Dr. Harriet McNeal

CREVE COEUR, Mo. – Dr. Harriet McNeal, 95 years old and a 56-year former resident of Terre Haute, Indiana, made the great leap into the mystery on April 15, 2024, in Creve Coeur, Missouri. She was born on July 26, 1928, in Highland Park, Illinois, to parents Julia and Dr. Morley McNeal.

Harriet was a great spirit – generous, vivacious, brilliant, joyful. She loved deeply and listened deeply, and was curious about everything and everyone. Most of all she loved beauty: the beauty of the natural world, a blue sky, art, music (especially opera), theater, gardens, and a good glass of wine and conversation. This love of beauty was true to the last.

She earned a doctoral degree from Columbia University as a single mother with three children, with a focus on the art of the Italian Renaissance. She was an Art History and Humanities professor at Indiana State University for thirty years, from 1967 until her retirement. She was proud of developing courses on the history of women artists and on historic preservation, as well as teaching more traditional subjects. She loved working with students, and she was awarded ISU’s Caleb Mills Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1982. Her books include a 2-volume study of the Renaissance sculptor Michelozzo and a history of the Terre Haute architect Juliet Peddle.

She adored Italy, where she spent part of every year, and also Terre Haute. She worked hard for the good of her city: for the arts through her support for the Swope Art Museum and for Arts Spaces, for her neighborhood through her work with the Farrington’s Grove Historic District, for abused women through the Terre Haute Council on Domestic Abuse, and through the Eugene V. Debs Foundation as a board member for decades. She hosted many gatherings for visiting ISU speakers at her Victorian house in Farrington’s Grove. She was also a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Terre Haute.

She traveled widely, including trips throughout the United States and more than 30 countries. In her late 40’s she rode a 10-speed bicycle for the first time, and then rode her bike all over Indiana, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy, Eastern Europe, and many other places. Even in her later years, nothing made her happier than a drive through the countryside, admiring trees and old houses.

She is survived by her son James McNeal; daughters Julie Caplow and Florence Caplow; stepdaughter Deborah Caplow; grandchildren Reed McNeal, Morley McNeal, Jennifer Wiscons, Nick Wiscons, and Alice Caplow-Sparks; many great-grandchildren; one great-great-grandson; and many, many dear friends, in Terre Haute and around the world.

Her family is deeply grateful to her loving caregivers in the last few years, particularly Melissa Strange and Mike Sinn in Terre Haute, the caregivers at Dolan Homes, and to Bristol Hospice of Eastern Missouri.

Donations can be made in her memory to Wabash Valley Art Spaces, the Eugene V. Debs Foundation, or the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Terre Haute.

There will be a Celebration of Life in Terre Haute, Indiana, at noon EST on Sunday, June 23rd in the McMahon Ballroom, Le Fer Hall, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

“My country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.” -Eugene V. Debs


  1. Julia McKay on April 22, 2024 at 8:59 pm

    I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. It is very special the clear impact her life has made on so many. May her memory and artistry be a blessing to you.

  2. Peter Westcott on April 22, 2024 at 10:16 pm

    Hard to write but well done. What an amazing woman!

  3. Nan McEntire on April 22, 2024 at 11:13 pm

    She brought a spark of genuine humor and joy to her friends in Terre Haute—and to everyone she met, in Indiana and throughout the world.
    Nan McEntire

  4. Veanne Anderson on April 23, 2024 at 7:44 am

    What a lovely tribute to an amazing woman!

  5. Julie Gass on April 23, 2024 at 8:04 am

    I loved how much she loved life. When I think of Harriet I always hope to grow old and love life and people like she did. What an amazing life she led.

  6. Lauren Ewing on April 23, 2024 at 9:10 am

    Harriet was an amazing spirit and made such a difference in my life when I arrived at ISU in 1969. She was so enthusiastic about Renaissance Art, Music, Women’s Art and teaching in general. She greeted everyone with enthusiasm and open arms. There were constant conversations about the Viet Nam War, art, opera and politics, frequently hilarious. She was my model for how to love art, one’s neighbor and your own life.

  7. Nancy Swaim on April 23, 2024 at 6:59 pm

    What a glorious woman!. I can attest to her love of driving country roads, digging up specimens to transplant, looking at old cemeteries, making up stories of who might live here or there. She was beautiful!

  8. Lisa Ford-Brown on April 26, 2024 at 9:58 am

    You blessed many lives, including mine. Much love, dear Harriet.

  9. Jillann Mewhinney Engel on April 26, 2024 at 1:42 pm

    A woman of grace and intelligence. While I lived in Italy for a short time, her presence followed me everywhere. I often spoke of her to my children as we strolled in Florence. She brought beauty to many lives.

  10. Rod and Jacquie Bradfield on May 15, 2024 at 6:35 am

    Harriet was truly a `great spirit’, a vibrant energy that could be felt as soon as she walked into a room, a professor who loved working with students passing on her knowledge and love of art and learning, and a force for good in the community. It has been a most memorable pleasure to have known her. Thank you, Harriet, for all you did for Indiana State University, for Terre Haute and the Swope Art Museum, for the Italian Renaissance and Art history and much, much more. You will be missed by so many!

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