A timeline of women at Union
The 50th anniversary of women’s arrival at Union features a year-long celebration of women and their contributions to the College, their communities and the world.
Union College was transformed in the fall of 1970 with the arrival of women as full-time students.
But the journey to coeducation took decades. Here are some highlights.
- 1795 – Union College Board of trustees chooses Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, for the College seal, surrounded by the French motto: Sous les lois de Minerve nous devonons tous frères (Under the laws of Minerva we all become brothers.”)
- 1800 – Gertrude Peebles Tibbits, second wife of President Eliphalet Nott (married 1807) provides financial support for the acquisition of 250 acres on Nistiquona Hill.
- 1865 – Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins (“The Dutchess”), wife of Prof. Maurice Perkins, moves to the faculty residence in South Colonnade (Hale House) where she establishes her grand garden.
- 1867 – Mrs. Alexander Brown of Liverpool, England, related to Howard Potter, financially supported construction of the Nott–Potter Memorial (Nott Memorial today) including the encaustic floor tile.
- 1883 – Margaret Peissner, widow of Elias Peissner, professor of German, and daughter of Tayler Lewis (Class of 1820), professor of langauges. She was the first woman to hold an administrative position at Union.
- 1913 – The will of Julia Lorillard Butterfield, wife of General Daniel Butterfield (1849), provides $100,000 to Union College for Butterfield Laboratory of the Chemistry Department as a memorial to her husband.
- 1918 – The will of Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, widow of Russell Sage, assigns $800,000 each to Union College, Williams College, Amherst College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Hamilton College.
- 1919 – Ely Esther Griffin, “Mother Ely” of student adoration, becomes the College Registrar. She established and ran the College Bookstore for 10 years. She also founded the student and alumni employment bureau.
- 1920 – Anne O’Neill Beattie becomes secretary to President Charles Alexander Richmond, the first such appointment to a president of the College.
- 1922 – Florence Fogler of General Electric, an MIT graduate, takes graduate courses in electrical engineering but is not allowed to enroll as a degree candidate. She completes master’s degree requirements in 1925.
- 1928 – Trustees permit women to complete graduate degrees.
- 1947 – Grace Jorgensen, a “night school girl,” urges coeducation in Concordiensis. Editors said they had solicited the article which “represents her personal opinion which otherwise would not have been made public.” (Later, Dr. Jorgensen, a prominent obstetrician, delivered more than 7,000 babies and served as director of Bellevue Women’s Hospital in Schenectady.)
- 1952 – Ruth Anne Evans is the first woman faculty member, joining the College library with faculty status but not rank. She would become Union’s first female full professor in 1973. She retired in 1989.
- 1955 – Barbara Rotundo, a faculty widow, is appointed to fill a part-time temporary position in English.
- 1958 – Sally Brown Van Schaick earned enough night school credits to become the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree (English), followed by an M.A. in education in 1961.
- 1963 – Union’s Committee on Coeducation recommends bringing in “a limited number” of women (20–30 per class at first). The College does not act.
- 1964 – The Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual discrimination in college/university admissions.
- 1965 – Nanette Funk joins Philosophy, the first woman to hold a regular teaching appointment
- Late 1960s – A handful of women are appointed to faculty. They include Mira Wilkins (Economics and History), Ruth Parker (Philosophy) and Jocelyn Harvey (English).
- 1960s – A handful of women are appointed to faculty. They include Mira Wilkins (Economics and History), Ruth Parker (Philosophy) and Jocelyn Harvey (English).
- 1967 – The “July Committee” comprised of Union College faculty recommends coeducation.
- 1968 – President Harold Martin appoints an ad hoc committee, headed by Prof. Carl Niemeyer of English, to study the question of becoming coeducational. The committee endorsed coeducation, followed by faculty approval in September. Colgate and Wesleyan had just become coed; Bowdoin, Williams and Amherst were poised to do so.
- 1969 – Dena Abigail Wood George begins free dance classes in Old Chapel.
- 1969 – Sheila Jayne Beam is appointed assistant dean of students, the College’s first woman dean.
- 1969 – In a survey of 2,513 alumni, 60 percent favor coeducation, 32 percent oppose.
