Emma Adelaide Hahn (1893-1967): Professor of Classics at Hunter College, 1921-1963. 1915 BA Hunter College, 1929 PhD Columbia University. President, Linguistic Society of America, 1946; President of CAAS, 1960-1962.

E. Adelaide Hahn
Credit: Archives & Special Collections of Hunter College Libraries

E. Adelaide Hahn was a New Yorker through and through and a Hunter College “legacy,” alumna, and longtime faculty member. She was born in New York City to Otto Hahn, a native of Austria, and Elenore Funk Hahn, an 1875 Hunter graduate; she died there in July 1967. After being tutored at home by her mother, she attended high school at the Hunter Model School. She then went on to Hunter College, receiving her BA in Latin, Greek and French in 1915, and to graduate studies in classics at Columbia University, from which she earned her MA in 1917 and her PhD in 1929. From 1917 through 1921 she was an instructor in French at Hunter; she joined the Hunter classics faculty in 1921 and taught there until her retirement forty-two years later, serving as department chair for the last twenty-seven years.

In 1929 Hahn departed from Hunter and New York, albeit briefly, for postdoctoral work at the American Academy in Rome. Her doctoral dissertation on “Coordination of Non-coordinate Elements in Vergil,” supervised by Charles Knapp, appeared in print the following year. She continued to publish on Vergil throughout her career, in a series of articles in the Transactions of the American Philological Association and the American Journal of Philology on such topics as Vergil and the “Under-Dog,” the characters in the Eclogues, Vergil's “primitivism,” and Vergil's linguistic treatment of divine beings.

Hahn's chief scholarly contributions, however, were in the sub-fields of Latin grammar and Indo-European linguistics, an interest launched in a course she took on the comparative grammar of Greek and Latin given by Edgar Howard Sturtevant during her first year at Columbia. In addition to two APA monographs on Subjunctive and Optative: Their Origin as Futures (1953) and Naming Constructions in Some Indo-European Languages (1969), she wrote an array of articles in this area, many of them in TAPA. Among them are “Light from Hittite on Latin Indefinites” and “Was There a Nominative Gerund?”

Hahn's close connection with Sturtevant continued until his death in 1952. After he joined the faculty at Yale, she regularly attended the linguistic seminars there and took an active part in the Linguistic Institute that he founded in 1925, most notably at the Institute's meetings at Yale and the Universities of Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Her obituary in the journal Language, by George S. Lane of the University of North Carolina, observes that “she became his disciple, his constant companion . . . and, after the death of Mrs. Sturtevant in 1949, his solicitous attendant . . . bringing him home to New Haven after his almost fatal heart attack at the Linguistic Institute in Berkeley in 1951.” She was the Collins Visiting Professor of Linguistics there at the time and later served as president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1946 as well as vice-president of the Ninth International Congress of Linguistics in 1962. During her tenure as CAAS president, she was instrumental in establishing the association as a non-profit corporation.

Hahn's distinctive New York accent, forceful way of speaking, and penchant for large feathered hats earned her a reputation as a “character,” a colorful and unforgettable personality. During her thirteen years as secretary-treasurer of the New York Classical Club (1926-39), for example, she regularly read out at meetings the names of delinquent members, including the amount of dues they owed, and at one point fulminated that those who join the Club should “do so with the realization that such an act is not for a year but for all time, that once in the Club, one is in it.” Her presence abides in the CAAS community through the Rome-Athens Scholarship that she helped to endow, which now bears her name.

Judith P. Hallett
October, 2007