Margaret Plummer Chase was born in 1895 to a wealthy Boston family. Her mother, Marion Monks Chase, was an artist. Her father, Percy Chase, was a banker. In 1926, at age 30, Margaret married Bernard Behrend a noted engineer who was 20 years older and in poor health. They shared a love for reading and collecting books.
After her husband’s death in 1932, Margaret Behrend spent time in Aiken, South Carolina. The area attracted wealthy northerners during the winter months with its warmer weather, horse culture, and one of the first golf courses in the South. In 1937, while looking for a home for her husband’s extensive laboratory of machines and precision instruments, she became acquainted with Clemson College, located a little over one hundred miles northwest of Aiken.
At the time, Clemson College was an all-white, all-male land-grant college operating under a system of military discipline and training. The majority of the approximately 1,500 students majored in agriculture, textiles or engineering.
"I ... feel that you will be doing more for the cause of education by having a laboratory located here than at some of our richer institutions who are able to obtain almost everything they want on the open market" (Dean of Engineering Samuel D. Earle)
Margaret Behrend sold her husband’s laboratory to Clemson’s engineering program in 1938 for $25,000, much less than it was worth. The money was funded by a special act of the Legislature, negotiated with the help of her friends Julian and Eulalie Salley from Aiken.
Behrend noted that her late husband “did not wish it to be given away, on the principle that those who are sufficiently interested in a tool or book to purchase it will use it most advantageously.” She paid to move the materials to Clemson, and promised to leave the college $25,000 in her will.
While negotiating with Clemson administrators about the purchase of her late husband’s laboratory, Margaret Behrend also became interested in the college library. She decided to donate her husband's personal and professional papers, as well as works from their extensive book collection. Attentive to the additional costs the library would incur, she also gave money for processing and cataloging the books.
Margaret Chase Behrend's relationship with Clemson's library lasted for the next forty years. She developed a friendship with librarians Cornelia Graham and Mary Stevenson, exchanging numerous letters over the years.
Both librarians knew the limitations of Clemson’s library, especially in relation to those at private universities or schools supported by wealthier states. They both greatly appreciated the importance of Behrend’s gift for building a collection of materials needed for educating Clemson students.
In 1941, Margaret Behrend returned to Clemson to award prizes for a contest to design a bookplate to be placed in Behrend donation books. Sam T. Earle and John Phifer Bird, Jr., both from the class of 1942, each received $35 for their winning bookplate.
In 1948, Margaret Chase Behrend became a patron member of the college’s new Friends of the Library organization. She was made an honorary member of the Clemson Alumni Association in the early 1960s.
Margaret Behrend continued her book donations through a brief second marriage and divorce, and while living in California.
In addition to her librarian friends, she corresponded with Dean of Engineering Samuel B. Earle and others she met on visits to campus during the next three decades. She always enjoyed hearing news of campus activities.
In 1967, Margaret Behrend visited the long awaited new R.M. Cooper Library where each of the three levels was larger than the entire old library.
Bernard Behrend continued his career as an electrical engineer in the United States with Bullock Electric Manufacturing Company, Allis-Chalmers, Westinghouse, and as a private consultant. He received more than eighty patents for designs and discoveries related to the development of electrical power from the 1890s to the 1910s.
His many projects included the Denver Gas and Electric Company, United States Steel Corporation, City of Nashville Municipal Power Plant, Niagara Falls Power Company, Pacific Electric Railway Company of Los Angeles, and Brooklyn Edison Company.
Bernard Behrend also was involved in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and other organizations significant in the development of the engineering profession in the early 20th century. He was a founding member of the Cincinnati, Ohio chapter of AIEE and served on national committees related to standards and professional conduct.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Bernard Behrend particularly admired English naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) whose influence was felt throughout science, education, philosophy and politics of late 19th century England. He collected works by and about Huxley and often gave copies of Huxley’s Aphorisms and Reflections to his friends and associates with an enclosed card (left)
Behrend also corresponded with and visited Huxley’s widow, Henrietta, as well as Huxley’s daughter and son-in-law, English portrait artist John Collier. He commissioned Collier to paint a replica of the portrait of Huxley in the National Portrait Gallery in London and donated the painting to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston.
Margaret Behrend’s first book donations to Clemson's library were from her husband’s and her own extensive collections.
Later, she also purchased some needed items through book dealers. At first, the Behrend donation mostly included books and magazines in the fields of science, technology and mathematics that were needed to support the college's curriculum.
When Clemson was establishing a new Bachelor of Arts program in the early 1960s, Margaret Behrend donated a large collection of literature, history, art and philosophy books.
William Makepeace Thackeray
At one time, Bernard Behrend held an extensive collection of works by and about English novelist, short story writer, artist and illustrator William Makepeace Thackeray. Some of his Thackeray collection was sold in a 1915 auction, but many items were part of Margaret Behrend's donation to Clemson's library.
In 1970, Margaret Behrend gave the final materials in the Thackeray collection in honor of her friend Clemson librarian Mary Stevenson, noting "It is just a small 'thank you' for all your help and enthusiasm with the books that I've sent over a period of a good many years."
The donation of over 180 items included first editions, autographed letters, two sketches by 19th century British portrait artist Samuel Laurence, and a bronze statuette of Thackeray by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm originally owned by Anthony Trollope.
While living in South Carolina, Margaret Behrend became friends with author Julia Peterkin who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for her novel Scarlet Sister Mary. They maintained a correspondence and visited each other when Margaret Behrend was in South Carolina. The Behrend Collection includes more than 50 letters from Julia Peterkin to Margaret Behrend, most from the early 1940s.
After Peterkin’s death in 1961, Margaret Behrend honored her by donating several of her books to Clemson's library, as well as money to purchase books in her memory. At the suggestion of director J.W. Gordon Gourley, the library purchased several books about African Americans, the subject of many of Peterkin’s stories.
"Over the years Mrs. Behrend has given the library literally thousands of books among which were volumes that we could not have hoped to secure had it not been through her interest and generosity." (Library Director J. W. Gordon Gourlay, 1959)
Most of the books from the Behrend donation went into the library's regular circulating collection to be checked out by students and faculty. But the donation also included a number of more unique works, primarily in the areas of science and mathematics, that were held in the Library's rare book room (predecessor to the current Special Collections and Archives).