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Home / Our Collections / Special Collections & University Archives / Finding Aids / Chassell Family Papers, 1821-1999

Chassell Family Papers, 1821-1999


Title: Chassell Family Papers, 1821-1999. 

Archives Record Series: 14/02/10

Creator: Olin Chassell, Frances Ella Buckingham Chassell, Clara Chassell Cooper, Laura Chassell Toops, and Joseph Chassell.

Date: 1821-1999

Extent: 7.75 linear feet, 8 boxes.

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Northern Iowa

Language: This material is entirely in English.

Access and use: There are no restrictions on the use of this material. Some of the early correspondence is fragile.

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Preferred citation: [Identification of item] in the Chassell Family Papers, 1821-1999 collection, Archives Record Series 14/02/10, [box number], University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Scope and content: The Chassell Family Papers, 1821-1999, are comprised of class notebooks, coursework, publications, and other documents detailing the educational training and intellectual output of the Reverend Olin Bosworth Chassell, his wife Frances Ella Buckingham Chassell, and their children, Clara Frances Chassell Cooper, Laura Merrill Chassell Toops, and Joseph O. Chassell.

Historical notes:

Chassell Family


Left to right: Clara, Olin, Joseph, Ella, and Laura Chassell


Olin and Ella Chassell

Olin Bosworth Chassell was born on February 2, 1862, the third of six children of William Chassell and Frances Arabella Chassell.  

Frances Ella Buckingham was born on January 13, 1863, the fourth of seven children of Joseph and Merrilla Buckingham.

Both attended Iowa State Normal School.  Mr. Chassell graduated in 1888. Miss Buckingham earned her teaching license in 1885, and additional degrees in 1888 and 1899.  

Olin and Ella, as Frances preferred to be called, married on September 1, 1891.  They had three children, twin daughters Clara and Laura in 1893, and a son, Joseph, in 1900. 

In addition to taking classes, Ella Buckingham taught penmanship and drawing at Iowa State Normal School from 1888 through1891. She was also a teacher in Toledo, Iowa, from 1885-1887.  Shortly after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Chassell moved to Sundance, Wyoming, where Olin founded the state’s first rural church.  The twins Clara and Laura were born there in 1893.

Perhaps due to poor health, Mr. Chassell moved the family back to Iowa. In 1896, he became the librarian of the Iowa Falls city library.  The next year he returned to Iowa State Normal School for further studies, and subsequently became the pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New Providence, Iowa.  He returned to Sundance for a visit in 1914 and, perhaps, for a longer stint around 1935.

In 1896 Mrs. Chassell was hired as an instructor at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls.

From 1901 through 1910, she served as Superintendent of Schools for Hardin County, Iowa.  In 1910, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, she was defeated for re-election and/or forced out of that position.

In the meantime, Mr. Chassell, in addition to his pastoral duties, was in charge of the Steamboat Rock schools from 1903 through 1905.  The latter year he was appointed to lead the Methodist churches in both Faulkner in Franklin County, Iowa, and Aplington in Butler County.  The family moved to Eldora, in Hardin County, in 1905.

Judging from his correspondence, movement seems to have been a common theme in Mr. Chassell’s life.  As a Methodist pastor, he was frequently relocated to preach in other parts of the country while Mrs. Chassell stayed home in Iowa.  As well as the possible return to Wyoming in the 1930s, he also was in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1910s and New York State in the 1920s.

He always returned to Iowa, though, where he and Mrs. Chassell, by the middle 1910s, had settled in Mt. Vernon.

Together the couple edited the publication Iowa Methodist, spanning the years 1913-1919. Both produced an impressive literary output, Mr. Chassell’s in the form of sermons, speeches, and essays, and Mrs. Chassell's in journal articles, some written on her own and some in collaboration with one or both of her daughters.

Mr. Chassell died on March 27, 1944, and Mrs. Chassell seven years later, on May 3, 1951.

Clara and Laura Chassell

Clara and Laura Chassell were born on March 24, 1893.  Both graduated from LeClaire, Iowa, High School in 1908. They then attended Cornell College in 1912 (B. A.), Iowa State Teachers College in 1913 (Master of Didactics), Northwestern University in 1914 (Master of Psychology).  In 1920 each earned her doctorate in Educational Psychology from Columbia University in New York.  

Both women had distinguished careers.

