Celebrating 125 Years of Women at MIT 1873 —1998

The Women's Laboratory

MIT Women's lab circa 1878 (MIT Museum) Ellen Swallow Richards and the Women's Educational Association (WEA), a Boston women's group dedicated to the higher education of women, raised funds for a "laboratory, balance and reception rooms" devoted exclusively to instructing women in Chemistry. In return for the support, the Institute changed its admissions policy: Special students shall be admitted..to advanced instruction in Chemistry ... without distinction of sex. (1876)

ESR and Bessie Capen '78 were the unpaid instructors. Most of the women seeking training were teachers or college graduates.

In 1881, ESR and Marion Talbot '88, BA Wellesley, invited women college graduates to a meeting at the Institute. This group became the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, today known as the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

MIT Women in classroom circa 1888 (MIT Museum)When the Women's Laboratory was scheduled to be razed for new facilities, ESR and WEA offered funding to includesuitable toilet rooms ...and a reception room somewhere in the building.

In 1882, after accepting the gift, the Institute finally accepted women as regular students. The new reception room was named for Margaret Cheney, a student of the 1882 class who died of tuberculosis.

ESR joined the faculty as a salaried instructor in the new Sanitation Chemistry Laboratory (1884). She advanced food analysis, water analysis, and mineralogy. Her students populated the science faculty of many women's colleges.

Prev Next