The Women of Howard University:
A Tradition of Educational Involvement

Clifford L. Muse, Jr., Ph.D.

     One of Howard University’s extraordinary and unique contributions in the field of American higher education was its embrace of females as part of its University community. The University’s receptiveness to females is traceable to its founding in the 19th century, and is an ongoing positive commitment up to the present. The involvement of females in the University’s growth and development was mandated in 1867 by Howard’s incorporators, who also comprised the first Board of Trustees, when they adopted a policy ensuring the University forever open to all individuals irrespective of race, sex, creed, or national origin.1 The only constraint on female participation in Howard’s administrative and educational systems, from the beginning to the present, has been the availability of qualified women candidates.

     During the Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction eras, females who were old and young, single and married, white and Black, native and foreign, literate, semi-literate and illiterate sought to participate in the Howard experience.2 In contrast to many other post-secondary institutions during these eras, Howard University welcomed females, enrolled them as students, and offered them employment opportunities as faculty and staff.

     The University’s first four students in 1867 were white females, the daughters of some of Howard’s first trustees.3 Two of these students, Emily E. and Sarah M. Robinson, advanced to Howard’s Collegiate Department by 1869.4 Howard graduated a female doctor in 1872 and 1874, a female pharmacist in 1887, and a female dentist in 1896 and 1900.5 Charlotte E. Ray, an African American female, was the University’s first female law graduate in 1872 and is considered the "first woman in the United States to graduate from a regular non-profit law school and also the first woman admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia."6

     The first graduates of Howard’s Normal Department in 1870 were all females.7 During the next three years, fourteen females graduated from the Department. Three women graduated from the Preparatory Department in 1872.8 Between 1890 and 1903, the University produced two female pharmacists.9 The valedictorian in medicine at Howard’s 1884 commencement was a Caucasian female.10 The first two female graduates of Howard’s dental school obtained degrees in 1896 and 1900; a female graduated from the University’s Theological Department in 1901.11


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May 2000