Did You Know?

A Historical Sampling of Milestones and Accomplishments Achieved by Brown Women During Their Time at Brown and Beyond

  • In 1830, Sarah Doyle is born in Providence, RI and goes on to be a leader in the effort to gain access to higher education for women, including Brown University.
  • Brown receives an application from a female student in April 1874 and decides against admitting women to the University.
  • The first six female students arrive at Brown in October 1891, but it is not until 1896 that the Corporation finally passes its “Legislation Founding the Women’s College in Brown University.” In doing so, the Corporation recognizes the Women’s College as a department and provides a dean who reports directly to President Andrews.
  • Maude Bonner, Clara Comstock, Nettie Goodale Murdoch, Elizabeth Peckham, Anne Tillinghast Weeden and Mary Emma Woolley are the first female students to attend Brown.
  • The first class taught to women at Brown was French, taught by instructor Asa Clinton Crowell to two students, Nettie Goodale Murdock and Elizabeth Peckham.
  • In 1892, women are admitted to graduate study at Brown.
  • In 1894, Mary Emma Woolley and Anne Tillinghast Weeden become the first female graduates of Brown University. Woolley goes on to become the 11th president of Mount Holyoke College. The next year eleven women graduate from Brown.
  • In 1894, Sarah Doyle becomes the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Brown.
  • Pembroke Hall is dedicated in 1897 as the first official home of the Women’s College in Brown University. Funding for the Hall is raised by the RI Society for the Collegiate Education of Women, led by Sarah Doyle. At the dedication, Sarah Doyle spoke her most famous words: “The women’s sphere is one of infinite and indeterminate radius.”
  • In 1897, Martha Tarbell becomes the first woman to receive a doctoral degree from Brown.
  • In 1897, Mabel Potter, Class of 1897, persuades President Andrews to purchase gymnastic equipment for women, and she becomes the first physical education instructor for students of the Women’s College in Brown University.
  • In 1900, the first women’s tennis team at Brown begins to compete against other colleges.
  • In 1901, the first alumnae association for the Women’s College is formed. Charlotte A. Tillinghast, Class of 1896, becomes the first president.
  • In 1905, Ethel Tremaine Robinson becomes the first African American woman to graduate from the Women’s College in Brown University.
  • In 1906, Frank Sayles, Class of 1890, contributes $50,000 for the construction of Sayles Gym, to be used for women’s athletics. The new facility includes a running track, basketball court, locker rooms and two bowling alleys.
  • In 1927, the Women’s College in Brown University Alumnae Association petitions the Brown Corporation for the right to nominate alumnae to the Corporation. The Corporation responds that “the time has not arrived for the election of a woman to membership in the Corporation…"
  • In 1928, The Women’s College in Brown University is renamed Pembroke College in Brown University.
  • In 1928, the men’s and women’s debate teams face off for the first time. The women of Pembroke College defeat the men.
  • Albina Osipowich, Class of 1933, attends the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam and wins two gold medals in the swim competitions. In 1930, she becomes the first woman allowed to swim an exhibition in the Colgate-Hoyt Pool on Brown’s campus.
  • In 1933, Kuo-P’ing Chou, Class of 1935, becomes the first woman to win the newly instituted Brown University scholarship offered at several Japanese and Chinese universities. She comes to Pembroke as a junior, transferring from Yenching University.
  • Pembroke Field is dedicated in 1936, greatly improving facilities for women’s outdoor sports.
  • In 1945, Shirley Gallup, Class of 1945, becomes one of the first 12 women admitted to Harvard Medical School.
  • In 1948, Pauline Bergevin becomes the first female Native American to graduate from Pembroke. She receives a Bachelor of Arts in French Language and later earns a Master’s degree from Boston University.
  • In 1949, the Corporation of Brown University appoints Anna Canada Swain, Class of 1911, to be the first female trustee.
  • In 1951, Nancy Tobin, Dorothy Senerchia and Helen Johnson, all members of the Class of 1955, found the Chattertocks women's a cappella group.
  • In 1953, Elizabeth Leduc is named the first female full professor in the department of biology at Brown University.
  • In 1961, Arlene Gorton, Class of 1952, is named director of physical education at Pembroke College and professor of physical education. In 1968, she is named assistant director of athletics for Brown University.
  • In 1964, “The Pembroke Pandas” take to the ice and become the first women’s collegiate ice hockey program in the United States.
  • Elizabeth Goodale Kenyon, Class of 1939, becomes the first alumna trustee elected to the Corporation of Brown University in 1965.
  • In 1967, the Nancy Duke Lewis Professorship – the first endowed professorship at Brown for a female faculty member – is established.
  • In 1968, several black women from Pembroke College march to Congdon Street Baptist Church, where they camp for three days in an attempt to force the University to increase the number of black students. Following their protest, there was a 300% increase in black student enrollment. This protest results in the creation of the Transitional Summer Program, later known as the Third World Transition Program as well as the establishment of Rites and Reasons Theatre.
