Frances Ellis Sabin

Fannie Sabin
Frances E. Sabin

A Tribute...

     "Fannie Effie Sabin" was born September 6, 1870 in Naperville, Illinois,  the fifth child of Albert S. Sabin and Sarah Ellis Sabin. 

     The Sabin and Ellis families, old New England families, had migrated from Massachusetts and Connecticut to Vermont, New York, and then west to Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois in the early 1830s.  Naperville was a newly founded town in the frontier west of Chicago, and for years it vied for the position of county seat of DuPage County.  It later attracted Northwestern College (now North Central), founded by the Evangelical Society.  The Sabin family valued education, and Guy Ellis Sabin was in the first class to began studies at Northwestern College after it relocated to Naperville  in 1871.

     Fannie later adopted Frances Ellis Sabin as her professional name.  She taught at the University of Wisconsin, and at the Teacher's College of Columbia University in New York.   She never married, but led an exciting and adventurous life.  She and her surviving sisters, Mary and Daisy,  traveled extensively, and, near the end of their lives, lived near their nephew (my grandfather), Bert Sabin, in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  In 1934 Fannie attempted to reconstruct a list of all of her destinations in a little travel diary, which I have transcribed below. 

     The following is a biography  which was published in ACL Historical Notes of "The Classical Outlook" in the winter of 1993:

Frances Ellis Sabin
Founder and Director of the Service Bureau
Editor of Latin Notes

     In the fall of 1923 a woman passenger journeyed by train from Madison Wisconsin to New York City.  Fellow passengers would not have suspected that this apparently tranquil trip was the beginning of an epoch in the teaching of Latin in this country; but so it was.  They could not possibly know that their traveling companion was Miss Frances E. Sabin, who had already done more for secondary Latin than any other individual in the country, and who was on her way to found the Service Bureau for Classical Teachers (now called the Teaching Materials and Resource Center [TMRC] as a branch of the American Classical League.  In 1923 the Service Bureau was a dream in Miss Sabin's mind;  by 1936 the Bureau was known among teachers of the Classics throughout the length and breadth of the land.

     Miss Sabin's life was, in a sense, a series of such journeys, adventures, dreams come true.  Miss Sabin was born in Naperville, Illinois, on 6 Sep. 1870.  She received her BA from he University of Michigan in 1895 and her MA in 1896.  She continued her graduate study at the University of Chicago and abroad.  As a young graduate of the University of Michigan, she set out ambitiously to teach Latin better than it had ever been taught before, and it was not long before her brilliant work began to attract wide attention.  From the high school at Fort Wayne, Indiana, when was called to Oak Park, Illinois.  Here she was instrumental in designing and executing a "Classical Room," which soon became famous.  She also taught at the Northern Illinois State Normal School at DeKalb, and for one year took a "breathing space" to study in Rome.

     In 1913 the cry for the "practical" in education was being raised with loud insistence, and the study of Latin was at a low ebb.  In that year, Miss Sabin prepared an exhibit entitled "The Relation of Latin to Practical Life."  She displayed the whole set of beautifully lettered and illustrated posters at a meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) held at Indianapolis in April, 1913; to say that it took the meeting by storm is to put the case mildly.  Members of the Association who saw the exhibit were still speaking about it in 1936 and of the compelling impression which it had made on all observers - professional classicists and laymen alike.  Many credit Miss Sabin for staying a great part of the anti-Latin feeling across the country with that one project.

      In 1914 Miss Sabin became Assistant Professor of Latin at the University of Wisconsin and took charge of teachers' training and demonstration courses in Latin.  The same year she published her first book, The Relation of Latin to Practical Life, a summary of the famous exhibit, with Frances Ellis Sabininstructions for the construction of others like it.  Not content to rest upon her laurels, Miss Sabin then proceeded to organize a state-wide service bureau for Latin teachers.  She encouraged Latin teachers to send in teaching devices which they had found useful or to write for advice or help.  She published a tiny leaflet called Latin Notes and distributed it to teachers of Latin in the state.  In 1916 her fine work gained her the vice-presidency of CAMWS. 

