Memorial Minute

Chouteau Chapin, 1910-2003

“You’re from Midcoast Meeting? Oh, then you know (knew) Chouteau!” One can only begin to suggest the import of that familiar observation. It was joy in the present tense and joy tempered with sadness in the past tense. Both a reflection of a significant human being who embodied the delight of gentle wind with the capacity to shake large objects.

Ethel Chouteau Dyer was born in l910 in St. Louis to a family known as founders of the American West. She was educated at Bryn Mawr and London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She made her Broadway debut in l936. Along the way she studied acting techniques under Lee Strasberg, working with actors who later became stars, such as Marlon Brando.
A passion for peace and justice was the driving force throughout her long life. It found expression through her love of storytelling and the stage. When she received her first offer of an equity role on Broadway, she felt called to turn it down because of her commitment to develop scripts with timely social messages for the girls’ drama club at the Henry Street Settlement House in New York City.

When Chouteau discovered Quakerism later in life, it was like the end of a lifelong quest. Quakerism, with its belief in “that of God “ in each person and its tradition of social and peace activism, served to confirm and strengthen her as she continued her prodigious endeavors to improve the world. She and her husband, Stuart Chapin, became deeply involved in Quaker causes, studying intensively at Pendle Hill and supporting peace efforts in Mexico and Maine and beyond.

In l968 Chouteau and Stuart helped to found Midcoast Monthly Meeting. Her stage shifted from Broadway, but it was still a stage. She generated the enthusiasm and coordinated the results into Christmas plays she directed for all the children in the Meeting to participate in and enjoy. For Chouteau, the problems of the world, though many and immense, always allowed room for joy and simple pleasures. Her concerns were addressed through her tireless efforts in the Meeting, in Quarterly Meeting, Yearly Meeting, her Washington Congressional delegation, and a wide network of Quaker connections at home and abroad.

Chouteau was not to be distracted from her responsibilities to the Meeting and served two separate terms as clerk of the Meeting. She often offered her home, “The Barn” in Montsweag, for Meeting activities. Always enthusiastically involved with the children and youth of the Meeting, she was known and loved by them for her role as Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. However, peace and social justice activities were her dominant interest. She protested the Vietnam War and worked on behalf of Maine Native Americans and against the nuclear power plant in Wiscasset. In l974 she was arrested in Operation Snowy Beach at Reid State Park for protesting Navy operations and was taken off to jail. During the ‘80s she organized protests against U.S. wars in Central America and traveled to Nicaragua. In 1990 she attended a rally for peace in Portland for which she made armbands to generate questions about ways to achieve peace in the Middle East. Later she worked with the Plowshares group too, protesting Bath Iron Works’ involvement in missile weaponry. Attending a rally in a wheelchair was never an impediment when she felt called to help.

In 2000 at age 90 her creativity and love of life resulted in her staging a remarkable birthday bash in a theatre in Brunswick. According to one Friend, she “planned, wrote and choreographed the whole production.” She kept the 200 or so people in the theatre enthralled as she dramatized her life story which she chose to title “The Life of a Peacemaker.”

As her health declined Chouteau became limited in speech and mobility, but her attitude remained as positive as ever. Friends remember how she would greet them with radiant eyes and a big smile when they visited her in the nursing home and when they joined her there in meetings for worship.

Chouteau died June l5, 2003, in Bath at the age of 93. Later, family and f/Friends gathered in great numbers on the beach and fields below “The Barn” for a memorial service that was a grand celebration, a living mirror of her vital, dynamic life.

Accepted by Midcoast Monthly Meeting on April 16, 2004