Richard Dorson was director of the Folklore Institute and distinguished professor of history and of folklore at IU Bloomington at the time of his death in 1981. He received an A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1937, 1940, and 1943, respectively. While at Harvard, he was also an instructor of history. He then taught for 13 years at Michigan State University before being hired at IU as professor of history and folklore, with tenure, in 1957. While at IU, Dorson was appointed to the Graduate School faculty in 1957, granted the additional title of director of the archives of folklore in the Research Center for Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics in 1958, appointed director of and fellow in the Folklore Institute in 1963, and named distinguished professor in 1971. The Folklore Institute was reorganized in 1977, and Dorson continued as the director while also serving as the chair of the folklore department.
Dorson's interest in American civilization began during his graduate work at Harvard. He helped to develop the American studies program at IU by serving on the organizing committee, helping to prepare the first grant application, and helping to develop the curriculum. The folklore department at IU grew during his years at the helm, growing to ten full-time faculty and over 100 graduate students at the time of his death.
Dorson wrote or edited nearly 40 books, which have been translated into four languages and awarded the Chicago Folklore Prize three times. He was a fellow of the American Folklore Society, serving as president of the fellows. He was awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to write a book on the techniques of the professional folklorist (1961-1962), three fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in folklore and popular culture (1949, 1964, 1971), was a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley (1967-1968), the University of Massachusetts (1972-1973), and the University of Pennsylvania (1980-1981).
Dorson passed away on September 11, 1981.