Clara Pike Begins Teaching at Wheaton
Clara M. Pike 1866 began her 32-year teaching career at Wheaton in 1869. Having attended classes at the Women’s Laboratory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she regularly invited professors from MIT to lecture at Wheaton.
Clara M. Pike (ca. 1844-1933) grew up in New Hampshire. She was advised to attend Wheaton Seminary by family friend, Dr. Gardner Braman Perry, D.D., who had grown up in Norton and admired Judge Wheaton. Because of Perry’s introduction, Mrs. Wheaton made Pike a special favorite, taking her for drives and caring for her through an early bout of homesickness. After graduating from Wheaton Female Seminary in 1866, Pike taught the English Branches from 1869 to 1871, and Natural and Physical Sciences (botany, chemistry, physics and astronomy) from 1871 to 1901. Often antagonizing the principals, president and trustees with her intensity and tenacity, she fought for improvements in science facilities and equipment.
Pike organized lecture series by faculty from Harvard and MIT in physics, chemistry, mineralogy, field geology
Clara Pike remained one of Mrs. Wheaton’s closest friends and her favorite teacher, making a habit of visiting every morning for a little
daily chat about the girls, which was in no sense gossip, but the result ofPaine, p. 250
a largehuman interest. Miss Pike tells us of the beautiful smile with which she was always greeted, Mrs. Wheaton often coming to the door to meet her. ‘How do you do, and how are they all at the Seminary?’ she always asked, with that characteristically sincere manner that showed the questions were not merely perfunctory. Then she would ask about the classes. ‘I saw the girls going to the Observatory last evening. What did you see through the telescope?’ ‘I saw you walking with the natural history class this morning before breakfast. What birds did you hear’?”
After retiring from Wheaton, Miss Pike moved to Hampton, New Hampshire. She was one of two alumnae who arranged for the portrait of Mrs. Wheaton by John Alexander, which hangs in the lobby of the Wallace Library. In fact, Mrs. Wheaton spoke her last words, on 21 May 1905, to Clara Pike.
A woman of “enthusiasm and magnetism” who was considered to be “one of the most important ‘Wheaton influences’ of her time”, Miss Pike was greatly loved by her students. A bird feeder and bench were designed in her memory by Ralph Adams
Julia Osgood, a student in the 1860s, wrote in 1907 that Pike was
thoroughly equipped as a teacher of the Natural Sciences, she constantly raised the standard in her department. She had the love and confidence of all the
girls,and watched over the details of their health and happiness with a wisdomand patience having its root in the most beautiful spirit of motherhood. For more than thirty years she poured out in the service of Wheaton all the riches of her heart and brain and enthusiasm.”
Paine, p. 164-5
Miss Pike continues to be honored at Wheaton. In September 2001 and 2002, the College’s chapter of the American Chemical Society sponsored the Clara M. Pike Undergraduate Research Symposium, attracting students from many colleges.