From Encyclopedia Brunoniana:
The first women students arrived at Brown University in October 1891, after some years of negotiations. This brief early history of the founding of the Women’s College was included in the annual report of President Andrews, June 1898.
“The first action by the Government of the University on the question of
admitting women to the privileges of the University was taken by the Advisory and Executive Committee on April 10, 1874, on the receipt of an application by a young woman to be admitted to College. The Committee reported it inadvisable at that time to recommend the opening of the College to women
students. This report was adopted by the Corporation on June 15, same year.
“The subject received more or less attention in Corporation meetings and President’s Reports every year, until, in June, 1888, it was referred to the Gammell Committee ... At its annual meeting in September, 1888, the Corporation requested the Faculty to provide a mode in which young women might be admitted to college examinations and receive certificates of proficiency in the same. The Faculty prepared a plan, which was laid before the Corporation on September 3, 1890, and adopted at the annual meeting September 2, 1891.
“On June 21, 1892, the Board of Fellows received from the Faculty and adopted recommendations making women who had passed the required examinations eligible for each college and university degree. By another vote on June 23, 1892, to women already holding Bachelors’ degrees, and to other women of liberal education who might secure special permission, there were opened, on the same terms as to men, all courses of instruction intended for graduate students.
“As a result of this extension to women of University privileges, there arose, in October, 1891, a Women’s College, technically and legally under the University only so far as its examinations were concerned, yet, in effect, a department of the University, because of the close connection inevitably subsisting between examinations and the preparation therefor. ...”
Thus it was that on the morning of October 1, 1891, that women students arrived to partake of the courses which President Andrews had arranged to have taught by Brown professors to prepare the women for the examinations to which they had been admitted.
The Grammar School where the classes were held did not have artificial light, and there were times when the women students had to move to the president’s office for their last class of the afternoon. In the second term they moved to the State Normal School, which was located on Benefit Street. At the end of the academic year, in the spring of 1892, the Corporation voted to open all degrees of the University to women. The next year there were nine sophomores, fourteen freshmen and 22 special students, and the classes were moved into the building at 235 Benefit Street, which had been built as a private school for young ladies, and operated at various times by John Kingsbury 1826, John Larkin Lincoln 1836, and John C. Stockbridge 1838. When a sign was placed over the doorway, with the name “Women’s College of Brown University,” the Corporation, which had not paid much attention to the women students, took notice. The sign was removed during the night and was quietly replaced by a more acceptable one which read, “Women’s College Adjunct to Brown University.” It was not until 1896 that the Corporation finally passed its “Legislation Founding the Women’s College in Brown University.” which recognized the women’s college as a department, and provided that the dean so informally appointed by Andrews would report directly to the president, and furthermore, that the women’s tuition payments would cover the cost of their instruction plus a ten per cent payment to Brown University.
The first women graduates in 1894 were Mary Emma Woolley and Anne Tillinghast Weeden. The next year eleven graduated, seven with a bachelor of arts degree and four with a bachelor of philosophy. The earliest Women’s College students studied English, Latin, French, German, rhetoric, botany, and mathematics, and elocution. The courses and examinations taken by the women were the same as those prescribed for the men, and the performance of the women students was often proclaimed to be superior to that of the men. The Brown students were not especially gracious in accepting the women students, and called them “Pembrokers” after the name of the first building erected for the use of women students.
In 1898 Andrews appointed an Advisory Council for the Women’s College to advise with the president and
dean on matters relating to the college and to make recommendations to the Advisory and Executive Committee of the Corporation. Members of the committee were Sarah Doyle, chairman, Amelia Knight, Mrs. William Ames, Mrs. E. Benjamin Andrews and Mrs. Gustave Radeke. The earliest members of the Alumnae Council were drawn from the Society for the Collegiate Education of Women, but in 1906 for the first time almunae members were added to the Council, the first being Charlotte Tillinghast 1896 and Nettie Goodale Murdock 1895, the first and second presidents of the Andrews Association. An Executive Committee of the Women’s College, created by the Corporation in 1903 and consisting of the president, the dean of the Women’s College and three Corporation members, placed the College under the protection of the Corporation. In 1928 one alumna, Nettie Goodale Murdock,
was added to the Executive Committee. The Advisory Council was abolished in 1932.
