Mary Ellen Chase Literary Manuscripts
(The biographical note was written by Elizabeth Kates in 1999 for the Smith College Archives collection of Professor Chase's papers located in that collection.)
Mary Ellen Chase was born on February 24, 1887 in Blue Hill, Maine. Her parents were deeply religious Protestants and Mary Ellen was one of eight children who received a thorough biblical education as well as an academic one. She began writing at the age of sixteen and by her death on July 28, 1973, had published more than thirty essays, novels, and biographies.
At the age of nineteen, Chase took a leave from the University of Maine, where she was enrolled as an undergraduate, in order to teach in a one-room school in Buck's Harbor, Maine. Following her graduation, she taught for three years in Wisconsin at a coeducational boarding school and later for two years at a private girl's school in Chicago, Illinois. At that point in time, Chase fell ill and was advised by her doctor that a move to Montana would improve her health. During her time there, Chase taught public school and wrote two novels.
Upon full recovery, Chase took a teaching position at the University of Minnesota where she also studied and earned her MA in 1918 and later her Ph.D. in 1922. In 1926 she was hired by Smith College where she taught courses on the English novel and the King James Version of the Bible. During her time at Smith, Chase became a respected colleague, teacher, and friend to many. Her courses, taken by English majors and non-English majors alike, were some of the most popular on campus. In addition, Chase's home on Paradise Road became a favorite place for her students to go for good conversation and cookies. Despite her success as an author, teaching remained her true love throughout her career. She viewed teaching as the main source of meaning in her life. An extremely dedicated professor, Chase believed that "the personality of the teacher is more important than her intellectual attainments" and that "if the teacher has no enthusiasm for teaching and for subject matter, her students will learn little." She was very excited about her field of expertise and hoped to similarly inspire her students.
Mary Ellen Chase has come to be known as one of the great American novelists. Much of her work was inspired by her childhood in Maine and several of her novels are autobiographical. The Goodly Heritage (1932) and A Goodly Fellowship (1939) are about her childhood and how she became a teacher, respectively. Chase also wrote several books for children and more than one of her novels became best-sellers. Chase's popularity and skill at public speaking earned her many invitations to lecture around the country. She was awarded honorary degrees at the University of Maine, Bowdoin, and Colby Colleges, Smith College, and Northeastern University. Her work was also acknowledged by the Women's National Book Association in 1956 when she was awarded the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award.
After her retirement in 1955 at the age of sixty-eight, Chase continued to live on-campus with her long-time companion, Eleanor Duckett, and her dog, Gregory. She spent summers in Maine at her home, "Windswept," and journeyed to England where she took Hebrew classes at Cambridge in order to better understand the Old Testament. She also taught two adult education seminars on the Bible at Radcliffe College. In 1968, Smith College acknowledged her dedication to the students and the College with a new dormitory, the Mary Ellen Chase House.