Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Laws
Burlington, Vermont resident Lilian Baker Carlisle is a well-known and highly regarded local historian, author and antiques appraiser. For more than 50 years, she has worked to bring this area’s history alive and make it accessible to everyone. In the process, she has become an important part of the history herself. At 93, her achievements are many. Her greatest has been her ability to engage countless others in the work she loves so much and to instill in them a passion about where we have been and where we are going.
Carlisle moved to Burlington in 1946 with her husband Grafton, a banker, and their two daughters, Diana and Penelope. In 1950, she went to work for Electra Havermeyer Webb, founder of the Shelburne Museum. Within a short time, Carlisle was asked to develop a “filing system” for the Museum’s ever-expanding collection. She spent the next 11 years as director of research and collections and received national recognition for her work cataloging this unique collection. Through her work, Carlisle developed an expertise in American decorative arts and antiques, and meticulous research skills.
When she left the Museum in 1961, a year after Electra Webb’s death, Carlisle used her experience and knowledge to write articles for various antique and other trade magazines, including Yankee, Antiques Journal, Antiques, Spinning Wheel, Art & Antiques, Hobbies and Antique Trader. She is the author of more than 20 books and pamphlets on local history. Her magnum opus, Vermont Clock and Watchmakers, Silversmiths, and Jewelers, 1778-1878 remains the definitive resource on this material. Also among her literary credits are The Story of the Shelburne Museum, co-authored with Ralph Nading Hill; five books about the Shelburne Museum’s collections; and editor of the Heritage Series on local buildings in Chittenden County and three volumes of the Historical Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods.
Through her many years of researching and writing, Carlisle has become a walking encyclopedia of Burlington history, pioneering what are now legendary guided tours of Burlington neighborhoods. Her service to the city was acknowledged in 2001 in honor of her 90th birthday when the mayor of Burlington presented her with a key to the city. Her honors also include Preservation Burlington’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2004.
She is a founding member of the Chittenden County Historical Society and the Robert Hull Fleming Museum’s popular Heirloom Appraisal Day, an annual fund raising event that lasted 19 years. She is also a member of the Fleming’s Advisory Board, and continues to serve on their Collections Committee. A longtime supporter of the museum, Carlisle most recently funded a renovation to the children’s activity room.
Always civic minded, Carlisle served in the Vermont legislature, 1969-70, specializing in issues related to health care and published a number of important studies on mental retardation, day care and a Burlington Area Community Health Study.
Lilian Baker Carlisle is a model for life-long learning. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history at age 69 in 1981, and followed with her master's in 1986, both from the University of Vermont. She has followed her own advice well — never lose your sense of wonder.