Mariam Frenier

Mimi Frenier

Mariam “Mimi” Darce Frenier taught history at UMN Morris from 1973 to 2004. Her primary focus was East Asian history but she also pioneered the Women's Studies major and minor. She was known for her innovative teaching style and her diverse research and teaching interests. In 2003 in honor of her many contributions to Women's Studies, the campus established the Mimi Frenier Award for Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies majors.


Born in Deadwood, South Dakota

Worked as a social studies teacher at Springfield Local Schools in Springfield OH.

Graduated from Kent State University with a BS in education.

Earned a MA in history from Kent State University

Hired as an Instructor of History at UMN Morris

Earned a PhD in History from the University of Iowa

Became Assistant Professor of History at UMN Morris

Helped create the Women’s Studies minor

Promoted to Associate Professor of History at UMN Morris

Promoted to Professor of History at UMN Morris

Created the Women’s Studies major

Retired from UMN Morris

Died on April 20 in Morris, MN

Personal Life

Mimi Frenier was born in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1936. After her graduation from high school in 1953, Mimi married Lionel Darce in 1955. Mimi graduated cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Education from Kent State University in 1965. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in History from the same institution in 1967 and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Iowa in 1978.[1] In 1969 she married Robert Frenier. Trained in Chinese history, Frenier also developed an early interest in the history of women. Her dissertation was titled “Women and the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-1952: Changes in Party Policy and Mobilization Techniques”.[2]

Frenier’s teaching career started in 1965 as a social studies teacher at Springfield Local Schools in Springfield, Ohio. She began her post-secondary teaching career in 1971 at the University of Iowa as a graduate teaching assistant.[3]


Research and Teaching

Mimi Frenier was hired as a history instructor at UMN Morris in 1973.[4] Her teaching focused on Asian history and women's history. Women were dramatically underrepresented among the UMN Morris faculty in the early 1970s. According to the 1971-73 Bulletin only about 15 percent of the faculty were women, and the majority of these were located in the ranks of assistant professors and instructors. Importantly, women comprised about 42 percent of the student body in the early 1970s, and this figure would reach parity by the end of the decade. Frenier's teaching, scholarship and service came together to target these sorts of disparities. She taught the first stand-alone women’s studies course for the campus in 1974 and eventually developed and coordinated a women’s studies minor in 1979. The minor proved to be successful, and a women’s studies major was created in 2000.[5] 
Frenier moved up the ranks at UMN Morris, becoming an assistant professor in 1978, associate professor in 1983, and professor in 1988. During her teaching career at UMN Morris, Frenier taught a variety of courses, including but not limited to: women and religion, Vietnam, world history, Asian civilization, and the history of women. She was also responsible for innovations in the History Discipline and worked with other colleagues to develop the world history sequence in 1984.[6]
Frenier's teaching reflected her research interests. She taught courses combining her fields of study including “Women and Religion,” a history of Vietnam, and “A History of Thought about American Women.” She took her interest in women’s history to an international level and taught a course on the subject in Ho Chi Minh City in the summers of 1993 and 1994.[7]
Frenier’s teaching was appreciated by students and faculty. In her nomination for the 1985 Horace T. Morse-Amoco Foundation Award numerous letters in support of her cited her ability to connect with students. In particular, she was recognized for her ability to aid nontraditional students and provide guidance during times of personal and professional transition. Her teaching style was praised for being innovative, discussion based, and student-friendly. All this resulted in her being frequently sought after by students to advise directed studies.[8]
In her own research, Frenier has explored a variety of historical questions and has published in many academic journals.[9] One of her most popular research projects was her investigation into Harlequin novels and their popularity. She examined the traditional gender roles in these best selling romance novels and what it reveals about ideas around female sexuality.[10] She continued this research and went on to write Good-bye Heathcliff: Changing Heroes, Heroines, Roles and Values in Women’s Category Romances which was published by Greenwood Press in June of 1988.[11]

Community Involvement

Community Involvement

Frenier worked on projects to enhance educational opportunities in the wider Morris community. In 2005, she presented “Women at Home and at the Front in the Forties,” a panel discussion on the life of women during the war years. This was part of the Learning Unlimited lecture series called “War and Peace” that was organized for the community.[12]

She was also a part of many organizations outside of UMN Morris including Minnesota Women in Higher Education, Women’s Historians of the Midwest, the Association of Asian Studies, and more.[13]

Campus Contributions

One of Frenier’s most notable contributions to UMN Morris is the creation of the Women’s Studies minor and major.  Truman Driggs, then chair of the Social Science Division, asked Mimi to teach a Women's Studies course at UMN Morris; the first one was developed and taught by Mimi in Spring 1974.[14] Frenier, with others, was able to grow this initial course into a full Women's Studies minor by 1979. The success of the minor and growing demand for courses led to the addition of the Women’s Studies major in 2000, again led by Frenier’s efforts.[15] Her contributions to the campus in this field were recognized with the creation of the Mimi Frenier Award in Women’s Studies in 2003. The award is given annually to a Women’s Studies major who embodies the values of high academic achievement and activism.[16]

