Monday, March 9, 2015

Celebrating The History of Tiger Women in 2015!

March is National Women's History Month and so we recognize the contributions made by women to the development of our university! The Missouri Student Unions invite you to view the annual exhibition, "Celebrating Women's History at Mizzou," in the Lower Lair lounge at the MU Student Center.  The exhibition is on view throughout the month of March.


Women Graduates Break the Gender Barrier!


The first woman to graduate from the University of Missouri attended the Normal School program, which prepared teachers for primary and secondary schools.  The Normal School was the nineteenth century precursor to today's College of Education. Although 22 women enrolled in September, 1867, the first woman to complete the three-year program was Mary Louise "Lulie" Gillette of Hannibal, Mo, who graduated in 1870. After she graduated, Gillette became an instructor in the Normal School, teaching English and grammar. Gillette Hall, a women's dormitory, was named in her honor in 1967.

Mary Louise "Lulie" Gillette, MU's first female graduate (Missouri Alumnus, September, 1967)




In 1871, the curators opened all of the university's departments to female students.  The university catalog stated: “The Curators, recognizing the perfect equality of the young women of the State to all the advantages of the University, have opened to them the doors of every department of instruction." Sarah Anna Ware received the first non-Normal degree awarded to a woman when she earned her BS in 1872 and Master's degree in 1879. Female students were segregated from the men; there were scheduled hours for co-eds at the library and they were escorted to class by professors.

Mrs. Sarah Anna (Ware) Taggart, BS 1872, AM 1879, on the day of her graduation (Missouri Alumnus, September, 1926)

Dr. Anna Searcy Browne, MD 1900, first female graduate of the Medical School (Savitar, 1897)


Miss Ada Wilson, BS CE 1907, first female graduate of the College of Engineering (Savitar, 1907)

Mrs. Carey Mae (Carroll) Sprague, LLB 1896, first female graduate of the Law School (Savitar, 1896)

Dr. Caroline McGill, Ph.D. 1908, first woman to receive the Doctor of Philosophy degree
McGill is the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from MU.  She received her doctorate in anatomy and physiology in 1908. In 1910, she was appointed as the first trained pathologist for the state of Montana. She returned to academia in 1912 and received her M.D. from Johns Hopkins University. McGill practiced medicine in Butte, Montana, from 1916 until 1956. 

Mary Paxton Keeley, BJ 1910, first female graduate of the School of Journalism
(The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (C165_1))


Mary Paxton Keeley received her Bachelor’s degree in 1910, the only woman in the first graduating class of the School of Journalism, which was established in 1908. While at MU, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, wrote for the University Missourian and the Savitar, participated in women’s basketball and served as a class officer. She returned to MU in 1928 where she completed her Master’s degree and served as a faculty member until her retirement in 1952. After her death in 1986 at age 100, the Columbia Public Schools honored her service to the community by naming an elementary school after her.

Campus Changes

After women were admitted to the university as students, the administration began to add accomplished female scholars to the faculty.


Grace C. Bibb of St. Louis served as dean of the Normal School (now the College of Education) from 1878 until 1883. She was the first woman to serve as a dean at MU. (University of Missouri Archives, C:8/4/5)


Dr. Edna D. Day, Ph.D., was the first woman appointed as the Chair (professor in charge) of an academic department. Dr. Day was also the first woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in Home Economics, graduating from the University of Chicago in 1900 with a dissertation entitled, "Digestibility of Starches of Different Sorts as Affected by Cooking". (Savitar, 1909)

 The School of Home Economics


Dr. Edna D. Day, at the Lake Placid Conference on home economics in 1908, marked out the policy of her “Survey Course in Home Economics” at the University of Missouri in the statement that “sewing and cooking are decreasingly home problems, while the problems of wise buying, of adjusting standards of living to income, and of developing right feelings in regard to family responsibilities are increasingly difficult.” Thus, Dr. Day, its first department chair, established that the Home Economics program focused on scientific research and teaching necessary to provide their graduates with the knowledge to manage the modern home.

In 1900, the College of Agriculture established a one-year program in household economics for “young women who were interested in the proper management of the home.” The program expanded to a four-year Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree in 1906. The university catalog of 1916/17 stated that women were required to take courses in English, Chemistry, Botany, Dairy husbandry, and electives in “technical agriculture.” 


Gwynn Hall, a dedicated space for the home economics program, was constructed in 1924. In 1960, the program was elevated to become a distinct school within the College of Agriculture and, in 1973, the school expanded such that the university created the College of Home Economics, a separate entity equal to the College of Agriculture. To reflect the diversity of disciplines and the mission of the college, the name was changed to the College of Human Environmental Sciences in 1988. Today, in addition to the School of Social Work, HES departments include: Architectural Studies; Human Development and Family Studies; Nutritional Sciences (including Dietetics and Exercise Physiology); Personal Financial Planning; and Textile and Apparel Management.

The Home Economics Club (Savitar, 1908)

These women are just a few examples of the early pioneers who broke the gender barrier at Mizzou.  Please visit our exhibition or our previous blog post to learn more!

Blog authored by Sarah S. Jones, Ph.D. Candidate, Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions.