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Women - History

Related Information

While women attended classes at Cornell from the very beginning, and it was the intention of the Founders that Cornell be open to all "persons," the first woman to register in the university was Jennie Spencer from Cortland, NY, who won a State Scholarship in 1870. She entered in September, 1870 but left shortly after. According to the legend, she had to quit because of the difficult walk she had to make, several times a day, back and forth between campus and downtown with dirt roads. In 1871, two other women, Emma Sheffield Eastman and Sophy Philippa Fleming began to attend classes, with the understanding that these courses would count towards their degrees. The Trustees formally voted to admit women in the spring of 1872, and 16 women were admitted that fall.

Emma Eastman, who had studied at Vassar, became the first woman to graduate from Cornell in 1873, with a Bachelor of Philosophy (Ph.B.) degree. Eva Marie Pitts, who received her undergraduate degree in 1874, became the first woman graduate student at Cornell, receiving a master's degree in 1875.

The first woman to be awarded a PhD at Cornell was May Preston in 1880, with a dissertation on The Different Theories of Beauty.

For more information, see:

  • A History of Cornell. Morris Bishop, Cornell Univ. Press: Ithaca, 1962.
  • Cornell: Glorious to View. Carol Kammen, Cornell University Library, 2003
  • Cornell Archives