October 2, 2023

A French Connection: Scholarship Established Through Beloved Professor’s Estate

Juliette Breffort Blessing came to Mary Washington in 1957 to share her worldly knowledge of all things French, including language, theater, and cultural history. Former students remember her flair for fashion, her wonderful accent, and her expert and often life-changing advice and guidance.

Juliette Breffort Blessing as featured in the 1974 Battlefield

Juliette Breffort Blessing as featured in the 1974 Battlefield

“I first met Madame Blessing when I was a freshman in her French Civilization and Literature class,” says Kathy Liggett Leis ’69. “Thanks to her expert teaching, I became totally enamored with the subject and changed my major to French. Her faith in me was unwavering.”

UMW Professor Ana Garcia Chichester ’76 remembers Dr. Blessing as a dedicated professor and role model. “I was a French major, so I had several courses with her and benefited from her love of literature,” says Ana. “I still remember the nineteenth century poetry course I took with her. She loved to read and recite poetry to our class. Her spoken French was beautiful and she was very proud of her Parisian accent!”

Other students, including Catherine B. Elwell ’73, remember Dr. Blessing from a freshman liberal arts seminar. “It was a stimulating academic course, which I appreciated as an introduction to my campus life at MWC,” says Cathy. “I remember Madame Blessing as very friendly, warm, approachable, and lighthearted.”

A native of France, Dr. Blessing held degrees from the University of Lille, the University of Paris, and the University of Dijon. In 1982, she was honored with the Ordre des Palmes Academiques, an award from the French government in recognition of her contributions as a “distinguished academic or teacher for valuable service to universities, education, and science.” The award is one of the oldest civil honors bestowed by the French Republic.

Dr. Blessing retired from Mary Washington in 1992 after 35 years of teaching, and she was awarded the title of Professor Emerita of Modern Foreign Languages. She lived in Washington, D.C., until her passing in 2020 at the age of 94.

Always thinking of ways to help and advance students, Dr. Blessing included arrangements in her will to create a scholarship at Mary Washington. The UMW Board of Visitors recently approved the new Juliette Breffort Blessing Scholarship for French Study, which will support study abroad opportunities for a junior or senior majoring in French language.

Kathy Leis says her former professor’s passing is a profound loss. “Dr. Blessing was the pivotal force in my life. Her love of the French language became my life-long passion and set me on my life path. I truly credit her with my immensely rewarding career teaching French, an unlikely outcome for a girl from Alabama whose spoken French at the time was –charitably – appalling.”

Kathy adds, “I am who I am because of Juliette Blessing.”

For more information about bequests to support students at Mary Washington, contact the Office of Gift Planning at jclarke@umw.edu or 540-654-2064.