From the beginning of her time at UMN Morris Frenier played a leadership role in many facets of campus governance and especially in regards to the status of female faculty, staff and students. She was named the first chairperson for the Commission on Women in 1996-1998.[17] She also served as the Title IX Officer from 1977 to 2004[18] and worked as the Equal Opportunity Officer for the campus.[19] She held the positions as Affirmative Action Officer from 1986-1987 and as faculty representative for Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics from 1977-1997. Finally, Mimi also served on the UMM Sexual Assault Committee (1998-1999) and was a member of the committee working on the Department of Justice grant on sexual harassment (2002-2003).[20] In these positions, Frenier was able to advise and guide campus policy to help advance women’s status at UMN Morris.

Frenier was involved in a variety of other committees at UMN Morris focusing on a range of issues. She was a part of the Chancellor Search Committee in 1990, the Planning Committee from 1982-1985, and the Athletic Committee from 1976-1981. She was also the History Discipline Coordinator from 1995-1996 and again from 2000 to 2003.[21] 

Throughout all of her years at UMN Morris, Frenier remained dedicated to her values and brought them into the traditions of the campus, even if she was alone in doing so. For instance, Frenier was known for refusing to wear academic regalia at graduation, as a mild protest of sorts and an interesting assertion of her independence, iconoclasm and dislike of formality.

Frenier received several awards for her work while at UMN Morris. This included the Distinguished Teaching Award presented by University College of the University of Minnesota in 1998. In that year she was one of four recipients of the university-wide award in recognition of the work she did as an instructor and mentor and her long term contributions to the university.[22] Other awards included the Horace T. Morse-Minnesota Alumni Association Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education in 1984-1985.[23] She also was awarded by the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1999, and listed in both the Who’s Who of American Women, 13th edition and the Directory of American Scholars, 8th edition.[24]

After UMN Morris

Mimi Frenier retired from UMN Morris in the spring of 2004.[25] She decided to remain in Morris after retirement, saying that she “loves Morris” and “everyone knows my name.”[26]  In her retirement, she dedicated herself to reading and gardening. She volunteered at the Stevens County Food Shelf and nurtured her reputation as a top-notch bridge player. She died in 2022 at the age of 86.[27]

Mary P. Klauda
Deanna Small
Naomi Skulan (Editor)
Stephen Gross (Editor)


[1] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[2] University of Iowa, “Department of History Newsletter, No. 63,” June 1978.
[3] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[4] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[5] University Relations, “Profile: Actor Peter Coyote calls graduates to engaged citizenry” Profile (Morris, MN), Spring 2004.
[6] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[7] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[8] Nomination of Dr. Mariam Frenier for the Horace T. Morse-Amoco Foundation Award, 1985, Box 1, Record Group D9, Miscellaneous Records, Functions and Awards.
[9] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[10] Joedi Johnson, “UMM Professor Studies Harlequin Novels,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Feb. 11, 1981.
[11] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[12] University of Minnesota, Morris Retirees' Association, “UMMRA Info: Volume VII, Number 3,” (Winter 2005).
[13] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[14]  Frenier, Mariam Darce, "Mimi Frenier Interview" (2009). University of Minnesota Morris Stories. 8.
[15] University Relations, “Profile: Actor Peter Coyote calls graduates to engaged citizenry” Profile (Morris, MN), Spring 2004.
[16] “Mimi Frenier Award in Women’s Studies,” Student Awards.
[17] University Relations, “Profile: Actor Peter Coyote calls graduates to engaged citizenry” Profile (Morris, MN), Spring 2004.
[18] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[19] Monica Wallgren, “Women Push Into Higher Education,” Morris Weekly (Morris, MN), Nov. 12, 1986.
[20] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[21] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[22] University Relations. “Profile: “It's always the students, the always new and renewing students”” Profile (Morris, MN), Winter 1999.
[23] “Cotter met Morse’s code,” University Register (Morris, MN), Apr. 25, 1990.
[24] Mariam Frenier, “Curriculum Vitae,” Feb. 2003.
[25] University of Minnesota, Morris Retirees’ Association, “UMMRA Info: Volume VI, Number 4,” Spring 2004.
[26] Frenier, Mariam Darce, "Mimi Frenier Interview" (2009). University of Minnesota Morris Stories. 8.
[27] "Mariam 'Mimi' (Darce) Frenier," Pedersen Funeral & Cremation Service, 2022.

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