said.
For years, Dr. Dudden took his U.S. history students to the Delaware River to visit the Olympia, Adm. George Dewey's flagship in the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. In 1957, he wrote impassioned editorials for The Inquirer and the New York Times when it appeared the ship would be broken up for scrap. "There on those rotting decks," he wrote, "where Dewey reportedly told Gridley to fire upon the Spanish when ready, the twentieth century of world power and responsibility began for the United States. All of a sudden, the United States became a major factor in the tangled affairs of the Far East."
He argued the ship had the same educational purposes as a battlefield, museum, or monument. The Olympia is now part of Independence Seaport Museum's Historic Ship Zone.
Dr. Dudden also was active in the preservation of Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, the 1704 home of Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental and Confederation Congresses. He served on the board of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Dudden grew up in Detroit and remained a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne University.
During World War II, he served in the Navy aboard blimps patrolling the Mediterranean for German U-boats. After his discharge, he earned a master's degree and doctorate in history from the University of Michigan. He joined the Bryn Mawr faculty in 1950 and for many years chaired the history department. He was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Princeton Universities, and Trinity and Haverford Colleges.
From 1959 to 1960 he was a Fulbright scholar in Copenhagen, Denmark, and later was founding president of the Fulbright Alumni Association. In 1987 he published the book The Fulbright Experience.
He was a past treasurer and executive director of the American Studies Association and a consultant to the Peace Corps, training volunteers in American history.
For 40 years, Dr. Dudden was married to Adrianne Onderdonk Dudden, an artist and a book designer. She died in 2005. In their home, they were hosts of a salon that featured good food and good conversation, said Allen F. Davis, a historian and longtime friend.
In addition to his daughter Kathleen, Dr. Dudden is survived by daughters Candace and Alexis, six grandsons, and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his former wife, Millicent Dillon. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at the Thomas Great Hall, Bryn Mawr College, 256 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr.