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.

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