Home > Collections > Rare Books and Manuscripts > Archives > Women at JHU: A History > Chapter 2
The young ladies were not daunted. They were determined to gain access to Hopkins, which was offering a caliber of graduate instruction unequalled elsewhere. The Trustees’ statement of policy was full of enough loopholes—and their behavior marked by enough ambivalence and vacillation—that several women did engage in graduate study at Hopkins before a policy change specifically permitted it in 1907. They were granted or denied admission on a piecemeal and seemingly arbitrary basis, but those who were admitted were exceptional enough to deserve a closer look.
Emily Nunn had been working alongside male students in the Hopkins biological laboratory as part of Martin’s special Saturday course; yet her application to the regular courses was refused, because, as Gilman wrote, “the Biological Laboratory where experiments in respect to animal life are in progress is not well adapted . . . to the co-education of young women & young men.” M. Carey Thomas met with more success and was “enrolled as a candidate for the University’s degree of A.M., the candidate to have the direction of studies by the University Professors, and the final examination for degrees without class attendance in the University.”
Thomas persisted in her studies for a year before withdrawing from the University. Her polite, carefully-worded letter to the Trustees evinces the frustration, disappointment and anger of one denied the full privileges of graduate study. In particular, she noted the bar upon her attendance of the Greek Seminary. She persevered in seeking graduate education, however, first at the University of Leipzig. There, in 1882 she completed a three-year course with high marks but was denied a degree because of her sex. Then she went to Gottingen, where she was again met with refusal, but the University of Zurich, after a rigid examination, awarded her the Ph.D., summa cum laude. A year at the Sorbonne and the College of France completed her studies in Europe. Returning to the United States in 1885, she began organizing Bryn Mawr College, which opened its doors the following year. She became its first dean and, in 1894, its second president. Dr. Thomas was always an innovator, and, in addition to her part in establishing the first women’s college to grant the Ph.D., she led the movement for new methods of teaching, was engaged in the women’s suffrage movement and co-founded Baltimore’s Bryn Mawr School. She also promoted coeducation and scientific research by women, worked for international peace, and inaugurated an experimental summer school for working women who might not otherwise have had educational opportunities. At Johns Hopkins, she was instrumental in the establishment of the School of Medicine, and the University honored her the LL.D. in 1922.
At the same time that M. Carey Thomas was agonizing over the decision to withdraw from Johns Hopkins, another young woman was seeking to study mathematics under the venerable and influential James Joseph Sylvester. Christine Ladd’s scholarly publications had impressed Sylvester, and he urged her admission to Hopkins, writing Gilman that she would be “a source of additional strength to the University.” Trustee Reverdy Johnson feared that “through this back door the whole system [of coeducation] is coming upon us.” George William Brown, however, wished to give Ladd the opportunity to study under Sylvester “without establishing the principle of coeducation.” On April 25, 1878, the executive committee of the Board of Trustees agreed to permit Christine Ladd to attend only the lectures of Sylvester, without her being enrolled as a student. After demonstrating her exceptional abilities, she was soon admitted to the lectures of preeminent logician and philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce. She proved her worthiness, inventing a technique for reducing all syllogisms to one formula, called the antilogism, which still holds a significant place in logic. “Brilliant” was the term Peirce used to characterize her dissertation, “The Algebra of Logic.” While the Trustees had been willing to permit Ladd’s attendance and even voted her the stipend (but not the title) of a fellow, the stopped short of awarding her the doctorate she had earned.
Christine Ladd married Hopkins professor of mathematics, Fabian Franklin, and in 1882 the two of them went to Gottingen and Berlin to study. While carrying on experimental work in Helmholtz’s laboratory, Ladd-Franklin developed an innovative theory of color vision. Upon returning to the United States, Fabian Franklin resumed his faculty position at Hopkins until 1895, when he became editor of the Baltimore News. The irrepressible Christine led a fight, in 1897, to persuade the Trustees to change their policy respecting the admission of women to Hopkins. She received a polite letter from Gilman stating that it was inexpedient, at the present time, to take up the question submitted to [the Trustees].”
Christine Ladd-Franklin became the first woman in the Hopkins Faculty of Philosophy (Arts and Sciences), despite the reluctance of the Trustees to change their policy regarding women students and their refusal to grant her the degree she had earned. She was Lecturer in Logic and Psychology at Hopkins from 1904-1909 and spent the rest of her academic career at Columbia. Ladd-Franklin finally collected her forty-four year overdue doctorate on February 22, 1926, at the University’s Half-Century Celebration. Anne Kinsolving, Sun columnist, observed, “Is Johns Hopkins University now conferring an honor upon Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, or is Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin conferring an honor on Johns Hopkins University?”
The first woman actually to receive a Hopkins degree of any kind was Florence Bascom. Both parents had nurtured her intellectual development. (Her father taught philosophy at Williams College and later instituted coeducation at the University of Wisconsin, where he was president.) Bascom was a brilliant student, especially in the sciences. She earned three bachelor’s degrees at the University of Wisconsin and continued there, taking her M.A. in Geology in 1887. At that time, microscopic study of minerals was in its infancy, and there were no textbooks; yet Bascom mastered the subject and made it her specialty.
In 1891, Bascom sought admission to Hopkins. The Dean of the Faculty, Edward H. Griffin, was a friend of her father’s and pleaded her case before the faculty and Trustees, who allowed Bascom to attend lectured and use the laboratory. She was not enrolled as a student on the official register (which at least had the benefit of exempting her from tuition) and was barred from competing for scholarships or fellowships. On December 4, 1892, the Board of University Studies unanimously recommended to admit Bascom to the doctorate, and the Trustees approved the recommendation on June 1, 1893. After completing her dissertation on volcanic formations in South Mountain, Maryland, she was awarded her degree on June 13, 1893.
Bascom took a position as associate professor at Ohio State University and then went on to found Bryn Mawr College’s Department of Geology, which flourished under her leadership for thirty-three years. She was the first woman to be elected a fellow, councilor and vice president of the Geological Society of America and was also the first woman to serve on the U.S. Geological Survey.
From the beginning, women attended the numerous non-credit courses and public lectures offered by Hopkins and visiting faculty. The first of these was H. Newell Martin’s Saturday teachers’ course in physiology, which he began teaching in 1877. It is impossible to determine how many women attended these informal courses, which led to no degree, because the students generally did not register. Some early photographs of geological expeditions, however, reveal that many women took advantage of this limited opportunity to gain the benefits—if not the formal trappings—of a Hopkins education. As it became apparent that adults in the Baltimore community, particularly teachers, looked to Hopkins for part-time education, the College Courses for Teachers were established in 1909; these were coeducational from their inception and led to the Bachelor of Science degree. Along with other part-time programs, the College Courses for Teachers evolved into what is now the School of Continuing Studies.
Women at JHU Index | Bibliography | Credits
To Chapter 3 >>