In 1915 Clara was an English instructor at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.  From 1917 through 1922 she was the school psychologist at the Horace Mann School and an instructor and research assistant at Columbia University. Her positions after 1922 are unclear--perhaps she devoted that time to raising her two sons--but during World War II she served as senior accountant clerk for the Extension Service office at the University of Maryland.  From 1946 through 1948 she was an assistant professor of psychology at Wilson College, Pennsylvania.  In 1948 she was Dean of Women and head of the Psychology Department at Lebanon Valley College, and in 1951 she moved to Berea, Kentucky, where she became head of the Psychology Department at Berea College.  She retired in 1961, but continued to serve as a visiting professor to schools in West Virginia, Taiwan, and Alabama until 1968.

In the 1914-1915 school year, Laura was an instructor of English and education at Illinois Woman’s College, and from 1915 through 1917 a teacher of German, French, and English at the State Normal School at LaCrosse, Wisconsin. For two years, 1918 and 1919, she was an educational psychologist at both Columbia University Teachers College and Scarborough School.  With Clara, she worked at the Horace Mann School in 1920.  From 1920 through 1922 she was a psychology instructor at Ohio State University, but was forced by nepotism rules to give up that position after her marriage at the end of 1922.  She was also a special instructor at Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College in 1926 and was awarded a National Fellowship at Columbia University in 1927-1928.  After the birth of her children she held few formal positions.

It was in New York where the Chassell twins met their future husbands.  In a double wedding in New York on December 31, 1922, Clara married Homer Cooper and Laura married Herbert Toops. 

Clara and Homer Cooper had two children, Homer Chassell Cooper and Olin Cooper.  Dr. Alice Cooper, the daughter of Homer Chassell Cooper and Patricia Irvin Cooper, and Clara’s granddaughter, donated the bulk of this collection to the library.  Laura and Herbert Toops’s children were Thorndike, Edward, Marian, Nona, and Larry Toops.

Of the two Chassell sisters, Clara was the more prolific writer.  Laura published articles, alone and with her mother and sister, between 1921 and 1924, but afterward seems not to have published much.  In 1928, however, she did patent her invention of an adjustable chair for infants and small children.

Clara continued to publish until late in her life, penning numerous articles, three books, and two librettos.  Her last work represented in this collection is a libretto written in 1978, when she was 85 years old.

Clara and Homer Cooper settled in Berea, Kentucky,  and Laura and Herbert Toops in Columbus, Ohio. Although Laura was forced to give up her teaching position at Ohio State, Herbert went on to achieve the rank of professor there.

Clara Chassell Cooper died on December 23, 1992, just three months short of her 100th birthday.  Laura survived her by more than two years, dying on February 19, 1995, at nearly 102 years old.

Joseph Chassell

Joseph Chassell was born on June 13, 1900.  After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the military, although the war in Europe was nearing an end, and he was not sent abroad. 

After receiving his B. A. from Cornell College and an M.A. from Columbia in 1921, he attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City, earning a Masters of Arts in psychology of religion.  He married Ruth Boardman in 1922, and the couple honeymooned in Europe.  They had two children, Sonya Chassell Wessel and Anstiss Chassell Nadler.

At the seminary he learned to play flute, and in the early 1920s he formed a musical group.  He maintained his interest in music, and the group, until he passed away in 1981, reportedly even conducting, from his deathbed, a chamber orchestra made up of his friends.

He was awarded a Ph. D. in education from Columbia University In 1928.  Like his sisters Clara and Laura, he was drawn to psychology.  Believing a psychotherapist should also be a physician, Dr. Chassell obtained his medical degree in 1931 from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  In the early 1930s he was a psychiatrist at the Sheppard and Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland.

From 1938-1948 he served as Health Director and professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.

After his wife Ruth died unexpectedly in 1942, he married a woman named Margot.  They had two more children, Karen Chassell Ringwald and Robert J. Chassell.

In 1948 Dr. Chassell accepted an offer to become a psychotherapist at the Austin Riggs Center, a psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which, according to its website, "[helps young adults] take charge of their lives more fully so that they can experience more satisfying engagement in the outside world.”

Dr. Chassell was known for his unconventional views of education, psychology, and religion, publishing many articles on these subjects.  His eventual rejection of religious faith caused a rift between him and his parents and sisters.  However, they later reconciled.  When his mother Ella became ill late in life, she moved to a nursing home in Bennington, Vermont, to be near him, and by the 1950s he and his sisters had become regular correspondents again.

Dr. Chassell died on April 17, 1981.


