Yale’s First Women Ph.D.s

Yale's First Women Ph.D.s

Sterling Memorial Library Nave: Yale’s First Women Ph.D.s, 1894

Painting by Brenda Zlamany, 2015

From Left: Cornelia H.B. Rogers (Romance Languages and Literatures), Sara Bulkley Rogers (History), Margaretta Palmer (Mathematics), Mary Augusta Scott (English), Laura Johnson Wylie (English), Charlotte Fitch Roberts (Chemistry), Elizabeth Deering Hanscom (English)

The WFF unveiled a portrait of the first seven women to receive Yale Ph.D.s on April 5th, 2016. The portrait, located in the nave of Sterling Memorial library, was painted by artist Brenda Zlamany and is the first portrait of women to be displayed publically in the library.

The Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the oldest graduate school in the United States, was founded in 1847 as the Department
of Philosophy and the Arts. In 1861 it awarded the first Ph.D. degrees granted in the United States.  In 1892, the Graduate School admitted twenty-three women as students in full standing. They endured “open hostility” and were caricatured in undergraduate magazines and plays. Others observers, however, celebrated Yale for embracing a “modern world of larger and juster views.” 

Two years later, in 1894, seven remarkable women became the first women to receive Yale Ph.D.s. Five joined the faculty at women’s colleges: Smith (Elizabeth Hanscom, Mary Scott), Vassar (Cornelia Rogers, Laura Wylie), and Wellesley (Charlotte Roberts). Margaretta Palmer worked at the Yale observatory as an astronomer, and Sara Rogers was a political scientist and writer of fiction. Learn more about the women and their accomplishments.

Today, 47.4 percent of the 2,813 degree-seeking students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are women. They are a diverse group, representing many nations, races, and ethnicities. Their successes are built on the shoulders of the women pioneers who pursued their right to a Ph.D. long before possessing the right to vote.