#WHM – Mary Ellen Chase, Ph.D., Author, Professor, and AOPi

The Gamma Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi at the University of Maine was installed in 1908. Mary Ellen Chase, who would later served as editor of To DRAGMA of Alpha Omicron Pi, became a member of the chapter along with her older sister, Mildred. Mary Ellen Chase would go on to be a successful author in addition to being a college professor.

Chase was born in Blue Hill, Maine on February 24, 1887. Although she would have preferred to attend college elsewhere, her father insisted his daughters enter the University of Maine. She took some time off to teach school, including a stint in a one-room schoolhouse, before completing her degree in 1909. An article about the National Panhellenic Conference organizations’ magazine editors, which appeared in the Sigma Kappa Triangle, included this description of her, “It was during her career in college that she gained her first title of honor, ‘Min Chase, teacher of Aggie English,’ as well as a knot of adoring little sorority sisters whose sweetest college memories cling around her name. It was there, too, that her enthusiasm for sorority work was fired, the love which makes her today one of the leaders of Alpha Omicron Pi.”

Mary Ellen Chase (Mary Ellen Chase Papers, Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England, Portland, Maine)

Mary Ellen Chase (Photo courtesy of the Mary Ellen Chase Papers, Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England, Portland, Maine)

After graduation from the University of Maine, she contacted a teacher’s agency in Chicago and headed west to teach. She landed a job at a coeducational boarding school in Wisconsin, followed by some time at a private girls’ school in Chicago. When she became ill, her doctor suggested she head to Montana to recuperate. She served as editor of To DRAGMA from 1914-17. In April of 1915, she installed the Alpha Phi Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi at Montana State University.

In 1920, for an anniversary edition of the magazine, she reflected on her time as editor:

Asked to sketch my four years with To DRAGMA, I begin to probe into a singularly barren memory. Most of my editorship was endured in the great and cold state of Montana where I lived from 1914 to 1917. I recall, besides the irritating inclusion and exclusion of commas in chapter letters and the hours spent in reading proof, not many things. And those for some probably unaccountable reason seem forever associated with the cold of that state of prairies and of mountains. I remember two weeks of February weather when the mercury did not rise above twenty below, when news of people frozen to death was constantly reaching our ears, when schools were closed and one stared from windows out upon a prairie stricken with such frightful cold that one’s very helplessness bred philosophy within his mind. During that fortnight I was reading proof galleys, and I remember how futile they and everything else seemed in the face of that terrifying brilliance of sky, that awfulness of cold.

The last year of my editorship knew many exigencies,  for at that time I was beginning my study for the doctorate at the University of Minnesota. One hour at learning the Lord’s Prayer in Anglo-Saxon, one hour trying to decipher the writing of the California chapter editor, one hour pounding the typewriter to ask busy and well-meaning people for articles, one hour (and that late) tracing the influence of Beaumont and Fletcher on Shakespeare! I used to use my bed for To DRAGMA material in those days, and many were the nights when I crawled in beneath galleys from George Banta rather than clear the way for my weary frame.

I do not know that the fruits of those four years with To DRAGMA were particularly nourishing, especially joyful, or very long in their effects. And yet, believing with Pater and the Epicureans that ‘experience itself is the end,’ I look back upon my editorship with pleasure and gratitude. Surely I do not wish to repeat the experience, but just as surely I would not have been without it!

Mary Ellen Chase (courtesy of Sigma Kappa Triangle)

Mary Ellen Chase (Photo courtesy of Sigma Kappa Triangle)

After receiving her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, she taught there until she was hired by Smith College in 1926. There she taught courses on the English novel and the King James version of the Bible. Chase wrote more than 30 books, many of them set in her native Maine. She retired from Smith in 1955 and lived in Northampton until her death in 1973. A residence hall at Smith is named in her honor.

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory.

This entry was posted in Alpha Omicron Pi, Fran Favorite, Smith College, To Dragma of Alpha Omicron Pi, University of Maine, University of Minnesota and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.