Margaret Antoinette Clapp: High School English Teacher and Pulitzer Prize Winner

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIjAAAAJDNmMzlmMWFhLTAwNTQtNDQ3Ni1iMjY5LTAzMmU3MzEwMWIwZgOften talented educators garner accolades of international proportions. Once such educator was Margaret Antoinette Clapp, a high school English teacher and historian from New York City who also happened to be the winner of a Pulitzer prize for biography. Margaret Clapp was born on April 10, 1910, in East Orange, New Jersey. She was the youngest of four children, and the second daughter of Alfred Chapin and Anna (Roth) Clapp. As a teenager, she enrolled at East Orange High School, where she graduated in 1926. At the time of her high school graduation, she earned a scholarship to Wellesley College, where she earned her undergraduate degree in history and economics in 1930. While in college, Margaret was honored as a Wellesley College Scholar for her academic achievements. Margaret accepted her first teaching position at the prestigious Todhunter School for Girls in Manhattan, New York, where she taught English literature for twelve years. During these years, she enrolled in Columbia University, completing the requirements for her masters degree in 1937. During and after World War II, Margaret taught history at several New York City universities, including City College of New York, Douglass College, Columbia University, and Brooklyn College. Her doctoral dissertation at Columbia drew much praise, and was eventually developed into the biography Forgotten First Citizen: John Bigelow. John Bigelow was a little-known nineteenth-century politician, editor, reformer, and diplomat. Margaret’s dissertation was developed and eventually published in 1947. The manuscript was named the winner of the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. For her achievement, the talented teacher was featured in a cover story for Time Magazine on October 10, 1949. When she was 39 years old, Margaret accepted a position as the eighth president of Wellesley College, and she served in this capacity from 1949 until her retirement in 1966. At the time she accepted the position, she was one of only five women who were serving as university presidents. During her tenure, Wellesley’s financial resources and facilities were expanded to a substantial degree, and Margaret earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for careers for women. For her work at Wellesley, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Arts and Sciences in 1952. The library at Wellesley is named in her honor. After leaving Wellesley, Margaret served briefly as administrator of Lady Doak College, a women’s college in Madurai, South India. She was then named as United States cultural attaché to India, and eventually became an official of public affairs in the United States Information Agency until her final retirement in 1971. After returning from India, this amazing chalkboard champion settled in Tyringham, Massachusetts. In her later years, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away on May 3, 1974.