As a pioneer in co-education, as an advocate of equal rights for women, and as a student of ancient languages and literature, one Auburn woman imparted to her students those ideals which she admired in the culture of ancient Greece. Angie Clara Chapin was a professor of Greek at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and was among the first Auburn women to pursue a career in academia.
Chapin was born on 7 April 1855 to George P. and Sarah T. Brown Chapin. The family's home at 16 Cayuga Street was always a second home to their only child, whose teaching career allowed her to return to Auburn for summers and holidays. Upon graduation from high school in 1871, "Clara," as she preferred to be called, enterred the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. There she studied literature and the classics, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, a national honor society.
Many years later, Professor Chapin recalled her entry into college. "In those days, going to college was not the ordinary step for a girl who had completed a high school course of study. The experiment in co-education, inaugurated in Michigan in 1870, attracted throughout the contry attention both favorable and unfavorable. The few aspiring young women who turned their faces thither had need of good courage to enable them to justify the expectations of their friends and to disarm the criticisms of their opponents."
Shortly after her twentieth birthday in 1875, Chapin was awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree. During the years immediately following her graduation, she taught in the literary department of Flint High School. When in 1879 Wellesley College was in need of a Greek scholar, Chapin was appointed to an instructorship in the prestigious women's college. She arrived at Wellesley with the first contingent of Michigan alumnae to join the faculty. At first, she roomed with Alice Freeman, a young history teacher who was to become president of the college and dean of women at the University of Chicago. Among Chapin's friends at Wellesley was Katherine Lee Bates, most famous for writing "America the Beautiful."
Chapin was to become "one of Wellesley's beloved and outstanding teachers; a devoted classicist and a charming gentlewoman." High academic standards, sound scholarship, and efficient administration were the hallmarks of the Wellesley faculty, and those traits were likewise attributed to Chapin. By 1886, she was promoted to associate professor; a full professorship followed in 1887.
An Equal Suffrage League flourished on campus, and Chapin was an active promoter of that organization. She was long remembered on campus as one of the early advocates of equal rights for women.
Chapin was instrumental in the development of the classical department at Wellesley. Biblical studies commenced as a separate field of study at the college in 1886-87, when New Testament Greek was first offered by Chapin, who taught the course until her retirement. During her more than forty years at Wellesley, Chapin served in various capacities in addition to her responsibilities as a teacher. From 1887 until 1919, she served as head of the department. For years, she chaired the oard of Administration, the forerunner of the admissions committee, and served as acting dean from 1911 until 1913.
Chapin's professional life extended beyond the walls of classroom and campus. In 1886, Wellesley was invited to become the first women's college affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Chapin was among the first female commissioners of that institution; in 1906, she became its first female faculty member. She ursued her commitment to classical studies and higher education through active membership in the New England Classical Association, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the New England Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools.
At her last class before her retirement, all of Professor Chapin's former students on the faculty attended as a group. The tribute was followed by a resolution of the board of trustees which bestowed upon her the rank of "professor emeritus."
Chapin described to her students her fascination with the culture to which she had exposed thousands of students: "The culture of this small but mighty nation was not won by victorious arms. It belongs rather to the mysterious victories of the spirit. Man's struggle for freedom-- individual, intellectual, political-- can be traced through their history. It is this which gives significance to their otherwise puny battles.... We cannot help feeling an instinctive sympathy and kinship with them as the great exponents of freedom of the human spirit in self-development and self-expression."
Chapin's academic career was an unusual one for a woman of her time. She took to heart the lessons of "freedom of the human spirit" gleaned from her ancient teachers. After her death on 27 August 1944, she was buried alongside her parents in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery.