Ellen Swallow Richards (upper left) with women students, 1888. Photo: MIT Museum
Ellen Swallow Richards (upper left) with women students, 1888. Photo: MIT Museum

March is Women’s History Month, a perfect time to celebrate the women who have made their mark on MIT and paved the way for women in science. To help us look back, MIT’s Diversity Timeline Project has compiled a timeline highlighting milestones and events about women at the Institute.

Women became a part of the MIT community in 1865, albeit a very small one, when Margaret Dayton Stinson was hired to oversee the chemical supply room. Engineering was viewed as a man’s world and it would be years before women entered the laboratories.

In 1870, Ellen Swallow became the first woman admitted to MIT. Because the Institute wasn’t yet co-educational, Swallow was admitted as a special student after a faculty vote on the matter. She received her bachelor of science in 1873. She remained at the Institute and in 1875 established the Women’s Laboratory, where she was an instructor until the lab closed in 1883.

It wasn’t until 1882 that MIT formally began admitting female students. Still, the number of women remained small—approximately 1% or less of the student body—until World War II. Lack of appropriate housing also constrained the number of women who could be admitted to the Institute. A female dormitory opened at 120 Bay Street in Boston in 1945, but it wasn’t until the opening in 1963 of McCormick Hall that women had a place to live on the Cambridge campus.

Thanks to the efforts of many pioneering women, the MIT campus looks much different than it did when Margaret Stinson arrived more than a century ago. Today, women comprise 45% of the undergraduate population and 31% of graduate students.

For a closer look, read the stories of women who attended MIT, preserved as part of the Margaret MacVicar Memorial AMITA Oral History Project.

Also, watch a symposium on women in science and engineering at MIT, hosted by the Institute in 2011 as part of its 150th celebration, including a keynote by Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology Nancy H. Hopkins. Many of these discussions were based on 1996 and 1999 reports from the Faculty Committees on Women in Science.

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One comment

  1. B-doggity

    Thank you Kanye, very cool.

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