- 1969 – The Board of Trustees votes for coeducation and calls for the addition of 100 women per class over four years, bringing enrollment from 1,600 to 2,000.
- 1970 – Katherine M. Stout '74, described in College literature as “a top 10 percent scholar, track star, basketball player, sailplane pilot, musician and girl,” is the first of 484 female applicants accepted.
- 1970 – 126 women arrive on Union College campus.
- 1970 – Muriel Kauffman, treasurer of Marion Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Kansas City, Missouri, is the first woman elected to the College’s board of trustees, 1970.
- 1970 – Dena Abigail Wood George writes and presents the play Minerva’s Daughters about the contributions of women to the College and the larger community.
- 1972 – Prof. Helena Birecka of Biology is the first woman to receive tenure at Union.
- 1974 – President Harold Martin reports to the trustees, “in ways too numerous to mention, the presence of women at the College has enhanced every aspect of undergraduate life.”
- 1974 – Estelle Cooke-Sampson, a biology major, graduates and goes on to earn her medical degree at Georgetown University. She would later become a trustee.
- 1974 – Andrea Barrett, a biology major, graduates. The novelist and short story writer would go on to win the National Book Award in 1996 for Ship Fever, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001.
- 1974 – Board of Trustees abolishes admission quotas based on sex.
- 1974 – The College holds the first “Women’s Week.”
- 1975 – Women comprise 33 percent of entering students
- 1975 – President Thomas Bonner establishes the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
- 1976 – Prof. Paula Brownlee of Chemistry is elected dean of the faculty.
- 1977-78 – The first two sororities are established: Sigma Delta Tau and Delta Gamma.
- 1979 – Christine A. Cameron '79 is elected captain of the newly-formed women’s track team.
- 1981 – Delta Delta Delta sorority established.
- 1985 – Jennifer Inman, a computer science major, is Union’s first woman valedictorian.
- 1985 – Katherine E. Magliato, biology major, graduates. She would join the Board of Trustees in 2008, author Healing Heart: Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon, and inspire a TV pilot about a woman heart surgeon.
- 1986 – Gamma Phi Beta sorority established.
- 1987 – Diane T. Blake becomes the College’s first woman comptroller. She would advance to chief financial officer in 1992, vice president of finance in 1993 and vice president of finance and administration in 1997.
- 1989 – The Women’s Studies program is formed by Prof. Linda Patrick of Philosophy and Joanne Tobiessen, director of the Career Development Center, who co–chair the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
- 1989 – Trish Williams becomes first African American assistant dean of students. In 2019, she became senior associate dean of students and director of student conduct.
- 1990 – The estate of Margaret M. Dyson, through the Dyson Foundation, contributes $5 million toward the restoration of the Nott Memorial, which was rededicated on the College’s bicentennial in 1995.
- 1992 – The Class of 1992 is 50:50, men-women.
- 1992 – Prof. Margaret Schadler, associate dean of undergraduate programs, introduces and administers the Steinmetz Symposium, still a popular annual exposition of student achievement.
- 1993 – Constance (Connie) Schmitz, landscape specialist, becomes Union’s first full–time woman gardener.
- 1998 – Rachel Graham graduates after founding COCOA House (Children of Our Community Open to Achievement), an outreach center for local youth served by Union student-mentors.
- 2007 – Gretchel Hathaway, dean of diversity and inclusion, becomes the first African-American and Native-American woman reporting directly to the president.
- 2009 – Associate Professor Deidre Hill Butler of Sociology is the first African American woman to earn tenure. She is director of Africana Studies and a POSSE mentor.
- 2013 – Prof. Therese McCarty is the first woman acting president, serving six months. She also served 2007–2016 as the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs. She is the John Prior Lewis '41 Professor of Economics.
- 2015 – The Board of Trustees alters the College’s motto to recognize women: Sous les lois de Minerve nous devenons tous frères et sœurs (“Under the laws of Minerva, we all become brothers and sisters.”)
(Source: Encyclopedia of Union College History, Wayne Somers, ed.; “Women at Union,” pp. 795–798, by Faye Dudden.)