Caroline Willard Baldwin becomes the first American woman to receive a PhD in science

Caroline Willard Baldwin's "A Photographic Study of Arc Spectra"

by Brett Strizich

June 20, 1895 C.E.

In the 19th Century C.E., women were rarely admitted to male-dominated American universities. In fact, no woman had ever received a Ph.D. in science, until Caroline Willard Baldwin graduated third in her class at Cornell in 1895. Baldwin’s landmark paper “A Photographic Study of Arc Spectra” was published the same year and is still referenced today. 

Baldwin’s father was a Santa Cruz County pioneer named Alfred Baldwin. Her mother, Fannie Willard, was a notable intellectual. In addition to public schooling, Baldwin spent her time studying language and various other subjects with her mother. In 1892, Baldwin became the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from the University of California and was granted the honor of delivering a speech for that year’s commencement ceremony. 

Baldwin went on to pursue her career in academia and science by teaching at the California School of Mechanical Arts, a vocational school in San Francisco where she founded the Physics Department. Even though she married soon after receiving her Ph.D. and eventually became a mother, she continued on with her impressive academic career. Caroline Willard Baldwin died in 1928 and left behind an academic legacy that paved the way for more young women to enter and thrive in collegiate spaces.  


Era: Today (2017 C.E. - 2024 C.E.)
Year: 1890s C.E.
Topic: Women's rights & well-being
Region: North & Central America
Country: United States
Actor Type: Citizens and Science & academia
Institution: Cornell University

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