“Women while in college ought to have the broadest possible education. This college education should be the same as men’s, not only because there is but one best education, but because men’s and women’s effectiveness and happiness and the welfare of the generation to come after them will be vastly increased if their college education has given them the same intellectual training and the same scholarly and moral ideals.”
—M. Carey Thomas, 1901
Born this day in 1857: M. Carey Thomas (1857–1935), feminist and educator who raised the standard of women’s higher education
Martha Carey Thomas was born into a devout Quaker family in Baltimore, Maryland, and educated in Quaker schools. In 1872 she began studying at Howland Institute, a Quaker boarding school in New York State. After graduating from Howland, she entered Cornell University as a junior in 1875. After earning an AB degree in 1877, Thomas set out to pursue graduate level work. Johns Hopkins University allowed her to enroll, but not to attend classes with male students. She resigned the following year. She next went to Germany, studying philology at the University of Leipzig, but was refused a degree because—say it with me, people—she was a woman. She then transferred to the University of Zurich and in 1882 received a doctoral degree, summa cum laude. She spent an additional year in Europe, studying at the Sorbonne.
In 1884 Thomas returned to the United States to become an English professor and dean of Bryn Marw College, which opened in 1885. She was the first woman in the country appointed as college dean. As dean she set in motion a series of policies unheard of in women’s institutions at that time, including rigorous entrance exams, exclusively PhD faculty, and graduate programs. In 1885 she also founded, along with members of her intellectual circle known as the “Friday Night” group, Bryn Mawr School, a preparatory school for girls. The Friday Night also induced Johns Hopkins University to require college degrees for entrance into its new medical school and to accept both men and women into the school on the same terms.
In 1893 Thomas became Bryn Mawr’s second president and its first woman president. She served as the college’s president for the next 28 years, overseeing its enrollment, growth, and endowment.
In addition to being a passionate educator, Thomas was a devoted suffragist. She helped found the National College Women’s Equal Suffrage League and became its first president and was prominent member of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She was also active in the National Woman’s Party, which lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
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