Early Illinois Women

Sophia May Chase:
A Remarkable Woman of the 19th Century

by Mira Baz

Part 1. Introduction

At the turn of the millenium, and in the age of telecommunications and electronic mail, immortality seems more difficult to achieve, as epistles become more and more scarce. The memory of Sophia May Chase, however, and of her family, who lived in the Nineteenth Century, was certain to be preserved in letters. Reading the exchanged correspondence between wife and husband, parent and child, family members and friends, one delves into the minds of the Chase that one thinks may have been oblivious to the lasting significance of the written word vis-à-vis the immediate concerns of daily life. This, however, was not entirely true about Philander Chase, Sophia's husband, and first Bishop of the Episcopalian diocese of Ohio and of Illinois. His detailed letters written to his wife in his missionary travels show a preoccupation with recording events and serve as journals. Sophia, on the other hand, was economical in her writing, her letters revealing little about herself. She was the support in her husband's active labors, and whom he only mentions en passant in his Reminiscences -- an autobiography. She was "his secretary, his housekeeper, his adviser, and treasurer" (Smith 197). In seeing her name, one would not think of the building of two colleges, the distresses of the constant moving in the wilderness of the frontier life, the strength behind the Bishop's achievements. This biography is an attempt to "reconstruct" the life of Sophia May Chase.

Bishop Philander Chase with his second wife, Sophia May Chase, in 1847. They were often thought to be cousins. (from Smith 300) Sophia May Chase, at the age of 59, in 1847. (courtesy of Kenyon College)

Very little is known about her, especially prior to her marriage to the Bishop in 1819. A letter by her daughter Mary overviews this period in her life. Sophia May was born on February 13, 1782, in the city of Amsterdam, Holland, daughter of Duncan and Susanna Ingraham. Duncan Ingraham was a shipping merchant; and "when peace was restored" to the U.S.A. at the turn of the last century, he returned and settled in Philadelphia. After a few years, he retired from business and removed his family to Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson, where he died. Sophia grew up here with her five sisters and four brothers, who "scattered to all parts of the globe after a time." Her mother, with her son George, then moved the "now diminished family" to Kingston, N.Y. Shortly after, Sophia's sister Maria wed Mr. Leonard Kip of New York, and Sophia went to live with her.

Continue to:

  1. Chase Family moves to Ohio
  2. Kenyon College
  3. Illinois and Jubilee College
  4. Epilogue


  1. Piatt, John James. How the Bishop Built His College in the Woods. The Western Literary Press, Cincinnati: 1906.
  2. Smith, Laura Chase. The Life of Philander Chase. The Knickerbocker Press, New York: 1903.

Contributing Library:

Cullom-Davis Library, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois

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