Selected Highlights of Women’s History at the University of Pittsburgh

Issue Date: 
March 26, 2007

1895 Sisters Margaret and Stella Stein are the first women to enter the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh) as full-time sophomores, when the University was on Observatory Hill in Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh’s North Side). The Stein sisters have an advantage over previous female applicants because Chancellor William Jacob Holland believes that two women could look after each other and keep each other company. The sisters take all the mathematics courses offered, plus astronomy, mathematical chemistry, and surveying.

1898 Stella and Margaret Stein graduate, tied for first place in their class at Pitt. The sisters decide Stella should be the valedictorian.

1901 The Stein sisters return to Pitt for their master’s degrees, another first. Stella went on to teach modern languages and mathematics at South High School, and Margaret was principal at Avalon High School until she married.

1908 Pi Theta Nu, the first sorority, forms in 1908. Women’s organizations are rare until after 1910.

1909 Shortly after the University moves to Oakland, Pitt opens the School of Education. Women flock to the new program, the number of women students at Pitt jumping from about 40 to more than 300 in the first year. Teacher training continues to be an academic haven for female students for more than 60 years.

1910 Jean Hamilton Walls receives the bachelor’s degree at Pitt, the first Black woman to do so at the University. In 1938, she becomes the first Black woman to receive the Ph.D. degree here.

1914-15 Women’s basketball organizes, the first competitive sport for women at Pitt.

1918 Pitt hires its first woman faculty member, Blossom Henry.

1919 Virginia Proctor Powell Florence is the first African American woman in the United States to complete a professional education program in librarianship. She graduates in 1923 from the Carnegie Library School, which later became part of Pitt’s School of Information Sciences. (In 2004, a plaque honoring Florence is installed in the Information Sciences Building lobby.) The Women’s Athletic Association forms to manage intramural sports. Pitt’s first Dean of Women, Thyrsa Wealhtheow Amos, arrives from the psychology department at the University of Kansas.

1920 Lantern Night, a candlelight ceremony for freshman women, begins.

1924 Girls’ Varsity Basketball team sweeps its home game opponents and loses only one game on the road.

1942 Eighty-two percent of the students in the professional nursing program enlist in a unit of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps organized by the University. Because of a wartime shortage of nurses, the federal government mandates that nursing schools receiving federal money accept Black students. Adena Johnson Davis becomes the first African American admitted to the School of Nursing. She graduates in 1947.

1969 Chancellor Wesley Posvar creates the Advisory Committee on Women’s Opportunities to address the agenda of the newly formed University Committee for Women’s Rights.

1972 The Pitt Women’s Studies Program is founded.

1983 The Provost’s Advisory Committee for Women’s Concerns is created.

2000 Katherine Detre, Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, begins leading a national study—involving 2,368 patients at 40 sites across the United States—to determine the best way to treat people with both Type 2 diabetes and early coronary artery disease. The study attracts funding for the largest combined grant in Pitt history, $65 million.

2004 Wangari Muta Maathai, who earned the Master of Science degree in biology at Pitt in 1965, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her 30-year effort to reforest her native Kenya and improve the economic status of women there, while fighting for democracy and against corruption and tribalism. Pitt conferred on Maathai an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree during an Oct. 26, 2006, ceremony in Alumni Hall.

2005 The director of Pitt’s European Union Center, Alberta Sbragia, is named Jean Monnet Chair ad personam by the European Commission, which also designates Pitt’s center a European Union Center of Excellence. Sbragia, a Pitt professor of political science and director of the University’s Center for West European Studies, is one of only two academics to be named Jean Monnet Chair ad personam in 2005. In 2006, Sbragia is named the inaugural holder of the Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair.

2006 Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg tells the University’s Board of Trustees that Pitt will honor Helen S. Faison—Pitt alumna, emerita trustee, and trailblazing educator—by creating the Dr. Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education, the first fully endowed chair in the 96-year history of Pitt’s School of Education, where Faison earned her B.S., M.Ed., and Ph.D. degrees in 1946, 1955, and 1975, respectively.

Susan G. Amara delivers a Provost’s Inaugural Lecture Nov. 21 to mark her formal installation as the Dr. Thomas Detre Endowed Professor in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Amara, who also chairs the school’s Department of Neurobiology, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004.

2007 Anna Quider, a Pitt Honors College student majoring in physics and astronomy, the history and philosophy of science, and religious studies, is named a Marshall Scholar for 2007. Quider is the ninth Pitt student to win a Marshall Scholarship, one of the most competitive and prestigious merit scholarships available to graduating American seniors. No other Pennsylvania college or university has won more Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships than Pitt in the last quarter century.