Celebrating 125 Years of Women at MIT 1873 —1998

125 Years Ago

Ellen Swallow Richards - 1873 (MIT Museum)

Ellen Henrietta Swallow (1842-1911) was the first woman awarded a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston in 1873.
She entered in 1871, one of 90 first year students, and had already graduated with the first class of Vassar College (1870).

William Barton Rogers proposed the Institute as a new kind of scientific and technical college where: ... professors' lectures should be useful to everyone,... which might draw all the lovers of knowledge of both sexes to the halls of the Institute. (1846)

The faculty of the new school were not as open-minded: admission of female students was not consistent with the present condition of the school and the organization of the classes. (1867)
When Ellen Swallow applied, the faculty admitted her without tuition: the admission of women is as yet in the nature of an experiment. (1870)

President Runkle wrote: I consider the introduction of ladies to the Institute a consummation devoutly to be wished... I congratulate you and every earnest woman upon the result.

ESR sampling water - 1875 (MIT Museum)

Ellen wrote during her student days: I hope I am winning a way which others will keep open. Perhaps the fact that I am not a radical and that I do not scorn womanly duties [cleaning, sewing]... is winning me stronger allies than anything else.

Ellen's work testing drinking water supplies and water contaminants made her a pre-eminent water scientist before her graduation. She and Professor Ordway created the first sanitary engineering laboratory in the United States, which became the Massachusetts Lawrence Experiment Station.

Ellen married Professor Robert Richards '68, Professor of Mining Engineering, in 1875.