History Lesson: Haverford’s First Women Graduates

In 1918, Haverford began granting master’s degrees to women for the first time.

The College didn’t go fully coed until 1979, but Haverford actually turned out its first women graduates decades before that. They were products of the T. Wistar Brown Graduate School, which granted master’s degrees to 27 women, beginning in 1918 with Eleanor May Gifford, whose thesis focused on the Synoptic Gospels of the Bible. Established in 1917, the graduate program was funded by a bequest from T. Wistar Brown, a prominent Quaker and generous Haverford benefactor, who served on the Board of Managers for 63 years. Brown had established the Moses Brown Fund (named for his father) to support “a graduate course in religious study,” and at the time of his death in 1917, the fund had grown to more than $372,000—a huge sum at the time. Just as remarkable, a suggestion by then-President Isaac Sharpless that the program admit women appears to have been easily approved when it came up for a vote during a 1917 board meeting.

Male students in the program lived in Merion Hall (now faculty apartments), while the women (who outnumbered the men 6 to 3 at one point) lived in a residence referred to as “Graduate House” (now Cadbury House). According to the minutes of a 1924 board meeting, women graduates of the school went on to work as teachers, social and religious workers, and missionaries. One worked in penal reform, another in business. But in 1926, just a decade after its launch, the graduate school’s management committee issued a report that questioned the cost of the program, and singled out in particular the expense of maintaining a separate house for women. That was the end of the T. Wistar Brown Graduate School. A female presence on campus would not be felt again until the World War II era, when the Relief and Reconstruction graduate program began admitting women in 1943.

—Eils Lotozo

“History Lesson” is a regular series in Haverford magazine.