UW Women at 150

Celebrating 150 years since first women got undergraduate degrees

September 27, 2018 By Käri Knutson

There was a time when a woman’s place was in the home. At least that’s what society told her.

In 2018, a woman’s place is in the boardroom as CEO. It’s in the lab as principal investigator. And it’s also in positions of leadership across the UW–Madison campus.

At the UW, this change began in 1869 with six young women: Clara Bewick, Anna Headen, Jane Nagle, Helen Noble, Elizabeth Spencer and Ella Ursula Turner. They were the first to receive undergraduate degrees from UW–Madison.

Previously, women could attend the Normal School, which had a separate curriculum. When the first group of women was ready to graduate, the Board of Regents decided that they should receive the same degrees as the men — despite President Chadbourne’s insistence that awarding women “bachelor’s degrees” was absurd.

Women were not admitted to all departments and allowed to study alongside men until 1872. Even then, admission remained limited to white women. It wasn’t until 1918 that the first black woman, Mabel Watson Raimey, graduated.

Over the course of this academic year, University Communications will feature stories that celebrate the accomplishments of women at UW–Madison through the decades and recognize the challenges that remain, as well as the ways our views of gender have evolved and expanded.

A woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be. And it is most certainly at UW.

Read the first in the series: Breaking ground with Grace