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Early Pioneers at Pitt

March 27, 2018

Today’s post recognizes a series of firsts for the University of Pittsburgh, which was originally founded in 1787 after the American Revolutionary War as the Pittsburgh Academy. The school was later renamed Western University of Pennsylvania in 1819, and in 1908, the University of Pittsburgh. Over those many decades, one thing has remained constant: the remarkable achievements and contributions to society made by the school’s scholars, especially women.


Margaret and Stella Stein were the first women to enter the Western University of Pennsylvania full-time. The sisters studied mathematics, taking several classes on astronomy, mathematical chemistry and surveying. In 1898, Margaret and Stella graduated, tied for first place in their class. The sisters decided together that Stella should be the valedictorian. In 1901, Margaret and Stella both returned for their master’s degrees. Stella began teaching modern languages and mathematics at South High School, while Margaret became principal at Avalon High School. 


Just a few years later in 1906, Jean Hamilton Walls became the first African- American woman to enroll at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated in 1910 after studying mathematics and physics, becoming the first African- American woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from Pitt. Two years later, she received her master’s degree from Howard University and went on to found the Council of Negro College Women. In 1938, she also became the first woman to receive a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh.


A little over a decade later, we still admire and celebrate these women as pioneers of their time. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, women account for more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide this year.


Who are some women that have inspired you, or made a difference in your education experience? Let us know in the comments section below!

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