From the Archives: A Look Back at the History of Albion’s Female Professors

Albion College faculty for the first time since the merging of Albion Female College and the Wesleyan Seminary, 1861. Women staff depicted here are Julia F. Robinson, Charlotte S. Imus, and Pamela S. Vining (Photo Courtesy of The Albion College Archives).

Albion College has over 50 female professors teaching across all departments. However, this standard of women professorship has not always existed. The first thirty years of Albion College’s existence looked very different for women teaching.

The first female professor Albion College had was Octavia Gardner, who began her career in 1843. She was only at Albion for two years, and held the title “preceptress,” meaning female teacher. 

Gardner was the only female staff member during the two years she worked at the college, despite the fact that Albion College was originally called Albion’s Female College. In its opening years, the college only allowed women to receive a Bachelor’s Degree.

For the first 15 years that women were allowed to work as faculty of the college, there were only around two to three female staff members at a time, none of which held any position higher than preceptress. Many of these female faculty members held positions such as assistant professor, assistant or stewardess.

Preceptresses mainly taught arts and language classes, such as French, fine arts, drawing, painting, English literature and music. These women also did not stay around for long. Most left their positions after teaching for two to three years.

Female professors began teaching for longer periods of time and teaching a wider variety of subjects after 1860. The average time of employment increased from two to three years to three to five years. The longest standing female faculty member from the years 1843-1875 was Rachel Carney who taught at Albion from 1864 to1871. Carney was a professor of modern languages, became a preceptress in 1866 and taught a year of mathematics in 1868.

Cornelia B. Sabin became Albion’s first science professor, teaching botany and primary branches in 1853. Sabin set the trend for women teaching alternative subjects, with Livonia B. Perrine following her to become Albion’s first female mathematics professor in 1864.   

While much has changed since the first thirty years of women teaching at Albion College, female professors still face some challenges. In March of 2018, Albion college professors, including psychology professor Barbara Keyes,  English professor Judith Lockyer and the late English professor Mary Collar spoke at a panel about the establishment of Women’s Studies at Albion College as well as some of the challenges they faced early in their careers.

Keyes said that when she first began teaching at Albion in 1975, there were only 23 female faculty members, and nine departments had no female faculty. Collar said that when she first began working at Albion there were no female tenured faculty members in the English department.

In addition, the professors noted that Albion College did not always have an ethnic and gender core requirement for graduation. Collar and Lockyer were two of the major driving forces in that change.

“This is Albion College’s honor,” said Lockyer in an interview with The Albion Pleiad in November of 1993. “[These institutions will not] necessarily mold themselves after us. On neither side do we think we have the answers. It’s like an exchange of information.”

Because of the work of these and other professors, Albion College was chosen out of 45 different institutions to be the Association of American Colleges to become a resource institution in their “American Commitments; Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning.” 

Albion has since become the framework for other institutions on bettering their curriculum so a more rounded and diverse education is offered to their students including but not limited to Harvard University and the University of Michigan.

If I look back and say, ‘Where did my being here make a difference to what the College does?’ this is something that still stands out to me today,” said Collar.

About Kenna Childress 20 Articles
Kenna Childress (she/her) is a junior from Berkley, Mich. She is currently working towards an English major and a Biochemistry minor, with law school intentions. She is a varsity Cross Country and Track athlete, and member of Delta Gamma and Sigma Tau Delta fraternities, Prentiss M. Brown honors college, and Albion College's Tour Guide Program.

1 Comment

  1. Bravo! To these women, more recent, pioneers. My years at Albion (’64-’68) did include important female faculty (for example, Elicabetth Hosmer and Elsie Monro in the English Department, Robina Quale in history, and Jacqueline Maag in music among others, but there were…limited ranks). Tom Long (Class of 1968).

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