Early Illinois Women

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

by Mira Baz

Return to:

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

Part 5. Epilogue

The autumn of 1852 brought the death of Bishop Philander Chase, following a wagon accident, the last in a series that the Bishop had been exposed to. This last one proved to be fatal. He was buried in the Churchyard of Jubilee Hill.

He left Sophia a fair sum of money, one-third of his small fortune, along with the property of the Robin's Nest. The following is an excerpt from his will:

"...she having contributed about that proportion from her own patrimony and form gifts sent to her from time to time by her friends abroad. This aside from her labor in keeping the Cash Book and otherwise superintending plans and carrying into effect measures and means for the health and comfort of the students of Jubilee College. I mention these things as reasons for promptness in paying that portion implied in this item, that one who has thus far served the Institution without reward may not be neglected as she was in the case of Kenyon College in Ohio, in the founding of which her labors and wisdom were an essential part."

Sophia was now left to the care of her grown family, consisting of children and grandchildren. Mary wrote to her husband in 1853:

"Mother and I have finished our two hours sewing, and are now sitting by the table. Mother is reading "The Miseries of Ireland", a doleful book, and I as you might guess am writing."

Sophia and Mary kept up the habit of reading aloud which they had followed throughout their life.

After a series of illnesses through the last few years, Sophia had a stroke of paralysis in early November of 1864. Over the next days, she lost her ability to speak, her last words being "God is very good". She died a week later, on November 15, 1864, and was buried beside the Bishop. Mary wrote to her husband:

"She stroked her grandchildren's heads when brought to her....

She spent a long life in trying to make everybody happy.... The last thing she made us understand was that she was very happy."

Caroline Bell wrote to Mary upon hearing the news:

"...for when you lost your mother I lost my best friend in all the West. In all these years that I have been a stranger in a strange land she has been invariably kind and affectionate to me.... I revere her virtues, her life was a noble structure of good works."

It has been written about Sophia Chase:

Mrs. Chase entered with her whole soul into her husband's plans. She was a lady perfectly at home in all the arts and minutiae of house-wifery; as happy in darning stockings for the boys, as in entertaining visitors in the parlor; in making a bargain with a farmer in his rough boots and hunting blouse, as in completing a purchase from an intelligent and accomplished merchant; and as perfectly at home in doing business with the world about her, and in keeping the multifarious account of her increasing household, as in presiding at her dinner table, or dispensing courtesy in her drawing-room. (Piatt 50)

In a letter to his granddaughter Laura in 1842, the Bishop wrote of her:

"Your dear grandmother is industrious and economical as ever. Never were greater sacrifices than those she has made all her life long for the good of the Church."

These words of praise written by her husband in 1844 may be the most descriptive of Sophia May Chase:

"If anyone should ask why my dear wife, who is so essential to my personal comfort, in this my last journey to the east is not going with me, let it be briefly said, because the thing is impossible. The whole college establishment would at this critical period go to ruin if she were to be absent from it this summer. To this necessity she submits with a resignation becoming a saint. She looks up and says "It is thy will, O God." This calms the tempest in her faithful bosom and then all is serene. She is finishing the last garment to make me decent with the least expense for the summer. Would that our churchmen could generally know what this dear mother in Israel has suffered and done to build up the Kingdom of God in the wilderness. She stays at home and works for God. When money is sent for her from those who hear of her devotedness in far countries, she applies it all to pay for the college goods in New York, and when bills accumulate against her husband at home she will not allow even the smallest sums to be deducted from them on account of any salary to be allowed her or her husband. Such is the wife of Bishop Chase, and in contemplating her character who can be unmoved?"

Bibliography

  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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