Dr. Eliza Mosher: The First Dean of Women
Dr. Eliza Mosher graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1875, only five years after the school opened its enrollment to women. She was working as a physician in New York in 1896 when she was appointed the first Dean of Women by President Angell, who had known Mosher as a student.1 The number of women enrolled in the University had been swiftly increasing in the late 1800s and President Angell and the Regents of the University believed it was necessary to provide the women with individualized attention.
Mosher's appointment coincided with the opening of the Barbour Gymnasium, the first building on campus specifically for women. Dr. Mosher believed strongly in the benefits of women’s physical education and was also a professor of hygiene in the School of Literature, Science and Arts. She gave lectures on the human body and encouraged women's physical education.
The Barbour Gym served as the center of women's social lives on campus. Later, remembering her time as Dean of Women, Mosher reminisced about stocking the china cabinet with little silver spoons stamped with "U of M." She recalled they were so popular that they started to go missing; after hosting a party one night, the hostesses stopped all of the male students to search their pockets. In one boy's coat they found ten silver spoons stashed! The next time they ordered silver, they got them unadorned.2
The significance of Dr. Mosher’s appointment was not lost on those who saw the need for women students to have guidance and sent her letters of congratulations. Some saw Dr. Mosher's position as the beginning of widespread acceptance of women as professors at coeducational universities.
Dr. Mosher resigned in 1902 feeling she had given the Office of the Dean of Women a proper start. Throughout her career as a practicing physician and as the Dean she believed in women's ability to have both a career and keep a home. After her time as Dean of Women she went on to have a medical practice in Brooklyn and publish a book called Health and Happiness — A Message to Girls.3
1. James B. Angell to Eliza M. Mosher, January 23, 1896, Eliza M. Mosher Collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
2. Eliza Mosher, Correspondence, 1896, Eliza M. Mosher Collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
3. "Banning of Student Automobiles Was Wise Move, Dr. Eliza Mosher First 'U' Dean of Women, Asserts," The Ann Arbor Times News, Eliza M. Mosher Collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.