Within CAMWS Territory:
Helen M. Chesnutt (1880-1969), Black Latinist
Michele Valerie Ronnick
Wayne State University
Recent scholarship in classics has begun to delineate the dynamic pattern
of black classicism in the U.S., a pattern that has gone heretofore unnoticed.
This new subfield of the classical tradition involves itself in analysis
of both the creative response to classical antiquity by artists as
well as the history of the professional training of scholars, pedagogues and
students in high schools colleges and universities.
One figure from the first category is Helen Maria Chesnutt (1880-1969).
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Chesnutt was the second daughter of
acclaimed African American novelist Charles Chesnutt, She earned her B.A.
from Smith College in 1902 and her M.A. in Latin from Columbia
University in 1925. She taught Latin for many years at Central High
School in Cleveland, Ohio. Among her pupils was one who became famous. This
was the poet Langston Hughes who found her inspiring. In addition she co-authored
with Martha Olivenbaum and Nellie Rosebaugh a beginning Latin textbook entitled The
Road to Latin (1932), which was
published several times in subsequent years. She was also member of
the American Philological Association from 1920 through 1934.
Using a set of slides my paper will present a synopsis of her life and career.
We should become acquainted with the face of this accomplished Latin teacher
who practiced her profession within CAMWS territory.