George Ide Chace (1808-1885), professor of many subjects and president ad interim in 1867-68, was born on February 19, 1808 in Lancaster, Massachusetts, where he lived on a farm. At the age of ten he fell from the roof of a building which was being repaired, and during the long convalescence which followed, he began to study with an older brother. He determined to continue his education, and after his recovery was sent to Lancaster Academy to prepare for college. He entered Brown in 1827 as a sophomore and graduated in 1830, at which time he delivered a Commencement address on “The Results of Improvements in the Science of Education.” After graduation he was principal of the Waterville Classical Institute for a year, before returning to Brown as a tutor. He was appointed adjunct professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1833, and professor of chemistry in 1834. President Francis Wayland, who had been teaching a physiology course, sent Chace to Philadelphia to attend lectures, after which he was appointed professor of chemistry, physiology, and geology in 1836. In the summer of 1836 he traveled through Virginia and Kentucky to acquire geological specimens. For several years students, both male and female, in the higher classes of the Providence High School were permitted to attend his chemistry classes. In 1853 he gave a series of lectures to a class of 330 manufacturing jewelers of Providence and was rewarded by a gift of a silver pitcher engraved with scenes of Rhode Island Hall, the laboratory, and jewelers at work. As Chace’s responsibilities changed, so did his titles. He became professor of chemistry and physiology in 1859, professor of geology and physical geography in 1864, and professor of chemistry and geology in 1865.
He served as president ad interim for six months after the resignation of President Barnas Sears in 1867, adding the teaching of metaphysics and ethics to his regular classes, and was thought by many to be the best choice to succeed Sears. When Alexis Caswell became president in 1868, Chace was named professor of moral and intellectual philosophy, courses which had usually been taught by the president. Chace was essentially a scientist, rather than a philosopher. His courses in physiology and in intellectual philosophy recognized the relationship between physiology and psychology, and in 1848 he published an article, “On the dependence of the mental powers upon the bodily organization.” James B. Angell 1849 said of Chace, “He was one of the few men who could talk well while conducting an experiment.”
In 1869 Chace began a tradition of inviting to his home on Benefit Street all the members of his senior class in mental philosophy in groups of four or five for a social evening. This custom was highly approved by the students. After his resignation from teaching in 1871, Chace traveled to Europe, and then returned and added to his civic responsibilities. He was a trustee of Butler Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, and from 1874 to 1883 was chairman of the State Board of Charities and Corrections, directing the state institutions in Cranston. He died in Providence on April 29, 1885. Walter C. Bronson 1887 wrote of Chace:
“Yet with all his gifts Professor Chace was not a popular man. His manner was reserved, almost to coldness, and in class he was severe and sometimes caustic; although in his later years he cultivated closer and more friendly relations with his pupils. A man of deep convictions and a lifelong member of the Baptist denomination, he yet was disliked by religious conservatives: to the zealous he seemed cold and to the rigidly orthodox dangerously rationalistic, although in his later years, like his friend Agassiz, he withheld assent from the doctrine of evolution. His supposed theological unsoundness and the fact that he was not a clergyman were the main reasons, it is said, for the opposition to him as a canddisappointment he remained loyal to the college, and in his will left $9000 for two scholarships which bear his name.”Another legacy was a free bed for Brown University at Rhode Island Hospital.