Janet Zehr

Associate Professor of English


Dr. Zehr is from Tonawanda, NY, which is a suburb of Buffalo. She received her undergraduate degree in English, and then pursued a master’s degree in library science. Later, she had the opportunity to work for two years as a children’s librarian in a school for the deaf, where she told stories in sign language. 

Dr. Zehr came to Salem in 1985. She fell in love with Salem’s stunning beauty when she came for her interview and because she was interested in nineteenth-century women’s literature, both the historic setting and the focus on women made her feel very much at home.

Dr. Zehr believes that a women’s college strengthens women in terms of their intellect and confidence. The small size of Salem is an added bonus, as it encourages students to live up to their potential and continue on after graduation, whether that means going on to graduate school or fulfilling some other dream.

At Salem, she teaches courses that include the Victorian era, the Romantic era, British literature, and many others. For her PhD, she focused on nineteenth-century American literature and her dissertation was entitled Louisa May Alcott and the Female Fairy Tale.

As can be concluded by her dissertation, she has an interest in Louisa May Alcott and has written and published research pertaining to Alcott’s work and her life. Dr. Zehr has given several presentations including topics such as “Conscious Unconsciousness: Seeing and Being Seen in Louisa May Alcott’s Fiction” and “’The [W]right One?’ Evolutionary Psychology and Courtship Patterns in Nineteenth Century Women’s Literature.”

For students interested in an English degree, she hopes you have a real passion for literature and for writing. Of course, as in any field, you will need to be prepared to put in the time and the work to complete school successfully. 

Dr. Zehr is married to Paul Decker, a mental health counselor. They have a daughter who is also a mental health counselor and a son who is majoring in physics at UNC Chapel Hill. Their pets are a dog, Lizzie, named after Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, and a black cat, Zelda.

  • BA, State University of New York, College at Geneseo; MS, Columbia University; PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign