Another Barnard Pioneer: Winifred Edgerton Merrill, Barnard founder, and first woman to receive a PhD in Mathematics

It is hard to imagine a world without Barnard, but before its founding, American women had few options for pursuing higher education. One of these women was Barnard founder, Winifred Edgerton Merrill. After graduating from Wellesley College and working at Harvard, she wanted to continue studying math and astronomy.  But when she applied to Columbia, she was told that women were not allowed in the program. Cue the sagely wisdom from Columbia President and women’s education advocate, Frederick A.P. Barnard, and Merrill renewed her application.  After appealing to each trustee individually, she was accepted to the school, and in 1886, became the first woman to earn her PhD in mathematics.

Three years later, Merrill joined the original five person committee that drafted proposals to create what we now know as Barnard College. Though she eventually resigned from her role with Barnard, her experiences also led her to found the Oaksmere School For Girls in 1906 in Mamaroneck, New York, and a branch in Paris in 1912.

Just another story of a Barnard woman changing the world. No big deal.

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About Deena Shanker

Deena is a writer living in New York. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Barnard College.
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2 Responses to Another Barnard Pioneer: Winifred Edgerton Merrill, Barnard founder, and first woman to receive a PhD in Mathematics

  1. inga says:

    so she didn’t end up practicing math and astronomy?

  2. Shira Kraft says:

    AND…in 1975 she invented Merrill Shoe Company!!! Gotta love a woman who can multitask.

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