By Jennifer Hull, Bicentennial Research Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor
The precocious teenager completed four years of studies, but due to conventions of the day, received her degree from elsewhere.
Mabel Dart upon her graduation from Vassar College, 1882
Our institution’s first full-time female student was a precocious teenager named Mabel Dart (later Colegrove), daughter of the man who managed the university boarding hall, who had grown up playing in her family’s orchard bordering the campus.
Having exhausted local options for her education, the university (then still called Madison) was persuaded to allow Miss Dart to take classes alongside the male students. And so she did from 1878 to 1882 — so successfully that it was soon time to determine what to do about her graduation. An 1879 “College and Town” column in the Madisonensis suggests that Miss Dart was not alone, noting, “Madison is becoming quite co-educational. A lady takes the full course with ’82, another [female student] recites in French with the Juniors, and four more attend Dr. Brook’s lectures on zoology.”
Yet, it was not quite coeducational enough to confer a degree on a female student — even after four years of successful studies. In Mabel Dart’s case, university officials determined that it might be embarrassing for a proper young lady to graduate with a degree from an all-male college. The university thus made arrangements with Vassar College to admit Miss Dart for one semester, and confer a more acceptable Vassar degree — earned with her credits at Madison.
After graduating, she became a teacher and librarian, and, at the end of her life, was officially recognized as the first Colgate alumna in June 1947.
In the fall of 2017, Colgate named one of its four residential commons in honor of Mabel Dart Colegrove.
Madison is becoming quite co-educational. A lady takes the full course with ’82, another [female student] recites in French with the Juniors, and four more attend Dr. Brook’s lectures on zoology.”
1879 “College and Town” columnMadisonensis
Notes & Sources
Biographical file for Mabel Dart Colegrove, Special Collections and University Archives, Colgate University