     From the idea of a state service bureau to that of a national one was a logical step.  Dean Andrew F. West, first president of the American Classical League, succeeded in having a national bureau set up at the Teachers College, Columbia University.  In 1922, Miss Sabin was called to nation-wide service as Director of the Service Bureau for Classical Teachers sponsored by the American Classical League and Teachers College of Columbia University.  Latin Notes made its appearance as a publication of the League Service Bureau in November, 1923, under Miss Sabin's editorship (where it was to remain until 1936 when Lillian B. Lawler became editor and the name of the publication was changed to the Classical Outlook).  Immediately both the bureau and the periodical were hailed with joy by teachers throughout the country.  Together they helped, encouraged, and inspired Latin teachers by the thousands;  through them Miss Sabin was, in her own phrase, "a Minister of Munitions to the Classics."

     In 1930 the Bureau was moved o the Washington Square branch of New York University, and Miss Sabin was made Associate Latin BookProfessor of Education there.  In 1936, after a life of service matched by few, she retired as Associate Professor Emerita.

     Miss Sabin was an inveterate globe-trotter, having been abroad 13 times in addition to a nine-month's trip around the world in 1932-33;  she spoke as familiarly of India, China, and Egypt, as of Italy and Greece.  She was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority and Phi Beta Kappa, and of the Pen and Brush Club, as well as of most of the scholarly organizations in her own field.  She was the author of several books, among them Classical Associations of Places in Italy, Classical Myths That Live Today, and Classical Allusions in the New York Times.


     Frances Ellis Sabin died in Jonesborough, Tennessee, on 10 Jan. 1943.  It is not too much to say that Latin Notes, together with the literally thousands of League publications, great and small, prepared or inspired by Miss Sabin, have furnished aid, comfort and "ammunition" to thousands of teachers and that both the present Teaching Materials and Resource Center and the Classical Outlook stand as monuments to her devotion to the cause of the Classics.

     Michelle P. Wilhelm
     Robert M. Wilhelm
     Miami University

This brief biography of Frances Ellis Sabin is reprinted with some additions and changes from two short accounts of her life published by Lillian B. Lawler in Classical Outlook 14 (1936); and by William L. Carr in Classical Outlook 20 (1943).

The Travels of Frances Ellis Sabin

This list was reconstructed by Frances ("Fannie") in  small memo book dated 1934.  In the beginning she says, "Several trips taken before 1900 but not recorded..."


  • Summer in Germany and Winter in Rome


  • Greece and Sicily, March 12-June 30


  • Summer in Scotland and England with Miss Kenaga and Miss Olmstead

1909 [this must mean winter or maybe summer 1910?]

  • Summer in Spain, Algiers, Tangier and Rome


  • England and Wales, and walk through Devonshire and Cornwall


  • Steamer "Roma" in summer trip to Italy
  • Also, Summer at Aragon (?) and places in France- (can't read these city names)
  • Spain- Barcelona


  • Summer in New Hampshire


  • Glacier Park


  • France (Brittany)


  • Belgium
  • Rhine River
  • Black Forest


  • Honolulu and visits in California- Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Francisco


  • Trip through Panama

August 1932-May 1933

  • Trip of 9 months around the world


  • Trip to Mexico City on steamer to Vera Cruz and railroad to Mexico City to July 16


  • Aug 10-25 Auto trip to S. California
  • Simply remembered trips in America and summer vacations:
  • 3 trips through Glacier Park
  • With Science Department of Normal School at DeKalb - camping in mountain sides in Washington.
  • Several summers on Monhegan(?) Island (Maine)
  • 2 recent months on Maine coast
  • Boat trip to Canada
  • 4 or 5 summers at Nantucket Island
  • Many years ago, trips with mother to a southern resort in Alabama on coast where the Babcocks had a cottage [Emerency Ellis Smith Babcock was Sarah Ellis Sabin's sister. The resort was Magnolia Springs].
  • A winter (when a young girl) in Jonesboro [Tennessee] with Guy and wife [Guy Ellis Sabin and Nannie Sevier Sabin]..
  • Some weeks in summer at Lyon 
  • Horseback riding with D.B.S. [Daisy Belle Sabin] in a southern resort where mother often spent winters with her nephew. [This was Magnolia Springs, Alabama].
  • 2 trips to Bermuda.


Frances Ellis Sabin is buried in Maplelawn Cemetery in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  A marker also has been placed beside her sisters and parents in the Naperville, Illinois Cemetery.


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 Note:  I began this DuPage County site as an independent genealogy site. When the DuPage County Genealogical Society chose to relinquish its involvement in the USGenWeb Project, it removed all research material from the ILGenWeb Project.  This site (my original independent history site) was migrated to the ILGenWeb Project.  Please let me know if you find any broken links.   Pat Sabin, DuPage County ILGenWeb Coordinator