  • In 1968, Beverly Hodgson, Class of 1970, becomes editor of The Brown Daily Herald and is acclaimed by the press as the “First Woman Editor of Ivy League Daily.”
  • Doris Brown Reed, Class of 1927, becomes the first woman appointed to the Brown Board of Fellows in 1969.
  • In 1969, Jacqueline Court becomes the first woman of color to be hired in the Athletics Department. During her tenure, she founds and coaches women’s gymnastics until retiring in 2001.
  • In 1970, the last issue of the Record is published. This was the final name of the newspaper in publication since 1919 with affiliation to the Women’s College in Brown and Pembroke. The publication was previously named The Record, The Pembroke Record and the Sepiad Supplement.
  • In 1971, Pembroke College merges with the men’s college and Brown becomes a fully coeducational university.
  • In 1972, Mari Jo Buhle becomes the first member of the faculty to hold a position dedicated to Women’s Studies, and the first Women’s Studies concentrators graduate in 1983.
  • In 1973, the Alumnae Association merges with the Alumni Association.
  • Following the passing of Title IX in 1972, official Ivy League competition begins in women’s sport in 1974.
  • The Sarah Doyle Women’s Center opens its doors in 1975.
  • The Brown Medical School graduates its first class in 1975 with 13 female graduates out of a class of 58 students.
  • In 1979, Phyllis Van Horn Tillinghast, Class of 1951, becomes the first alumna to lead the Brown Alumni Association.
  • The Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women is established in 1981.
  • Lora Lee Johnson becomes the first Native American to obtain a PhD from Brown in 1984.
  • In 1990, Janet Cooper Nelson, ordained in the United Church of Christ, becomes Brown’s Chaplain and is the first woman to serve as University Chaplain in the Ivy League.
  • In 1991, the 100th anniversary of women at Brown is celebrated.
  • In 1992, Brown students sue the University for violating Title IX after the University announces that it would eliminate funding for four varsity teams: men’s water polo and golf, and women’s gymnastics and volleyball. The University settles in 1997 and restores funding to women’s gymnastics and volleyball, and elevates women’s lightweight crew, water polo, and equestrian teams to varsity status.
  • In 1993, Elizabeth Garcia, Class of 1994, founds MEZCLA, a Latino performance group intended to represent Latino culture on the Brown campus.
  • Karen McLaurin-Chesson, Class of 1974, is appointed the seventh director of the Third World Center in 1993. She is the first woman, and first woman of color, to hold this position.
  • In 1996, Students for Admissions and Minority Aid (SAMA) members take over University Hall in advocacy of need blind admissions. Johanna Fernández, Class of 1993, is a key Latina alumna in this takeover.
  • In 1998, Brown’s first NCAA Championship in any sport is won by Brown Women’s Crew.
  • In 2000, Sheila Blumstein, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences, becomes interim president of Brown.
  • Ruth J. Simmons, the first African American president of an Ivy League institution, becomes Brown’s 18th president in 2001.
  • In 2001, Javette Pinkney Laremont, Class of 1980, becomes the first African American alumna to lead the Brown Alumni Association.
  • In 2001, Brown adopts a need blind admission policy.
  • In 2004, President Simmons appoints 24 alumnae and parents to serve on the Women’s Leadership Council, a group whose mission is to promote women’s philanthropy, volunteerism, and mentoring.
  • In 2005, Hannelore Rodriguez-Farrar, Class of 1987, AM’90, PhD’09, becomes the first Asian American alumna to lead the Brown Alumni Association.
  • In 2005, Carmen Rodriguez, Class of 1983, P’14, becomes the first Latina alumna to be elected to the Corporation of Brown University.
  • In 2006, the Women’s Leadership Council and the Women in the World student organization establish the Women’s Launch Pad mentoring program that facilitates mentoring relationships between alumnae and female students during their senior year at Brown.
  • In 2008, Robin Lenhardt, Class of 1989 becomes the first African American woman to be elected to the Board of Fellows.
  • In April 2011, current students, staff and faculty celebrate the 107th birthday of Beatrice Coleman, Class of 1925, possibly Brown’s oldest living graduate, and likely oldest African American alumna or alumnus.
  • In March 2012, the Corporation convenes for a special meeting and with great enthusiasm, elects Dr. Christina Hull Paxson to be the 19th president of Brown University.
  • In May 2012, alumnae from around the world gather at Brown to celebrate the Women’s Leadership Conference: 120 Years of Women at Brown.

Sources for producing this timeline include the following printed materials, departments/offices and affiliated websites: Encyclopedia Brunonia, The Search for Equity, The Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, The Third World Center of Brown University, The Pembroke Center, The Office of Alumni Relations, The Brown Medical School Alumni Association, The Brown Daily Herald archives, among others.