When President Decatur pulled away the curtain draped over the the center of the purple “Topping Out” beam on Tuesday, Sept. 10, it revealed a familiar name: Chalmers Library.
However, Decatur explained, while the old Chalmers library was only in honor of the College’s 13th president Gordon Keith Chalmers, this new library would honor both him and his wife, Roberta Teale Schwartz Chalmers H’60, co-founder of the Kenyon Review.
We at the Collegian applaud this choice of name choice during the 50th anniversary of co-education at Kenyon, and specifically the decision to highlight the importance of women to Kenyon even before it was coeducational.
Roberta Chalmers is just one among many women who have helped to shape Kenyon’s history. The most generous of the original contributors to the College was Lady Jane King Parsons, the Countess of Rosse. From 1889 to 1922, the College Librarian was female: Emma Wright first held the position until 1896, then Ellen Douglas Smith Devol replaced her and held the job for 26 years. Three years before the College became coed, the school hired their first female faculty member who could potentially take a tenure-track position, Sylvia Bernard, though she left after a year to take a job at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany.
As for the Collegian, women started making their mark in the College’s paper as soon as they enrolled. Linda Urban Sears ’73 was the first woman to write an article for the Collegian and Liesel Friedrich ’71 and Denise Largent Roberts ’73 were the first women to edit the paper.
Maintaining the connection to the Chalmers family is a great way to bridge old and new at Kenyon. President Chalmers made it a major goal of his tenure to build Kenyon something bigger and better than the tiny Alumni Library, which stood where Ransom Hall now stands today. When Chalmers died suddenly in 1956, Kenyon still lacked the library he thought it deserved. Six years later, his wife brought their good friend Robert Frost to campus to dedicate the new Chalmers Memorial Library. When the College built Olin Library in 1986—as Chalmers proved itself inadequate to meet the needs of a growing college—it was a conscious decision to preserve the memorial to Chalmers and connect the two libraries rather than completely replace the old building.
More than just a friend of Robert Frost and the champion of her husband’s memory, Roberta Chalmers was a master poet in her own right and she hatched the idea for the Kenyon Review. While she co-founded it alongside Dr. Frank Bailey, Chalmers came up with the idea for a stateside literary magazine while studying poetry at Queen Anne’s College at Oxford University. She was also among the College’s first female faculty members, teaching classes on 17th- and 18th-century British literature. She and her husband worked in tandem to develop the Kenyon plan, which evolved into the Advanced Placement program.
Roberta Chalmers was a pioneer in higher education, and her contributions to Kenyon deserve their proper recognition. We cannot think of a more fitting tribute to her than to announce her memorialization on the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Kenyon.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20, and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.