Obituary: Sally Anderson Kitt Chappell, Ph.D. (1929–2021)

by Pauline Saliga, Kevin Harrington and Elaine Harrington | Aug 10, 2021

Sally A. Kitt Chappell thrived on community, humanistic ideas and independent initiatives. She spent much of her adult life pursuing and integrating all three. Her gift for friendship and building new communities was recognized by all who knew her, however slightly, but particularly through her creation of numerous reading groups. Her love for and engagement with ideas spanned her life from her first years at Mills College to her last days when she described her final visits with family and friends as surreal in a good way, like the plot of a Magic Realism masterpiece. Her love of independent initiatives revealed itself in the quality of her work as a gifted scholar, teacher, colleague and administrator, and in the key role she played to create the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled in 1997 to protect the rights of developmentally disabled individuals living in State Operated Developmental Centers in Illinois. In retirement she became even more prolific by publishing scholarly and popular books on ancient architecture and cultures, Chicago parks, poetry, children’s books, and a bibliomemoir on her ten favorite books that she read again and again. She also made time to master ikebana and watercolor.

Sally Anderson was born in Topeka, Kansas, 27 June 1929, the first child of William Elbert Anderson, owner of a wholesale grocery business, and Elinor Tanke Anderson. In her 2009 book, Words Work, Sally Chappell described her birth as “a lucky start, for my father was a big-hearted, sensitive man and my mother a poet. She loved to read poetry aloud at bedtime and I am sure she planted the seeds of a love of meter and rhyme in me that would grow over the years.”

Even as a young person, she loved both the natural and the built worlds. She developed an early engagement with nature while spending summers with her Aunt Dorothy in Port Clinton, Ohio, a popular vacation spot on the shoreline of Lake Erie. She also was curious about architecture at an early age, and she long remembered Topeka High School, designed by alums, Thomas Williamson, Ted Griest, and Linus Burr Smith and opened in 1931, as being “a very beautiful building.” 

After her family encouraged her to leave Topeka for college, Anderson first attended Mills College in Oakland (1946–1948) then transferred to Smith College (1948–1950) where she earned a B.A. in political science. There she was introduced to her future husband, Vere Claiborne Chappell, by the latter’s sister who also attended Smith College. Post-college Anderson took a grand tour of Europe to see art and architecture first-hand. While there she also trained as a German interpreter. Sally Anderson and Vere Chappell married and moved to New Haven where Vere earned his Ph.D. in philosophy, and their first two children, Jennifer and Jonathan, were born. When Vere accepted a teaching post at University of Chicago, the couple moved to Chicago and had a third child, David. It was at University of Chicago that Sally Chappell began working on an M.A. in 1957 with Dr. Earl Rosenthal, historian of Renaissance art and architecture. She completed her M.A. in 1962. During the same period Sally and Vere Chappell divorced, and Sally reared their three children alone while teaching at Kendall College in Evanston and later at Mundelein College in Chicago. From 1965 to 1968 Sally Chappell attended graduate school at Northwestern University where she worked with Dr. Carl Condit, a historian of architecture and urbanism who wrote pioneering books on the history of Chicago architecture, particularly skyscrapers. Condit’s wife, Isabel, was a legendary peace activist in Chicago, and Isabel’s activism was as important to Sally as Carl’s scholarship. Under Carl Condit’s influence, Chappell became immersed in the history of both world and Chicago architecture, and she published articles on Chicago and architects Mies van der Rohe and Francis Barry Byrne in the Prairie School Review and New City. Her Ph.D. thesis was a monographic study on Prairie School architect Francis Barry Byrne.

Dr. Sally Chappell’s teaching career began in earnest in 1968 in the Department of Art at DePaul University where she began as an assistant professor who taught both general education art history survey classes to a great many first-generation students and more specialized courses focusing on art, architecture and urbanism to art majors. Although not particularly religious herself, she enthusiastically adopted the mission of St. Vincent de Paul for the education of children in the age of urbanization and industrialization, and Chappell was soon promoted to associate and then full professor.  