In 1903 the Women’s College was given its own faculty, composed of all department heads in the University and the faculty members who taught courses for women, to supervise all academic matters except admission and graduation. A registrar for the Women’s College, Emma Bradford Stanton 1896, was appointed in 1897. Miss Stanton continued in that position until her retirement in 1932. One of the first acts of President William H. P. Faunce was to discharge the male Dean of the College in favor of a woman dean. Louis F. Snow was asked to stay on as bursar, but declined. He had collected fees, paid bills, managed the College, and cleared enough for his salary, and it was obvious to him that the support of two administrators of the Women’s College was impossible. The new dean, Anne Crosby Emery, came in 1900 with experience in the higher education of women, from Bryn Mawr, the women’s college where she had been educated, and from the University of Wisconsin, the coeducational college where she had been the first dean of women. When Miss Emery resigned to marry Professor Allinson in 1905, she was succeeded by Lida Shaw King, a Vassar graduate in 1890 and former director of the Department of Latin and Greek of Packer Collegiate Institute. Miss King set about studying the College before recommending any changes. At her suggestion the Student Government Association appointed a committee to investigate the apathy of the student body. Dean King appointed a committee in 1913 to study the problems of working students. This committee became the Self-Support Committee and continued to assist students in finding suitable employment and to monitor their working conditions. A Student Interest Committee consisting of three faculty members was formed to work with the Student Government Association to enrich social and intellectual life. Orientation lectures for freshmen were introduced. A group called the College Forum sponsored serious discussions and speakers. By 1910 forty percent of the women students came from outside the state. Separate classes for women continued, although a few upperclassmen attended Brown classes, and two scientifically-inclined twin sisters, Janet and Lucy Bourn ’15 were allowed to attend a Brown chemistry class.
On October 20, 1917, the Women’s College celebrated its 25th anniversary, which had been postponed from the previous spring because of the threat of war. The procession of students and nearly four hundred alumnae, with representatives from other colleges, city and state officials, and representatives of the Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Women and the Rhode Island Federation of Women’s Clubs, marched through the Van Wickle Gates to the First Baptist Church, passing by the original home of the College on Benefit Street.
In his report for 1911 President Faunce stated, “A real hindrance to the growth of the College is that it has as yet received no name.” He suggested that, as the college was familiarly called “Pembroke College” for the name of its principal building, that the generic name, “Women’s College in Brown University” be replaced by “Pembroke College in Brown University,” a title which would still identify the college as an integral part of the University. In 1928 the name was changed to Pembroke College in Brown University.
Pembroke Center Oral History Project
Initiated by the Pembroke Center Associates in 1982, these oral histories record the experiences of the women, transgender, and gender non-binary members of Brown University and Pembroke College. Digitized interviews are available online and include transcripts, biographies, and photographs, by and about students, alums, faculty, and staff who studied and worked at Brown as early as 1907.
Since 1982, the Pembroke Center has documented the experiences of women who attended Brown University and Pembroke College by collecting interviews with alumnae of diverse backgrounds, academic and extracurricular interests, and life experiences. In 2018 the project welcomed its first two interviews with transgender students. In order to promote gender inclusivity in the collection the project's name was changed from Brown Women Speak to the Pembroke Center Oral History Project in 2019.
The website was created in 2012 to make these unique first-hand stories accessible to students, researchers, alumni/ae, and other users interested in learning about the rich history of women, transgender, and gender non-binary people at Brown University. The site features a growing collection of digitized interviews and transcripts, as well as supplementary materials that include biographical sketches and yearbook photographs. We invite you to explore the oral histories, photos, and related materials.
The digitization of these interviews has been sponsored by the Pembroke Center Associates, a group of alumnae and friends that supports the activities of the Pembroke Center and their governing body, the Pembroke Center Associates Council.
The Pembroke Center Oral History Collection containing administrative records, audiotapes of interviews, transcripts, and related material, is also available for research.
12 interviews are from alumnae of the 1910s and they record some of the earliest first-person accounts of female students at Brown. These women describe their academic and social experiences in the Women’s College as well as their careers and families. The oldest alumna is Marjorie Phillips Wood, class of 1911.
14 interviews are from women who attended Brown University in the 1920s, prior to Pembroke's establishment. Interviews include discussions of the different social experiences of on-campus and commuter students; the separation of the Women's and Men's Colleges; inspiring professors and courses; Dean Margaret Shove Morriss, who arrived in 1923; dormitory life; social events; and the Women's College's name change to Pembroke College in 1928. The women also share stories about their families, local communities, and their lives before and after college. Particularly interesting interviews include those of Ruth May Bugbee, class of 1923, and Beatrice Elizabeth Coleman, class of 1925.
For more information, contact Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist, at 401-863-6268 or Mary_Murphy1@Brown.edu.
Yearbook of the Women's College and Pembroke College, 1909-1970. Prior to 1909, women students were included in the Liber Brunensis. Digital copies of some yearbooks are available online in the Brown Digital Repository.
The newspaper of the Women's College, originally published as a supplement to The Sepiad literary magazine, later titled The Record, and from 1931-1970 The Pembroke Record. Digital edition available here.
Established in 1901 and published until 1932 as the literary magazine of the Women's College. The Sepiad Supplement newspaper was the precursor to The Pembroke Record.
Songs of the Women's College in Brown University
The University Archives holds three editions, dating from 1912, 1917, and 1928.
Alumnae collections that include scrapbooks are:
Alita Dorothy Bosworth, class of 1914
Hazel McCrumb Buckey, class of 1909
Lydia Gardner Chase, class of 1900 (also includes student essays and lecture notes)
Alice Marion Crosby, class of 1904
Ruth Story Devereaux, class of 1897
Eva Waterman Magoon, class of 1911
Ida May Nichols, class of 1912
Elizabeth de Welden Root, class of 1917
Mary Alice Whittlesey, class of 1907
For more information, contact Ray Butti, Senior Library Specialist Special Collections, at 401-863-2148 or Raymond_Butti_Jr@brown.edu.
