The Old University of Chicago: Idiosyncratic Advocacy and Matters of Policy

On June 30, 1870, Mrs. Ada H. Kepley and Mr. Richard A. Dawson received bachelor of law degrees from the old University of Chicago. Mrs. Kepley and Mr. Dawson were probably the first woman and first African American, respectively, to receive degrees from the old University of Chicago.

Although Mrs. Kepley would be thwarted in her effort to pursue a legal career, she would eventually become a Unitarian minister and prominent suffragette. Mr. Dawson had a successful legal career in Arkansas where, in addition to his basic practice, he launched at least one civil rights suit concerning the right to be served in restaurants. He also served in the Arkansas state legislature.

On June 2, 1872, the faculty of the old University of Chicago voted to recommend Miss Alice R. Boise, the daughter of a faculty member, for the degrees of BA and MA. She may be the first woman to have received an undergraduate degree from the old University of Chicago. Three months later, faced with two more requests for admission by women, the faculty decided to consider the question of whether women should be admitted as a matter of policy.

On Friday September 13, 1872, they voted as follows:

Resolved that we recommend to the Board of Trustees that young ladies who wish to take either the regular classical or the regular scientific course in the University and such as are found on examination to give evidence of fitness and an earnest desire to complete special courses of study, be allowed to join the classes of the institution, either in the preparatory department or in the college, motion carried.

From this point forward, the old University of Chicago was integrated with respect to both race and gender, although the numbers of African American students would remain small for years to come.

Faculty Minute Book

Manuscript, 1872-1886
Old University of Chicago Records.

Pictured are the minutes from September 13, 1872. At the bottom of the left hand page, we find the minutes recording the faculty's decision to recommend the admission of women "to take either the regular classical or the regular scientific course in the university in the university." Two of the three young women whose cases prompted this important policy decision were daughters of faculty members.

Students from the Old University of Chicago
Photograph, undated

University of Chicago Photographic Archive