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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 724

Papers of Mae Chapin, 1885-1972 (inclusive), 1913-1962 (bulk)


Correspondence, diaries, photographs, etc., of Presbyterian missionary Mae Chapin.


  • 1885-1972
  • Majority of material found within 1913-1962

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted, except for F+D.2, which is closed due to its fragile condition.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mae Chapin is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


9.59 linear feet ((23 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 17 photograph folders, 3 folio+ photograph folders)

The papers of Mae Chapin include correspondence, diaries, financial documents, newsletters, printed material, photographs, etc., documenting Chapin's work as a Presbyterian missionary and religious educator. Papers also provide insight into the lives of her sister, Lucy Chapin, and her parents, Edward B. and Lucy M. Chapin. Some files arrived at the library in folders; those folder titles were retained and appear in quotation marks. The archivist created folders for the loose materials. The file arrangement was also created by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1885-1972 (#1.1-10.13, OD.1), includes diaries, address books, financial documents, clippings, etc. Diaries contain detailed accounts of Chapin's daily activities, including teaching, religious activities, illnesses, and travels, but do not provide insight into her thoughts or feeling about events or people. Clippings include excerpts of Chapin's letters from China which were printed in the local newspaper, and accounts of the many public talks Chapin gave detailing her experiences as a missionary. Some materials in this series, particularly address books and financial documents, may have been created by Chapin's sister, Lucy Chapin. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1900-1972 (#10.14-16.3, OD.2, PD.1), contains letters written to Chapin, her sister Lucy, and her parents, Edward and Lucy M. Chapin. Files labeled "correspondence" contain letters containing general news from members of the Chapin family, excluding Mae Chapin, as well as friends of the family. Correspondence files also contain a small number of letters written by missionary friends telling of their work. Chapin's letters to her family were filed separately by an unknown member of her family in chronological order with each folder noting the place where the letters were written from. Letters in this grouping document Chapin's service as a missionary mostly in Hainan, China, and Manila, Philippines. Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Chapin's letters from China contain accounts of the local culture, including housing, food, and celebrations. She also writes about the weather and its effect on her efforts to grow vegetables from seeds ordered from the United States. Chapin often comments on local politics, particularly on punishments for crimes, expressions of anti-western sentiment, and skirmishes between the Kuomintang-led Nationalist Government of the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China. In 1927, the skirmishes escalated into a civil war and the Presbyterian Church pulled its missionaries out of Hainan due to concerns for their safety. Chapin chronicles the increasing levels of violence and the uncertainty she and other missionaries had concerning how the violence would impact their work, particularly after they received word from the Church that they would be leaving Hainan. Following her evacuation from Hainan in April, Chapin spent several months in Hong Kong where she assured her family of her safety and told them she was being transferred to Manila, Philippines.

In Manila, Chapin worked as a teacher in the Union High School. She frequently writes that she finds her work in Manila to be much easier than the work in China, due to the fact that the Pitkin School in China was a boarding school while Union High School was a day school. She also reflects that her students in Manila are better educated than those in China. Chapin frequently includes news she has heard about the current situation in China and its impact on the Presbyterian mission. In 1929, the Church reopened the Pitkin School and Chapin volunteered to return. In her letters, Chapin frequently expresses her desire to remain in Manila where her work is easier, but she feels obligated to return to Hainan to help rebuild the school.

From 1929 to 1935, Chapin served as a teacher in the Pitkin School. While she continued to write about the weather and other details of local life, her letters during this period focus more on her satisfaction with her work. In particular, she frequently writes of how difficult she finds the work and the toll it is taking on her physically. Suffering from arthritis and anemia, she increasingly states her desire to return to the Philippines where she feels the climate is better for her health and the work is much less taxing. In 1935, the Church granted her request for a transfer, but her health continued to deteriorate and she was forced to return to the United States in 1941.

Chapin generally did not write detailed accounts of her work in China or the Philippines. Letters occasionally include accounts of students misbehaving and being punished for their actions, particularly when the result is expulsion. Chapin also includes details of outbreaks of illnesses such as smallpox, measles, typhoid, malaria, and dengue fever among the students. She generally states how many children are ill and the effect it has on the healthy children, particularly when one of the ill children died. During her second tenure in Hainan, the school was run by the local government rather than by the mission and Chapin frequently comments on the challenge the school faced in finding and retaining administrators.

Most of the letters from Chapin are written to her sister, Lucy Chapin. Lucy acted as Chapin's business agent, procuring goods for Chapin and handling banking and other financial transactions in the United States for her. Chapin had a portion of her salary diverted to a Champaign, Illinois, bank and Lucy would use the money in the account as Chapin instructed in her letters. Letters frequently contain requests for goods such as fabric to make clothes, stockings, corsets, and embroidery floss, which were not readily available in China or were more expensive in China than in the United States. They also include investment and other financial instructions, including those relating to students Chapin sponsored at the Pitkin School and former students pursuing advanced degrees in the United States. As the Great Depression deepened, Chapin's letters document her decreases in salary and her concerns about the stability of local banks and the safety of her investments.

