Women were always present in the student body at Penn, but at first only in the Charity School for children, not in the College or professional schools. When the Charity School was closed in 1877, the free instruction it offered was converted to ten full-tuition scholarships in the College, open to men and women alike. The College faculty and Trustees, however, were united in the opinion that Penn should not be a co-educational institution. The result was the admission of women in the Towne Scientific School as “special students,” eligible to earn certificates, but prohibited from earning an undergraduate degree. Not until the establishment of the School of Education in 1914 did Penn confer its bachelors degree on women and two more decades were to pass before the creation of the College of Liberal Arts for Women in 1933 permitted women to take the traditional liberal arts curriculum. The following presentation celebrates pioneering women at Penn, not only in the Towne Scientific School of the 1870s, but also in the Law School, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the other graduate and professional schools of the University.
Gertrude Klein Peirce (1859-1953)
Anna Lockhart Flanigen (1852-1928)
One of the first two women to attend the University of Pennsylvania, Anna Flanigen earned a certificate of proficiency in chemistry in 1878. She later studied in Berlin and at London University College under Sir William Ramsey. She earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1906 and became a professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College.
Mary Thorn Lewis (1854-1952)
A native of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Mary Thorn Lewis entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1878 and earned a certificate of proficiency in Chemistry in 1880. She was active in the New Century Club and the New Century Guild for Working Women while in Philadelphia.
Mary Lewis married William Channing Gannett, a Unitarian minister. She described her life as that of “a busy minister’s wife & mother of a family with civic and philanthropic interests — especially the movement for granting equal political rights & duties to women –.” A close friend of Susan B. Anthony’s, Mary Lewis Gannett supported the suffragist leader’s efforts to establish a college for women at the University of Rochester.
Emily Lovira Gregory (1841-1897)
Carrie Burnham Kilgore (1838-1909)
Mary Engle Pennington (1872-1953)
Bacteriologist, chemist and authority on refrigeration as a food preservative, Mary Engle Pennington earned a certificate of proficiency from the Towne Scientific School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 and her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University in 1895, at the age of 22. She held a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University in 1896. In 1898 Dr. Pennington established the Philadelphia Clinical Laboratory. Her research with bacteria led to methods for preserving and safeguarding milk that were soon adopted universally. As chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Research Laboratory, Dr. Pennington, devised methods of preserving and handling perishable foods that were adopted by the food handling industry and set the standards for railroad refrigerator cars. After leaving government service in 1919, Dr. Pennington continued her career as a consulting refrigeration engineer for more than thirty years. In 1940 she received the Francis P. Garvan medal, the highest award to women of the American Chemical Society.
Sara Yorke Stevenson (1847-1921)
A founding member of the Archaeological Association of the University of Pennsylvania (1889), curator of the Egyptian and Mediterranean sections of the archaeological department (1890-1905), and prominently associated with raising funds to build the University Museum. Born in Paris, Sara Yorke Stevenson lived in France and Mexico before settling in Philadelphia. Author of numerous articles on archaeology, she also wrote a book entitled Maximilian in Mexico (1899), and was literary editor of the Public Ledger. She was the first woman to be awarded an honorary degree at the University (Sc.D. 1894).
Alice Paul (1885-1977)
Paul also studied economics and sociology at the universities of London and Birmingham. While in England she was active in the Women’s Social and Political Union and was arrested and jailed repeatedly as a participant in the campaign for women’s rights led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia.
Returning to the United States in 1910, Paul was appointed chair of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912. In June 1916, Paul founded the National Woman’s Party, its sole plank a resolution calling for immediate passage of the federal amendment guaranteeing the enfranchisement of women. In 1923, the National Woman’s Party introduced an Equal Rights Amendment to Congress, authored by Alice Paul.
In 1938 Paul founded the World Woman’s Party in Geneva, Switzerland. After the war the World Woman’s Party lobbied successfully for the inclusion of equality provisions in the United Nations charter. Paul died in Moorestown, New Jersey on July 9, 1977.
Papers and biographies of other notable alumnae:
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Virginia Margaret Alexander
Ida Elizabeth (Bowser) Asbury
Anita Lucette DeFrantz
Helen O. Dickens
Elizabeth Farquhar Flower
Anna Johnson Julian
Margaret Majer Kelly
Ruth Branning Molloy
Emily Hartshorne Mudd
SaraKay Cohen Smullens
Dorothy Swaine Thomas
Roger Arliner Young