Therese Truitt Whitcomb Faculty Award
Therese Truitt Whitcomb ’53 (BA)
First Graduate, San Diego College for Women
Professor Emerita of Art and Inaugural Director of Institutional Design
Professor Emerita of Art Therese Truitt Whitcomb (Sept. 19, 1930 – Aug. 11, 2018) was the first and only graduate of the San Diego College for Women in 1953 and her connection spanned every decade of University of San Diego’s existence.
Whitcomb was a transfer student when the College for Women opened in February 1952 and completed her bachelor’s degree in art in one year. She moved to New York City to continue her studies at the Art Students League. A mother of six children, she began teaching in 1961 as a part-time art instructor at the College for Women. She completed a Master’s in Art History at San Diego State University in 1968 and became a full-time professor in the Department of Fine Arts in 1969. Whitcomb, who founded USD’s art history program, Founders Gallery and was its inaugural director of institutional design, received an honorary Doctor of Letters by then USD President Mary E. Lyons at USD’s 2015 graduation.
Whitcomb chaired the Department of Fine Arts, taught in the College of Arts and Sciences for 35 years and established Founders Gallery in 1972. Her role as director of University Design gave her the responsibility for setting the standards and preserving the beauty and consistent Spanish Renaissance architecture of the USD campus. The position came about after she met with USD’s inaugural President Author E. Hughes following his 1971 arrival.
She told Hughes of her concern for the appearance of the university’s interiors. Soon after meeting, President Hughes incorporated into USD’s master plan Mother Hill’s vision that the campus’ design be both consistent and beautiful. Whitcomb was appointed as USD’s first Curator of Collection/Director of University Design.
Awards Whitcomb received at USD attest to her overall excellence. She received the Outstanding Teacher Award (1977), the Lowell Davies Award for Faculty Achievement (1985), Alumni Honors’ Bishop Charles Francis Buddy Award (1989), Alcalá Award (1995), Golden Torero (2013), San Diego Mortar Board Alumni Award (2015). An annual endowed scholarship, the Therese Whitcomb ’53 Scholarship, was established in her name and is awarded to deserving students through the USD Alumni Association.
In November 2018, as a member of the San Diego committee of the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California, Whitcomb, herself a Colonial Dame with a lineal bloodline to prominent residents of America’s 13 colonies, and her fellow committee members received the society’s most prestigious award, the Lamar Award for Excellence. Awarded just three months after her death, Whitcomb was recognized posthumously for the role she played in furnishing a historic adobe home on the state historic park in San Diego’s Old Town.
Whitcomb also served on the board of many art history and community organizations. She guided restoration of the San Luis Rey Mission, Sacred Heart Church in Coronado, the San Diego Mission Basilica, and other historic buildings. She served as a trustee of the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum, and as a chair for the San Diego County Committee of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in California.