Helen Krich Chinoy, a longtime professor at Smith College, pioneer in theatre education, one of the leading theatre historians in the United States and summer resident of Menemsha for many years, died in Northampton on May 24. She was 87.

In an academic career spanning nearly half a century, Ms. Chinoy was an inspirational teacher and chairman of the Smith College Theatre Department as it moved into a modern new center for the performing arts. She taught courses on theatre history, theories of acting and directing, Shakespearean production and women in theatre.

She was also a prolific writer and editor. Her first book, Actors on Acting, co-authored with her sister in law, the theatrical agent Toby Cole, was a widely acclaimed exploration of the craft of acting as told by the theatre’s greatest practitioners in their own voices. It has been continually in print since 1949. She and Cole continued their collaboration with Directors on Directing, a book described by one reviewer as the guide to the “unknown theatre” of the director. It too remains in print nearly 50 years after it was first published. Together, these two volumes, which are widely read by theatre students and professionals, remain her most influential work.

Much of Professor Chinoy’s research was focused on the role of women in the arts, and led to the publication, in collaboration with Linda Walsh Jenkins, of Women in the American Theatre in 1981. An updated revised edition came out in 2005. The book, based on a series of original interviews and essays, explored the contributions of women to theatre in the United States.

“Her scholarly work championed those who changed the rules of theatre,” recalled Professor Kiki Smith, a longtime colleague at the Smith College Theatre Department. “She challenged some of those limits herself, whether by recognizing the contributions of women or stretching the boundaries of theatre to include topics and perspectives previously ignored.”

In her later years, Professor Chinoy’s research focused on the Group Theatre, the pioneering theatrical troupe established in the 1930s by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg. She conducted interviews with most of the key figures, collected original documents and other material, and authored several scholarly articles. She also served as academic adviser to the 1989 PBS Masterpiece Theatre documentary Broadway’s Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre, produced by Joanne Woodward, and shared in the show’s Emmy Award. She was at work on a book about the Group Theatre at the time she fell ill.

“Helen Chinoy’s name and work will be long remembered in the American theatre, especially among those of us in the academic world who welcomed her book on acting and directing and listened to her counsel in theatre organizations,” said Winona L. Fletcher of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre “She will indeed be missed.”

Helen Krich Chinoy was married to Ely Chinoy, a distinguished sociologist at Smith College who died in 1975. She is survived by her children, Claire Chinoy, a Spanish dancer and teacher, who resides in Madrid, Spain; her son, journalist and Asia specialist, Mike Chinoy, who lives in Los Angeles; and three grandchildren, Daniel, Benjamin and Nandi.

Gifts can be made in memory of Helen Chinoy to the Helen Chinoy Theatre Fund, Smith College, 33 Elm street, Northampton MA 01063.