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women of science
Cornelia Clapp
Clapp's Dissertation
Cornelia Clapp's dissertation submitted to the faculty of the Graduate Schools of Arts, Literature, and Science at the University of Chicago, in candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Alumni Magazine
Cornelia Clapp at Mount Holyoke, shown in the May, 1935 issue of The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly.

C. Clapp
Cornelia M. Clapp (1849-1934)

In 1874, Cornelia Clapp, then a young science teacher at Mount Holyoke Seminary, was selected by Louis Agassiz as one of the summer students at his newly established school on Penikese Island. Her early introduction to the Woods Hole area grew into her lifelong association with the MBL from the time of its inception in 1888.

Clapp began her MBL career as a student and investigator and progressed to lecturer, librarian, Member of the Corporation, and finally, Trustee. The commemorative essay by Dr. Frank R. Lillie, excerpted from The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, pays tribute not only to Dr. Clapp but also to the many women of vision who were influential in the establishment of the MBL.

“Dr. Cornelia M. Clapp was always a beneficent presence at the Marine Biological Laboratory from the day of its opening in 1888. In the first annual report her name appears as investigator. From that time until 1934, the year of her death, very few indeed were the sessions not graced by her presence. Enthusiasm and loyal devotion, humor, modesty and wisdom combined to make her a unique personality, respected and beloved by all her associates.

Miss Clapp was elected trustee in 1910 and served for the remainder of her life. I have been asked to write a few lines concerning her relationship to the Laboratory as a trustee. But indeed it was impossible that this official relationship should increase her devotion to the ideals of the laboratory in scientific research or organization. Her election was a recognition of this devotion, rather than an expectation of getting more. For many years before her election there had been no woman on the Board although the Woman's Education Society of Boston had maintained a seaside laboratory at Annisquam in cooperation with the Boston Society of Natural History from 1880 to 1886, and it was largely through their influence that the Marine Biological Laboratory was established at Woods Hole to take its place. Accordingly there were two women, Miss Susan Minns and Miss Anna D. Phillips, on the first Board of Trustees consisting of nine members only; a third woman, Miss Florence M. Cushing, was shortly afterwards elected to fill a vacancy. But, as these women retired, their places were taken by men, until Miss Clapp's election. The Laboratory should always remember with gratitude the prominent part played by women in the early development of the institution.

Later the Laboratory came to rely predominantly for a long time on the cooperative support of universities and colleges, among which the women's colleges were prominent. Miss Clapp ably represented their interests on the Board of Trustees. As endowments were received, and support of research grew in universities and institutes, there was a strong trend of opinion in favor of making the Laboratory a purely research institution. Miss Clapp's influence was, however, always on the side of those who supported the traditional policy of combining instruction with research and maintaining close connection with the colleges, a policy that has happily prevailed, due in no small part to her steady, quiet influence.

The Marine Biological Laboratory is entering its forty-eighth year; the ranks of those who contributed to its early development are thinning rapidly; but its future is assured if we can count on loyalty and devotion equal to Cornelia M. Clapp's on the part of the successors of the ‘Old Guard’.”