Chappell’s students remember her as a master of engagement because she started every class with a five-minute discussion about life or current events. She would ask students for their opinions and make everyone feel that their comments were taken seriously, much to their amazement. She considered these discussions life lessons and to this day her students cherish all the critical-thinking skills she helped them develop. Back in the classroom, having successfully broken down the social barrier between professor and students, she continued with the class content, using the Socratic method to extend the dialog and make the class a meeting of minds. Her students loved her, not just for what she taught them, but for the authentic concern and respect she showed them. As a former student, Fr. Ed Udovic, C.M., Ph.D. recently wrote, “I had never before had a teacher like Sally. Her passion swept the class up in an exciting embrace, and pushed us forward not just to see, but to understand, appreciate, question, and envision…Her classes helped form me as a historian, and nurtured my desire to do doctoral studies and teach.” In recognition of her transformative teaching style and leadership, in 1990 DePaul University presented Sally with two of the most prestigious awards that the university bestows on their professoriate: the Courtelyou-Lowery Award for Excellence in Teaching and Collegiality and the Sears Roebuck Award for Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership.

During her years at DePaul, Chappell delivered many scholarly and public talks on a wide variety of topics focusing on buildings, engineering, urban planning, and landscapes with the same charisma that she brought to the classroom. She also published on those topics in prestigious publications including Art Journal, Inland Architect, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Threshold, the Chicago Architectural Journal, and the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Architects. 

In the late 1970s and 1980s Chappell expanded the scope of her work to serve three communities-—the public, her university, and fellow professionals. For the public, Chappell collaborated on exhibitions organized by two newly-established Departments of Architecture in Chicago museums. The first was at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979 with curator John Zukowsky and architectural historian Robert Bruegmann on The Plan of Chicago: 1909–1979. The second was at the Chicago History Museum in 1982 with curator Ann Lorenz Van Zanten on Barry Byrne, John Lloyd Wright: Architecture and Design. For her university, Chappell helped secure two Title 6 grants to create an image library for teaching, and accepted important committee assignments including Graduate Studies, Freshman Seminar and Honors, and Chair of the Art Department (1977–1980). For her profession, Chappell served as president of the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (1981–1982), on the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and for many years on the Board of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Also for her profession, in 1984 Chappell organized and directed a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, an eight-week master class for 25 college professors from across the U.S. The Institute, which focused on new views of Chicago architecture and urban planning, featured lectures by local professors including Robert Bruegmann, Carl Condit, Joan Draper, Kevin Harrington, David van Zanten and other experts from the area’s leading universities and cultural institutions, which at the time all had strong architectural history programs. The institutions included DePaul, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern, University of Illinois, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Chicago History Museum and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Fine Arts. 

In 1977 Chappell entered a second, joyous marriage to psychiatrist Dr. Walter Kitt. They honeymooned in Europe, including Venice, a city that Chappell introduced to her students through passages from John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice and Frank Jewett Mather’s writings, which she read aloud in class. Walter and Sally enjoyed more than 44 years together. They continued to travel extensively for many years, including a notable 1990 trip to Japan through the DePaul Foreign Studies Program. While in Kyoto, by chance and innate charm, they became acquainted with a wealthy Japanese sight-seer who escorted them around Kyoto in a chauffeur-driven car to visit all the gardens and temples that were on Kitt Chappell’s well-researched itinerary. Sally and Walter also spent many winters in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Sally, true to form, created another reading group, this time of poets. 

