Student, Soldier, Professor

  • Letter to Sheldon

    A letter written to Abe's high school friend Sheldon in 1947 describing his time at Harvard Law.

  • Wounded Overseas

    Telegram received by Kitty Chayes about Abe's injury

  • Harvard Law School Acceptance Letter

    Chayes was accepted by HLS in Novmeber 1945

  • Chayes in L'Illustrazione Italiana

    In English, the caption reads "Profess Abram Chayes, a corporations law professor, during a lesson. Chayes is only 38.

  • Chayes Club

    A 1958 yearbook photograph of the Chayes Club, a group that competed in the Ames Court Competition.

  • Peacekeeping and Conflict Prevention

    A distribution from a course co-taught by Abe and Antonia.

  • HLSA Award

    Received the award in 1999.

Chayes first stepped onto Harvard's campus in the Fall of 1939, as a member of the entering freshman class.  Like many  newcomers, Chayes lived in a sense of awe for the first few months. As he explained in a letter to Sheldon Levin, his best friend from high school, "a hundred times a day I look about me and ask if it is really I who am where and whether this is indeed Harvard."  Throughout his time at Harvard, Abe immersed himself in life at Harvard and in Cambridge. He participated in ROTC, attended football games with his friends, and went to numerous plays and concerts across the river in Boston.

In order to have his degree before “the army [decided] it [wanted] one A.J. Chayes as a second lieutenant,” Abe completed his undergraduate studies in the summer of 1942. Since he technically couldn’t graduate until the following spring, Chayes remained at Harvard and took graduate classes during his senior year. Halfway through his senior year, Abe was called to duty.  He trained at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and eventually taught incoming soldiers. Chayes would go on to serve in France, Holland, Germany, and Japan. He was briefly wounded in Germany (imagine his poor mother receiving the telegram seen in the above slideshow), but made a full recovery.

After the war Abe returned to Cambridge to attend Harvard Law School. While there he served as the President of the Harvard Law Review and involved in Pow-Wow Club. Interestingly, it was the administrative and appellate branches that appealed to Chayes the most during his first year of law school. In his last letter to Sheldon, which coincides with Chayes’s first year of law school, Abe exclaims that “for the first time in his young life [he was] in the throes of what might easily be described as an ‘affaire de coeur.’” The lucky gal he was describing? That would be one Toni Handler, his future wife, who was “by all odds the most fascinating girl [he had] yet met.” Eleven short months later, the two would wed.

Upon his graduation in 1949, Chayes would hold a number of roles, notably serving as Chief Justice Felix Frankfurter’s clerk, before returning to Harvard Law School in 1955 to teach. He taught many different courses, a majority focusing on international law, environmental law, arms control, and peacekeeping. In 1960, Professor Chayes would leave Harvard Law School to fulfill the role of Legal Advisor.  For more on his tenure as Legal Advisor, please see section named accordingly. Chayes resigned from his position and returned to the Law School in 1965. Chayes would frequently co-teach with his wife Toni, who was a professor at the Kennedy School of Government. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Chayes served as the supervisor for the first groups of Ford International Law Fellows on-campus. In 1976 he was appointed the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, and in 1993 would retire as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus. After his retirement, Chayes continued to teach and practice law.