There are no letters after April 1941, which is when Chapin returned to Champaign, Illinois, where she lived with Lucy until her death in 1962.

Series III, MISSIONARY AND RELIGIOUS WORK, 1894-1963 (#16.4-23.7, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, SD.1), includes mission reports written by Chapin, correspondence between Chapin and the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, newsletters of the Hainan Mission, printed materials, etc., documenting Chapin's service as a missionary and as a religious educator in Champaign, Illinois. Much of the material in this series is printed material, including annual reports, newsletters, books, and pamphlets documenting the work of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions for which Chapin served as a missionary. Materials relating specifically to Chapin's missionary service include correspondence with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions and reports Chapin wrote for them, as well as materials such as yearbooks and catalogs published by the schools that employed Chapin, which feature her as a member of the staff.

From 1942 to 1948, Chapin was Director of the Champaign Council on Religious Education in the Champaign, Illinois, school system. Chapin also served as an instructor for the Protestant religion classes offered by the Council in Champaign public schools. In 1945, Vashti McCollum sued the Champaign school system, stating that religious instruction in the public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The case was eventually decided in McCollum's favor in the Supreme Court ruling in McCollum v. Board of Education. Chapin's files relating to her work with the Council include letters from supporters of religious education in public schools, clippings about the case, and legal briefs from the state and federal court cases. Chapin testified in the state case, but was not involved in the federal case.

This series also includes a number of books and small publications about missionaries, China, the Philippines, and Protestantism collected by Chapin after her service as a missionary. These publications reflect Chapin's continuing interest in religion and the areas of the world in which she worked, but may also have been used by Chapin in her religion classes. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1907-1952 (#PD.2-PD.20f+), contains portraits and snapshots of Chapin, students and faculty at the Pitkin School and Union High School, and daily life in China and the Philippines. Photographs in folders labeled "photographs of Albert J. Pitkin School and Bible school students and faculty" mostly contain formal group photographs mounted onto decorative mat boards. Most of these photographs feature borders containing identifying information in Chinese. Photographs documenting daily life in China and the Philippines are snapshots captioned by Chapin featuring scenes including animals, local idols, lepers, and a bride's chair being carried down a street. Photographs are arranged with those featuring Chapin first, followed by an alphabetical arrangement of the remaining files.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Presbyterian missionary Mae Chapin, daughter of Edward B. and Lucy Margaret Pierce Chapin, was born May 11, 1885, in Toledo, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1908 and taught high school in Williamsport, Indiana, for two years before attending the Presbyterian Training School in Chicago, Illinois. From 1911 to 1912, she served with the Association House in Chicago, working with factory girls. Between 1911 and 1927, she served as a teacher and principal (1917-1925) at the Albert J. Pitkin School for Girls in Kiungchow, Hainan, China, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. When Communists took over the Pitkin School in 1927, Chapin went to the Philippines, where she was principal of the Union High School in Manila and a teacher of religious education working under many denominations. In 1929, Chapin returned to China and remained there until 1935, when she returned to the Philippines. In 1937, Chapin suffered from deteriorating health due to arthritis, anemia, and an ulcer, and returned to the United States to recuperate. Instructed by doctors to remain in the United States for a year, Chapin spent four months teaching Navajo Indians in Ganado, Arizona, and the remaining time in Champaign, Illinois, and Pasadena, California, where she frequently lectured on her experiences in China and the Philippines. In 1940, she traveled to the Philippines, returning to the United States in 1941. From 1942 to 1948, Chapin was Director of the Champaign Council on Religious Education in the Champaign, Illinois, school system, a position that was discontinued following the Supreme Court ruling in McCollum v. Board of Education.

Chapin was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois, which established the Mae Chapin Guild to help support the mission work of Chapin and other missionaries; in 1951, she was the first woman elected elder in the congregation. Chapin was also a member of the Alliance, Illinois, chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Illinois branch of the National Society, Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims, the Illinois National Society of Daughters and Patriots of America, and the Champaign-Urbana Business and Professional Women's Club. She died January 26, 1962.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1885-1972 (#1.1-10.13, OD.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1900-1972 (#10.14-16.3, OD.2)
  3. Series III. Missionary and Religious Work, 1894-1963 (#16.4-23.7, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, SD.1)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, 1907-1952 (#PD.2-PD.20f+)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2008-M194, 2009-M15, 2009-M191

The papers of Mae Chapin were given to the Schlesinger Library by her great nephew, Dan Hazen, between November 2008 and September 2009.


Donors: Dan Hazen

Accession numbers: 2008-M194, 2009-M15, 2009-M191

Processed by: Johanna Carll

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection (pending review by curator):

  1. Women and Missions, Volume VII, Number 10, January 1931
  2. Women and Missions, Volume VII, Number 11, February 1931
  3. Women and Missions, Volume XVI, Number 3, June 1939

Processing Information

Processed: September 2012

By: Johanna Carll, with assistance from Samuel Bauer.

Chapin, Mae, 1885-1962. Papers of Mae Chapin, 1885-1972 (inclusive), 1913-1962 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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