Thursday, June 17, 2010

17 June 1914: Athenian Is First Woman to Earn UGA Degree

On this day in 1914, Mary Dorothy Lyndon of Athens became the first woman to receive a degree from the University of Georgia. She was one of three students in June exercises receiving a Master of Arts degree.

Ms. Lyndon had grown up in Athens, attending public schools. She graduated from Wesleyan College in 1896, stayed to earn a graduate degree in Dramatic Arts in 1897, then returned to Athens to earn a 2-year teaching diploma from the State Normal School in 1901. For a time, she studied Dramatic Art and History at Columbia University in New York before again returning to Athens, where she briefly taught English and Athens High School. In 1911, she took a position teachng history at the Lucy Cobb Institute, which allowed her to take summer classes at the University of Georgia to earn her MA degree.

At the time Ms. Lyndon attended UGA, the school was still officially a male-only institution. The school had conferred an honorary Master of Arts degree on writer and educator Julia Flisch in 1899, but in the same year, the Board of Trustees deleted from their minutes the petition for coeducation at UGA presented to them by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Colonial Dames, and the Georgia Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1911, the Trustees allowed women to earn Master of Arts degrees from credits accumulated during summer school only, "on the pretext that enrollment in summer school did not constitute formal admission to the university."

Two years after Ms. Lyndon was awarded her MA degree, Chancellor David C. Barrow asked the legislature to allow women to attend regular sessions of the graduate school. The Trustees balked at the notion of women officially on campus, and Chancellor Barrow looked the other way while professors instructed female students privately to earn credits they could, with a letter of recommendation, transfer to other schools in the United States.

World War I changed the political landscape for coeducation. President Andrew Soule of the Agriculture College, a strong advocate for admitting women into the University, was made Georgia's Federal Food Administrator and Regional Chairman for five southern states. He used his position to push to allow women into the College of Agriculture to become nutritionists, using the patriotic argument that educating women would be "another form of conservation" during the war. The resolution passed an interim committee of Trustees, and that fall, the Department of Home Economics opened with Mary E. Creswell as the Dean and 46 students in the program.

The following year, in 1919, the Trustees recommended that "a woman be elected Associate Professor of Education and also be made Dean of Women." Chancellor Barrow offered these positions to Ms. Lyndon, for she "possessed of an equitable disposition, a keen intelligence, boundless energy, and a love and sympathy for young people."

While Dean, Ms. Lyndon started the Pioneer Club, directed the coeducational Thaliana Dramatic Club, started women's basketball and rifle teams, and oversaw the establishment in 1921 of the first sorority on campus, Phi Mu, of which she had been a member at Wesleyan. Her career came to an abrupt end when she was stricken with a fatal bout of pneumonia while visiting cousins in Washington, Georgia. Mary Lyndon was only 46 years old.

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