Other documents at the John Hay Library relating to the early history of women at Brown include:
For more information on university records, contact Jennifer Betts, University Archivist and Assistant Director for the John Hay Library Special Collections, at 401-863-6414 or Jennifer_Betts@brown.edu.
For more information on photos, scrapbooks, and other items related to Pembroke College history, contact Ray Butti, Senior Library Specialist Special Collections, at 401-863-2148 or Raymond_Butti_Jr@brown.edu.
For more information on alumnae papers or oral histories, contact Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist, at 401-863-6268 or Mary_Murphy1@Brown.edu.
Individuals and organizations whose collections contain material on the early history of women at Brown (1880s-1920s) include:
Anne Crosby Emery Allinson
First female dean of the Women's College. Holdings include clippings of columns written for the Providence Evening Bulletin from the 1920s and 1930s.
Alpha Beta was the first secret society of the Women's College at Brown. It gradually grew into an inclusive dramatic society. Holdings include play programs, 1916-1963; a notice about the eradication of fraternities in 1911; meeting minutes; songs; posters; and museum objects.
Elisha Benjamin Andrews
Andrews was president of Brown from 1889-1899. This collection of his correspondence includes letters regarding the schedule of recitations for the first class of women at Brown; the completion of Pembroke Hall; Dean Lida Shaw King. It also includes petitions from women regarding his resignation in 1897.
Holdings include an address book of alumnae, 1923; meeting reports; invitations, programs, and ephemera.
Forerunner of the Aumnae Association, the Andrews Association was called the "Temporary Organization of Women Graduates of Brown University." Holdings include annual reports, 1901-1907; by-laws; and lectures on vocations for women,1903.
Jessie May Barbour, class of 1903
These papers consist primarily of correspondence (not all written to EMLC), programs and invitations from the class of 1911; also included is material documenting EMLC's library work and a few items she collected. For more class correspondence and reunion material, see the University Archives Classified 1-ZP files
Grace Cleveland Cary, class of 1896
Diary, correspondence, and other papers.
This collection contains originals and photocopies of reports, publications, interviews, obituaries, and photographs pertaining to the careers of Martha and Waitstill Sharp. Documents record the Sharps’ early social work in Meadville, PA, and their humanitarian and rescue work in World War II Prague, Czechoslovakia; Marseille and Pau, France; and Lisbon, Portugal. Materials also document Martha Sharp’s postwar campaign for Congress, activities in Israel, continuing work for the Unitarian Church in Czechoslovakia, family and personal life, and work with the Cogan Foundation and other charitable agencies. The collection includes Martha's unpublished book manuscript Church Mouse and materials related to the posthumous preparation of a documentary film on both Sharps. See also, her Pembroke Center oral histories.
Eleanor Burges Green
Benefactor of the Women's College and honorary member of the class of 1918.
Elizabeth Guild Hoyt, attended 1892-93
Papers including daily journals kept from 1887-1962.
Kappa Alpha Theta
Formed in 1897, this was the most popular Greek letter society until the Women's College banished fraternities in 1911. Holdings include membership records with biographical information; photographs; ephemera.
Lida Shaw King
The papers of Lida Shaw King, the third dean of the Women's College, include correspondence, speeches, materials from her Classics courses, and diaries.
This collection consists of the personal papers of Maria Louise Laviolette, Pembroke College alumna from the class of 1905. Papers document events at Pembroke and include Class Day, commencement, and Ivy Day programs, as well as a formal graduation photo of Laviolette and a photo book of Brown University. The collection spans from 1905-1906 with the exception of one piece of correspondence from 2018.
The Katherine Frances Littlefield papers chronicles the early professional life of a 1902 graduate of Pembroke College at Brown University through letters to her mother from 1905-1909. The letters focus on the establishment of her professional career and family matters.
Susan Annie May, class of 1905
Lillian May Gamwell Moulton, class of 1902
Fundraising materials and correspondence
Nettie Goodale Murdock, 1895
Correspondence, speech and notes
Pembroke College Athletic and Recreation Association
The Pembroke College Athletic and Recreation Association (ARA) records contain correspondence, financial records, minutes, programs, reports and other materials related to the Association's activities from 1908 to 1972. The records document the activities of the Association, its relationship with the physical education department, intramural sports at Pembroke College, and some of the athletic interaction between Pembroke College and other women's colleges in New England.
Mabel Louise Potter, class of 1897
Letters and student essay
Rhode Island Association for the Collegiate Education of Women (RISCEW)
Sarah Doyle formed this society to raise funds for the nascent Women's College in Brown University. Colections include meeting minutes, 1895-1971; membership lists; reports to RISCEW from Pembroke deans and presidents of Brown; slides and photographs taken at the society's final meeting and luncheon in 1971.
Student Government Association
Holdings include minutes from mass meetings and meetings of the Executive Board dating to the group's establishment in 1901.