May Chown was the daughter of Mary Lavell and G. Y. Chown, who was Treasurer and Registrar of Queen's for 30 years and was also at one point the Secretary for the School of Mining.
May was born in the Chown home on Brock Street in 1889 and grew up in Kingston. When she completed her studies in the Kingston public school, she spent a year at Branksome Hall in Toronto before entering Queen's. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1911 and then took the Faculty of Education teacher training course.
Despite her training as a teacher, Ms. Chown's only actual experience teaching a class was in a remote prairie school, where she spent 5 months after her graduation. She would later find that her calling lay in social and community work rather than in education.
Before returning to Kingston, the adventurous Ms. Chown spent six months touring Europe and the Mediterranean, despite the Turko-Italian War which was going on at the time.
When the First World War broke out, Ms. Chown worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross and on her own time helped care for many people who fell ill in Kingston's flu epidemic.
In 1917, she went to Montreal to help with the establishment of a Settlement House. Over the years, her work there earned her such respect that she was eventually offered the position of Head of the House, a position which she was forced to decline because of her extensive commitments elsewhere. May was a kind and generous woman and spent a great part of her life helping others. She was especially fond of young people and the children at the Settlement House all called her "Mrs. Charms."
Throughout her life, Ms. Chown was deeply involved with the Alumnae Association. From 1911 onwards, she helped to raise money for the erection of Ban Righ Hall and was one of the main organizers of the first Convocation Tea.
She also held a post in the Treasurer's Department with Dr. McNeill, which earned her a reputation for good business sense. It was perhaps that reputation which earned her the post of Treasurer of the Ban Righ Hall Board, a job that she held from 1925 until her retirement in 1954.
Her tireless service on behalf of Queen's and the local community earned her such gratitude and respect that in 1961, when the Alumnae Association asked the Trustees to name the newest women's residence in her honour, the approval of the idea was unanimous (see Chown Hall). The only objection was, in fact, from Ms. Chown herself, who felt herself unequal to such an honour. She finally accepted, after much encouragement from her friends, but with the understanding that it was a tribute to her entire family, and not just her.