Hamline News

Hamline's History of Women Leaders

While Hamline is recognized as Minnesota’s first university, established in 1854, it was also among the first co-educational institutions in the nation. Not only were Hamline’s first graduates women, but Emily and Elizabeth Sorin were also the first two graduates from any institution of higher education in the state. The sisters went on to be the first women in the state to earn their master’s degrees, also from Hamline.

In fact, Hamline’s first two graduating classes consisted solely of women. Over the first decade of the college’s history, 68% of Hamline graduates were women compared to a national average of 20%. What started as a progressive philosophy in women’s education led to some alumnae using their education to become leaders in the world in fields from science to civil rights. Read about some of Hamline’s early alumnae in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Elizabeth Sorin
Elizabeth Sorin was a member of the first graduating class along with her sister Emily Sorin in 1859. She became the first teacher in Red Wing public schools and spent the rest of her life in education. She taught at institutions across the country from Hamline to the North Missouri Male and Female Institute of Louisiana.

Emily Sorin Meredith
After years of teaching and traveling following her graduation in 1859, Meredith settled in Denver. There she would fight for the women’s rights movement through writing occasional articles for the Rocky Mountain News. In 1890, Meredith rose to prominence as a woman suffrage leader when she helped her daughter, Ellis Meredith, organize the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association.

Julia Bullard Nelson
Julia Bullard Nelson started her career as an educator and an author. She was recognized as a rising leader in the suffrage movement in Minnesota when she spoke at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union state convention in Red Wing in 1874. In 1886, Nelson took a break from teaching to travel to Washington D.C. where she attended the National Woman Suffrage Association Convention and spoke to the U.S. House of Representatives judiciary committee. Years later, she became the president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association.

Helen Sutherland
As a lifelong teacher and a committed Piper, Helen Sutherland became one of the most educated women in Minnesota during her lifetime. By 1866, Sutherland not only held the position of preceptress at Hamline, or dean of women, but also was the fifth student who was awarded the degree of artium magister at Hamline.

Mary B. Stark
After receiving her second degree from Hamline in 1902, Mary Stark went on to earn a PhD from Columbia University. Stark became one of the few women working in oncology research at the time, and she ran experiments on fruit flies that first proved the hereditary of certain tumors in humans.

Anna Arnold Hedgeman
In addition to being Hamline’s first African American graduate, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was a strong advocate for intersectionality in the civil rights movement. Hedgeman held numerous impressive leadership roles in public service, including the first woman appointed to the New York City mayoral cabinet. She also helped found the National Organization for Women and was the only woman who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. Hamline’s Hedgeman Center for for Student Diversity Initiatives and Programs is named in her honor.

On International Women’s Day, Hamline would like to celebrate not only these alumnae, but all of the faculty, staff, alumni, and students who have fought for women’s rights over the past 163 years, and for those Pipers who continue this work.

Information for this article was collected from "150 Lives That Make a Difference," a book to celebrate Hamline's 150th anniversary which was edited by Hamline Archivist Candice Hart, with research by women's studies Professor Kristin Mapel Bloomberg.