Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

Moments and milestones in the history of women at Hopkins

March 10, 2016

“Imagine yourself a woman, walking into a classroom and being addressed as ‘Gentleman.’ Imagine yourself walking into the gym and being told that you need a male escort in order to use the ping-pong tables… This was the Johns Hopkins University in 1970 and 1971,” Cynthia Young said in her 1974 Hopkins commencement speech.

Young was one of the first women to graduate from the undergraduate program at Hopkins. She is one of the many women who made history at the University for being the first. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Editorial Board decided to look at the history of firsts for women at Hopkins.

At its founding in 1876, Hopkins was an all-male school. However, this quickly changed with emergence of the women’s suffrage movement in the late 19th century.

One of the first places at Hopkins where women were accepted was the School of Nursing, which opened in 1889. One year later, when the Medical School found itself severely lacking in money, four women offered to raise the $500,000 needed to open the school on the grounds that women would be admitted. The Board of Trustees agreed to the deal, and in 1893 the School of Medicine opened with three out of the 18 medical students women.

Despite this victory, the battle for women’s admittance into the graduate and undergraduate programs at the Homewood campus continued. The opening of the Woman’s College of Baltimore (now Goucher) in 1888 greatly diminished the demand for a co-ed undergraduate program at Hopkins because Goucher’s curriculum was based on that of Hopkins. However, the lack of graduate programs available to women and the opening of graduate programs to women by Yale (1892) and Brown (1891), among other prestigious universities, placed pressure on Hopkins to permit women to earn their masters and PhDs.

Finally, in 1907, women were admitted into the graduate programs at Hopkins. The first four women to take their doctorates in 1911 got theirs in chemistry, geology, German and mathematics. Later graduates like Rachel Carson, who got her masters degree in zoology in 1932, went on to write books like Silent Spring (1962), which sparked the debate about DDT and eventually led to it being banned.

After the admittance of female graduate students, the next big battles were to bring in female professors and to allow women into the undergraduate programs. Unfortunately, the fight for female undergraduates would take another 62 years.

In 1917, Florence R. Sabin became the first female professor at the School of Medicine. There is currently a statue of Sabin in the gallery at the United States Capitol in honor of her contributions to medical knowledge of blood vessels, the lymphatic system and tuberculosis. Six years later, Florence Bamberger became the first woman appointed as a professor at Hopkins, in the school of philosophy.

In the 1960s, the push to accept undergraduate female students reached a peak, and in 1969 the Board voted to allow women to enter as undergraduates; in September 1970, 90 women enrolled at the University. These women had to fight to get housing, a gynecologist in the health center and proper security. The University was slow to respond, choosing to take an approach that focused on dealing with the issues as they arose rather than planning for long-term co-education. Since then, the amount of women admitted to the school has grown substantially, and currently 50 percent of students enrolled at Hopkins are women.

Hopkins has never had a female University President, and it was in 1991 that Estelle Fishbein became the first female Vice President. Although the University has come a long way with women’s rights since its founding 140 years ago — Hopkins just hired its first Gender Equity Director in the fall — it still has progress to make. The clearest example is the faculty ratio: There are currently substantially fewer tenured female faculty than male, and we want to see that change. In the years to come, we hope Hopkins will continue to make progress in the field of women’s rights.

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