William Chassell (1829-1910) m. Frances Arabella Jones (1834-1928)

  • Edward Chassell (1858-1928)
  • Norval W. Chassell (1860-1955)
  • Olin Bosworth Chassell (February 2, 1862-March 27, 1944) [See below]
  • Anstiss Arabella (Belle) Chassell (1864-1944) [Never married?]
  • Harry Jones Chassell (1866-1960)
  •         Naomi Chassell
  •         Frances Chassell
  • John Langdon (Langdon) Chassell (1871-1975)
  •         Helen Chassell [died in infancy]
  •         William Chassell [died in infancy]

Chassell Family Men


Front row: Norval, Belle, Edward, and Olin Chassell

Back row: Frances, Harry, Langdon, and William Chassell

Joseph Buckingham (1814-1906) m. Merrilla Lockey (1833-1911)

  • Virginia (Jennie) Buckingham Spensley (1851-1942)
  •         James Spensely, Jr.
  •         Ella Spensley Kolb
  •         Theodosia Spensley Peterson
  •         Merrille Elizabeth Spensley Ripple
  • Albert Buckingham (1853-1923) [Never married?]
  • Joseph H. Buckingham (1856-1890) [Never married?]
  • Frances Ella (Ella) Buckingham (January 13, 1863-May 3, 1951) [See below]
  • William O. Buckingham (1864-1933)
  • Thomas Buckingham (1866-1939)
  • James (Jim) Buckingham (1867-1932)
  •         Hazel Buckingham [died in infancy]
  •         Bessie Buckingham [died in infancy]
  •         Nellie Buckingham Chambers
  •         Helen Buckingham Powell
  •         Clifford J. Buckingham
  •         Albert Buckingham
  • Junietta (Jettie) Buckingham Pratt (1873-1955)
  •         William H. Pratt 
  •         Ella M. Pratt
  •         Herbert W. Pratt 
  •         Joseph J. Pratt, Jr.
  •         Junietta E. Pratt
  •         Francis Edward Pratt
  •         Howard J. Pratt
  •         Elmer Pratt
  •         Helen J. Pratt

Mr. & Mrs. Chassell



Olin Chassell m. Ella Buckingham, September 1, 1891

  • Clara Frances Chassell (March 24, 1893-December 23, 1992) m. Homer Cooper (1877-1953)
  •         Homer Chassell Cooper (1923- 2014) m. Patricia Irvin (1927- 2015) 
  •         Olin B. Cooper (1925-1984)
  • Laura Merrill Chassell (March 24, 1893-February 13, 1995) m. Herbert Toops (1895-1972)
  •         Thorndike Toops (born 1925)
  •         Edward Chassell Toops (1927-2005) 
  •         Marian Toops Abrell (1930-2015)              
  •         Nona Toops Wylie (born 1931)
  •         Laurence Toops (born 1936)
  • Joseph Olin Chassell (June 13,1900-April 17, 1981) m. Ruth Boardman (1902-1942)
  •         Sonya Chassell Wessel (1926-2002)
  •         Anstiss Chassell Nadler (1935-2002)
  •                                                   m. Margot [birth name unknown] (1911-1996)
  •         Karen Chassell Ringwald (born 1943)
  •         Robert J. Chassell (born 1946)


   Chassell Graduates


Older Chassells




Click on links for the inventory of each box.

Box 1: Nineteenth-century correspondence, 1821-1899

Box 2: Twentieth-century correspondence, ca. 1900-1955

Box 3: 1) Twentieth-century correspondence, 1956-1999;

           2) Documents, programs, mementos, newspaper clippings, 1878-1967;

           3) Photographs, ca. 1860-ca. 1990

Box 4: 1) Oversized photographs, 1907-1918;

            2) Iowa Methodist, 1913-1919, pamphlet edited by Olin and Ella Chassell

Box 5: Chassell family writings, 1884-1924: Olin Chassell

Box 6: Chassell family writings, 1883-1978: Ella, Clara, and Laura Chassell, and Homer E. Cooper

Box 7: 1) Chassell family writings, 1893-1938: Joseph and Edward Chassell;

            2) Autograph books;

            3) Miscellaneous brochures, articles, programs, etc.

Box 8: Hardin County School News, August 1902-June1906.


Collection processed and finding aid created by Library Associate Dave Hoing. Updated April 2018 (dh). Linear feet updated September 11, 2017. Essay updated September 12, 2017 (dh).

Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives 
University of Northern Iowa 
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675 
Telephone: (319)-273-7295
Fax: (319)-273-2913 


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