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It was in the fall of 1893, just months after Storrs Agricultural School became Storrs Agricultural College and began officially admitting women, that the first student organization for women was established. Women had been taking classes unofficially since the fall of 1890, and then a legislative act in 1893 made their enrollment official.
The first student organization at the school was a literary society launched in 1888 when it was still an all-male institution. That group disbanded after its founder left the school. Two literary societies took its place in 1893, the Eclectic Society for men and the Ionian Society for women. They merged into one group and took the Eclectic Society name in 1894. Then a new, separate literary society for women formed in 1899 as the Alethia Society.
A student newspaper, the monthly “Lookout”, was established in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1906 that the all-male staff was joined by a woman. Lena Hurlburt, a member of the Class of 1907, was the Class Notes Editor, in addition to being co-captain of the women’s basketball team.
The Class Notes position would be the only position for women on the newspaper staff until 1917. After the United States joined the fighting in Europe during the First World War, women took over many of the previously male-dominated campus organizations. Helen Clark was the first woman to be editor-in-chief of what was now the Connecticut Campus, with Gladys Dagget as the first woman to serve as the newspaper’s business manager. Both Clark and Dagget were members of the Class of 1919. But once the war was over and the men returned to campus, women would not again hold those top positions on the newspaper for decades.
-Mark J. Roy, University Communications (retired)
With the arrival of Susan Herbst as the University of Connecticut’s president, it’s time to take note of some other firsts for women in the history of the University.
The first woman on staff was Mrs. R.H. Coit who served as matron from 1882 to 1883 at the Storrs Agricultural School. Although records do not indicate exactly what a matron’s role entailed, it’s possible she did cooking and cleaning in the single-building school/dormitory that was home to the first dozen students of the then boys-only school.
The first woman on faculty at the agricultural school was Josephine Nettleton, who first taught algebra when she joined the teaching staff in 1888. Later she was a instructor in mathematics and physical geography.
It was in the fall of 1890 that a girl joined the boys in classes. Nellie Wilson had asked Benjamin Koons, principal of the school, if she might be admitted. Koons, reasoning that the state law establishing the school for boys did not expressly forbid the enrollment of girls, answered in the affirmative.
Wilson was joined by Louisa Rosebrooks and Anna Snow in the spring of 1891, and two years later, the legislature formalized their enrollment when it changed the name of the school to the Storrs Agricultural College.
The following year, 1894, Wilson, Rosebrooks, and Snow, whose names are memorialized on residence halls in South Campus, became the first women to graduate from the college. And they did it all as the first commuting students. The first dormitory for women, Grove Cottage, would not be built until 1896.
-Mark J. Roy, University Communications (retired)
Charles Dickens, in his 1842 book American Notes, wrote about an excursion he took by train from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts. He describes his trip in this way: “[The train] whirls headlong…clatters over frail arches, rumbles upon the heavy ground, shoots beneath a wooden bridge which intercepts the light for a second like a wink, suddenly awakens all the slumbering echoes in the main street of a large town, and dashes on haphazard, pell-mell, neck-or-nothing, down the middle of the road…there – on, on, on – tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars; scattering in all directions a shower of burning sparks from its wood fire, screeching, hissing, yelling, panting; until at last the thirsty monster stops beneath a covered way to drink, the people cluster round, and you have time to breathe again.”
Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
Railroads came on the scene in the United States in the early 1830s and immediately took hold of the national psyche, changing concepts of speed and time and providing limitless possibilities of the movement of agricultural products, goods of industry, and people to all points across the country. The railroad was the means that brought the Industrial Revolution to the United States, ushering in the modern world we know today. To the people of the 19th century, the railroad was a dream, a miracle, a danger, and the most marvelous thing they had ever seen.
The Railroad History Archive has many thousands of photographs. Most focus on locomotives and scenes of the New Haven Railroad, the predominant railroad line in southern New England from 1872 to 1968. We have photographs of railroad stations and other structures, railroad yards, passenger cars and dining cars. We have photographs of railroad bridges, railroad tunnels, and railroad trestles.
But few photographs are as evocative as the one above, where railroad men pose with the nation’s new obsession.
For more information about the Railroad History Archive, visit http://railroads.uconn.edu/
Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections