Harriet Alice Dewey (Chipman) (1859 - d.) MP

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Managed by: Michael Reid Delahunt, art teacher & lexicographer
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About Harriet Alice Dewey (Chipman)

Alice Chipman was the wife of John Dewey. Edward Riggs was her 6th great uncle.

Chipman, whose given name was Harriet Alice, was born a few months before Dewey, in 1859, to Lucy Riggs and Gordon O. Chipman, a cabinetmaker whom President Franklin Pierce had named postmaster of Fenton, Michigan, in 1854. Her mother died when she was three, her father, when she was four. Alice and her sister, Esther, were raised by their unorthodox grandfather Frederick Riggs and his wife Evalina.

In 1885, Alice Chipman's second year at Michigan, the Argonaut reflected on the 15th anniversary of the admission of women. It took pride that "American civilization and liberty" granted women the "opportunity to struggle for existence and for renown." It pointed out how helpful education was to the woman "who must go companionless through life," who might otherwise "sit idly in her chamber while the current of time rolled by." The article concluded that the female mind had proven to be "as capable of the reception of abstract truth as that of the male" and that coeducation had not lowered the "average intellectual capacity of [U-M's] students."

The philosophy department was unusually welcoming to women students. When Chipman graduated in philosophy in 1886, six of the department's 13 graduates were women, while only 15 of LS&A's 95 graduates were women.

John's shyness had always concerned his friends. Daniel Coit Gilman, the president of Hopkins, advised John not to be "so bookish; don't live such a secluded life, get out and see people." But John didn't have to go out to meet Alice, and they must have attracted each other almost immediately, for by March 1885 they were discussing marriage. "It was good luck--or was it good sense?--that John Dewey fell in love with such a woman. An adoring sissy might have left him half of what he did become," wrote Eastman. "In his mild and limp way ... he would stick to his own course of action, barring rational arguments to the contrary with the momentum of a mule. There was a full-sized moral and intellectual admiration between them."

Alice had taken courses in philosophy before Dewey came, and took his courses as well. His admiration for her showed up in his letters to her over the summer of 1885 and at holidays. He imagined her "haunting the library"; he sought her help on his Plato course, asking her to "look up references and lay out the course generally in order to remove the burden from my mind."

Between them, Dewey and Chipman questioned many assumptions about women. Dewey's articles on women's health pointed to the need for exercise, despite what he called "the aversion of American women, especially the educated, to bodily exertion." At the time, the U-M's gym was not only inadequate for male students, women were allowed to use it only three hours a day. When its administrators urged more students to join--to persuade Lansing to fund a new facility--women responded enthusiastically. This alarmed what the Argonaut called "anti-coeducationalists," who worried that the women would drive out the Rugby Association and gain "enough strength to be a prominent factor in Gym Management."

Fifty women organized to gain admission and to support the new building drive. If Alice Chipman was not one of those 50 women, it would be surprising. Although little is known about her before the 1885-86 academic year, her activities then show a determination to do what she could to make the University more welcoming to its women students. Her ire was raised in October 1885, when male students carved out a reading room for themselves in University Hall, the behemoth of a building on State Street that housed nearly all University departments. In their sanctuary, the men enjoyed their journals and caught up on papers from home. Women, reported the Argonaut, "are practically debarred." So Chipman and three friends won the use of the south dressing room and fitted it out as a reading room for women.

by Linda Robinson Walker

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