Ask Abe: First Women Graduates

An Alum

When did the first women graduate from the UW?


Questions about “firsts” for women on campus have surprisingly complicated answers. Savvy Flamingle readers may recall that the UW “first” admitted women on three occasions: 1863 to the Normal Department, which had a special curriculum that ran separately from university; 1867 to the short-lived Female College, which was entirely separated from the UW; and for real in 1872 when women were admitted to all departments and allowed to study alongside men. So, when were the first degrees granted? Well, it happened twice. In 1865, the Normal School saw the first female graduates of its special curriculum. They were Mary Allen, Annie Chamberlain, Clara Chamberlain, Hettie Rusk, Annie Taylor, and Lydia Sharp. Then, in 1869, the first cohort of students from the Female College were ready to matriculate. The Board of Regents decided that the same degrees should be awarded to the women that were given to the men — a bachelor of philosophy degree. The first six women to earn their bachelor’s degrees (despite then-president Chadbourne’s insistence that calling women “bachelors” was absurd) were: Clara Bewick, Anna Headen, Jane Nagle, Helen Noble, Elizabeth Spencer, and Ella Ursula Turner.