In 1987 Chappell was invited back to the Art Institute to write a catalog essay for a major exhibition that opened in Chicago and later traveled to Paris and Frankfurt, Chicago Architecture: 1872–1922: Birth of a Metropolis. Chappell’s essay for the catalog, “As If the Lights Were Always Shining: The Wrigley Building,” was the result of her multi-year year study on the Chicago architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White. Her research culminated in a monograph on the firm titled, Transforming Tradition: Architecture and Planning of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White (1912–1936) (University of Chicago Press, 1990). The book won the Association of American Publishers’ award for Most Outstanding Book on Architecture and Urban Planning in 1992.

After Chappell retired from teaching in 1994, she had time to pursue her passions, which included scholarly and popular writing, poetry writing, travel, book discussions, ikebana, and watercolor. Chappell published two books through University of Chicago Press in retirement, Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos (2002) and Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture + Landscape (2007). In more recent years, Chappell discovered the joy of self-publishing on topics of special interest to her, including Words Work: Selected Writings of Sally A. Kitt Chappell (2009), the bibliomemoir The Ten Heavens of My Literary Paradise (2014), the children’s book Gloria Goldfish Loses a Loved One (2014), and many books of her poetry including Shards (2012), The Time the Stars Came Down (2016) and In Praise of Flesh: New and Selected Poems (2017). She also enjoyed appearing, and often winning, poetry slams at the Green Mill, where Marc Smith started the Uptown Poetry Slam in 1984.

Chappell was also a founder of seven or more book clubs over the years. One she called the Dante Club, or "the not-for-sissies book club," as she said sometimes. It has met for more than 25 years, often reading classics, but also new books of note as well. This includes one wonderful meeting and stay in Tuscany at La Foce, the estate of Iris Origo, where club members discussed Origo’s WWII memoir, War in Val D'Orcia. Other reading groups Chappell founded include George Eliot, Proust, Broch and Saramago.

In closing we leave you with two fond memories of Kitt Chappell from friends and colleagues. Karen Wilson, former Fine Arts Editor at University of Chicago Press, wrote, “I knew Sally as an exacting, broadly informed and self-directed scholar, as her publishing interests clearly indicate. But beyond informed and curious, Sally seemed always to be in possession of a world of talents. In our dealings and interactions, she showed an unmistakably indomitable and larger-than-life personality…” And from Sally and Walter’s close friends Kevin and Elaine Harrington, “We recall that Sally characterized herself as “ardent.” She said it reflecting on her approach at life, her fundamental character throughout life...She was ardent about ideas, art, architecture, cities, books, friends, Walter, her children and family, music, opera (her recall of arias by favorite singers, often heard years apart), teaching and learning.”

Sally A. Kitt Chappell died as she wished, peacefully at home and surrounded by family, on August 2, 2021, after a short illness. Kitt Chappell is survived by her husband of more than 44 years, Dr. Walter Kitt, daughter Jennifer, sons David and Jonathan (married to Mary McGee Chappell), and step-son Gregory Kitt. Kitt Chappell is survived by four loving grandchildren, David’s son, Antionio Chappell, and Jonathan and Mary’s three children, Jennifer (Chappell) Ringwald (married to Steven Ringwald), Lauren Chappell, and Ryan Chappell (married to Ciara Delaney). Kitt Chappell expressed sadness that one granddaughter, Katherine Chappell, predeceased her in an accidental death, and felt blessed with the birth of one great-grandchild, Ruby Katherine Ringwald (daughter of Jennifer and Steven Ringwald), to whom Sally dedicated her 2016 book of poetry, The Time The Stars Came Down. Kitt Chappell is also survived by four siblings: Georgana Tait, Ralph Allen, Glynn Anderson and John Anderson. 

A memorial service will be planned in the coming months. In lieu of flowers, please direct memorial gifts in honor of Sally A. Kitt Chappell to the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled. You may donate online at You also may mail a contribution to ILADD, 8649 Carey Avenue, River Grove, IL 60171-1636, Attn: Wayne Ryerson, Treasurer. Telephone is 708-453-2824.

– Pauline Saliga, Kevin Harrington and Elaine Harrington


Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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