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How Brown University’s Women Have Been Making History Since 1891

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Brown chapter.

In 1891, Brown University admitted its first female students with the support of President Elisha Andrews. In fact, Andrews helped arrange for the first female candidates to work with Brown professors to prepare for their entry examinations. Just a year later, the Brown Corporation officially opened all degree programs to women. In 1896, the Brown Corporation officially established a women’s college at Brown. Despite these developments, the female students at Brown had a separate college from Brown’s male students, and their classes were not integrated. 

The Brown Women’s College, known as Pembroke College, educated female students in a variety of different subjects with curricula identical to that of Brown University. Brown’s earliest female graduates studied English, French, German, rhetoric, botany, and mathematics. Pembroke College had its own faculty; in 1900, Anne Emery Crosby was appointed the first female dean of Pembroke College. The dorm “Emery Hall” is named in her honor. From that point onward, Pembroke College had almost exclusively female deans.

Gradually, Pembroke College and Brown University came to overlap, and students began attending coeducational classes, clubs and living in coeducational dorms. In 1971, the two schools officially merged. Pembroke College ceased to exist. 

While female students gained equal footing with their male counterparts in 1971, female professors still struggled to gain full equality to male professors. In 1968, Louise Lamphere joined the anthropology department at Brown as an assistant professor and was the only woman in the department. In 1974, Lamphere was denied tenure; she internally petitioned the school that her denial of tenure was due to discrimination on the basis of sex, and she pointed to the small number of female professors at Brown as further evidence of discrimination.

When her internal appeal failed, she brought the case against a US District Court, but Brown was able to settle the case before it went to trial. In 1978, Brown created the Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee to oversee hiring and tenuring practices within the University. Under this committee, the amount of women employed by the University increased significantly. 

Women at Brown increasingly made history when Ruth Simmons was sworn in as Brown’s 18th President. Not only was Simmons Brown’s first female president, but she was also Brown’s first president of color and the first female president of color at an Ivy League University. After she stepped down from her position as president, she was replaced by Brown’s current president Christina Paxson – another female trailblazer. 
For more information about the history of women at Brown, check out the Pembroke Center.

I am a member of the Brown Class of 2026, and I am planning to concentrate in history and economics. In my free time, I enjoy reading historical fiction novels, baking chocolate chip cookies, and trying new restaurants and cafes in Providence.