Archives & Special Collections
First women to graduate from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 1912-1917
The first women to graduate from the university attended the Fall River and New Bedford textile schools which merged in 1960 to form Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (SMTI), now the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The first woman to earn a diploma (bachelor’s degrees were not awarded at that time) attended day classes with about 40 men at Bradford Durfee Textile School of Fall River. Her name was Leah Osborne Millard. The records are silent on how difficult it was for her to gain admission, however, upon graduation in 1912 her classmates elected her to deliver the class prophecy, and according to the Herald News, Fall River, bestowed her with flowers on commencement day. Just as the majority of women who gained admission to the school in the teens and twenties, she studied textile design. At commencement Leah Millard presented a paper entitled “Tinctorial and Pigmentary Colors.”
“Graduation exercises of the day students of the class of 1912 at the Bradford Durfee Textile School were held this afternoon in the auditorium of the school. There are 15 members of the class, six of them have taken the general cotton manufacturing course; four, chemistry and dyeing; three, engineering; one, textile designing, and one special weaving. One member of the class is a young woman.”Fall River Herald news clipping, 1912
“Miss Leah Osborne Millard, the young woman of the class and class prophetess, next read the the prophecy. It was to be hoped that the young men who have been her fellow students do as well as she promised for them, for she selected for each a work of importance and profit that should prove most acceptable. That the young men of the graduating class appreciate as well as admire their fair fellow student and prophetess was evident in the beautiful bouquet of fleurs de lis, violets and lilies of the valley that was presented to her from them. The orchestra played Brahms Hungarian Dance No.2.”Fall River Herald news clipping, 1912
After 1912 the number of women enrolled remained steady until Principal Fenwick Umpleby added a course in Freehand Drawing and Ornamentation, designed especially for women. The course was advertised for the first time in the 1913 catalogue of Bradford Durfee and drew a few women. By 1917 there were 12 women enrolled.
In 1912 Bradford Durfee also awarded certificates to 5 women enrolled in night classes: Rose Brennan and Annie Burke for Jacquard Weaving, and Martha Jane Grimshaw, Jessie Veronica Meadowcraft and Margaret Meadowcraft for Dobby Weaving. Evening enrollment was considerably higher than day; 297 students graduated in 1912. Evening school was designed for mill workers, and course offerings differed from those during the day. The five women who graduated in 1912 studied the operation of special looms to increase their employment opportunities in a booming local textile job market.
UMassD’s other predecessor school, the New Bedford Textile School, appears to have been less open to female applicants. The first woman enrolled was Molly Gammons, class of 1917. According to a 1984 interview conducted with Molly, admission was only on condition she did not speak to her male classmates. Molly studied textile design, and after graduation in 1917 she was offered a job as chief designer with the Manville Mill in Rhode Island.