Science Complex Named After Entomologist Dr. James W. Chapman

Science Complex Named After Entomologist Dr. James W. Chapman

Silliman University honored one of its pioneering American professors, an entomologist, who played a critical role as an academic and a University administrator, especially in ensuring the sustainability of the University during and after the Second World War.

One of the more notable buildings on campus now stands as the Dr. James W. Chapman Science Complex. The building is home to the offices, classrooms and laboratories of the Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics Departments. On its ground floor is also the Rodolfo Gonzales Museum of Natural History.

Naming the Science Complex after Dr. Chapman was a fitting tribute to a man who had spent a huge part of his professional career in building up the reputation of Silliman in science research. While in Silliman, he also taught at least three of the subjects nurtured in the building: biology, chemistry and physics, with a special fascination with myrmecology, the study of ants. It was this passion for what many would term as “hard sciences” that brought him to Silliman in 1916 when he joined as a science faculty. He arrived with his wife, Ethel, who joined Silliman as an English teacher.

The naming ceremony was graced by the granddaughter of Dr. Chapman, Nancy Jean Chapman Turner, together with her husband Robert, a heritage consultant, and daughter, Kate. Nancy is the daughter of John Chapman, who, like his father, James, was also an entomologist. John was the youngest son of James and Ethel and was the only one who was born in Dumaguete while the couple was serving Silliman University.

Also present was National Scientist Dr. Angel C. Alcala, Professor Emeritus and Trustee of Silliman University, who was had been a student of Dr. Chapman during his tenure in Silliman until his retirement in 1950.

During the naming ceremony, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Margaret Helen U. Alvarez shared more about the life of Dr. Chapman:

Dr. and Mrs. James Chapman first arrived in Dumaguete City on November 1, 1916, Dr. Chapman to join the science faculty and Mrs. Chapman to teach English.

James Wittenmyer Chapman was born on October 20, 1880; his parents were farmers in Peebles, Ohio, and James was the only child to become educated beyond basic schooling. He was educated at Park College where he met Ethel Robinson of Great Bear, Minnesota whose relatives helped found Park College.

James served as instructor at Tufts College in Boston, Mass. He received his Doctor of Science degree (Economic Entomology) from Harvard in 1913 and served in the Dept. of Public Parks as City Entomologist for Boston and as an assistant in the Bureau of Entomology, United States Department of Agriculture.

His appointment to the Science Department at Silliman gladdened his science friends for they could have his help in the study and collection of tropical insects.

James and Ethel, with their first child, Katherine, and son Jim, came to Dumaguete in 1916. Their third son, John, was born in Dumaguete. (John was also an entomologist). In the early years, James taught physics, chemistry, and biology with a special interest in myrmecology or the scientific study of ants. He has been honored with the description of 12 new species of ants in six subfamilies by his ant colleagues during period 1935-2006. These species bear the name chapmani. 

James served for 34 years as Professor at Silliman Institute – becoming Silliman University during his tenure. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, in 1941, James and Ethel, rather than surrender to the Japanese, fled into the hills behind Dumaguete and lived there for two years, moving further and further into the jungle to escape detection. James hid some of his ant collections by burying them, and when he returned to Dumaguete after the war, the collections were dug up and miraculously survived. Unfortunately James and Ethel were eventually discovered by the Japanese, and were taken as prisoners, spending 18 months interned at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. After liberation in 1945, they returned to the United States to recuperate. James, a tall man of over 6 ft., weighed only 118 lbs. after confinement. Escape to the Hills, written by James and Ethel Chapman, is a fascinating account of their war experience. They returned to Dumaguete, where James and Ethel spent their last working years helping to rebuild the education system, to which they were very dedicated during their life in the Philippines. They established a substantial scholarship fund at Silliman University to help less fortunate young people obtain an education.

James Chapman was dean of the Graduate School of Education at Silliman (1935-1941) and of the College of Science (1946-1947). He also held the position of Executive Vice President of Silliman University in 1941.

When they retired in 1950, they received many honors. One was an honorary degree, Master of Arts honoris causa for Ethel Chapman, the first such conferred in the history of the University in recognition of her teaching career. In recognition of a life of unselfish service to the Philippines, the Dumaguete City Council unanimously voted to make Dr. James Chapman an adopted son of the city, also the first time this honor was given. A commemorative scroll was presented to Dr. Chapman by Dumaguete Mayor Deogracias Pinili at a dinner given for the Chapmans. And third, friends and former students established the James W. Chapman Research Foundation; a grant from the foundation in 1953 allowed the University to begin publishing the Silliman Journal.

The Chapmans sailed from Manila on May 16, 1950 on the S.S. Bengal, settling in San Mateo, California. Ethel died in 1958, and James, in 1964.