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Monday, December 06, 2021
A side by side comparison of women graduates historically and in front of Bascom.

UW students acknowledge necessary progress during Women's History Month

152 years ago, six women walked out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with bachelor degrees gripped in their hands and pride etched on their faces. Their graduation marked the first time for females to earn their degrees from the institution. 

In 1869, six white women became the first females to earn Bachelor’s degrees at the university. Many male students had gone to fight in the Civil War, leaving room at the university to include women. In 1874, the university officially became co-educational. 

Today, women are present in all areas of the university, including majors, clubs and employment opportunities. Of the 31,000 undergraduate students enrolled at UW-Madison in the fall of 2019, 52% of students were female, according to the UW Madison 2019-20 Data Digest

It wasn’t until 1918 that the first known African American woman, Mabel Watson Raimey, graduated from UW-Madison. In 2019, 30.7% of the 1,279 UW-Madison professors were female. Women made up 37.4% of total faculty, while men made up 62.6%. 

Sophomore Ann Kerr is the Marketing Chair for Badger AKPsi, a business fraternity on campus. While women all over campus — similar to Kerr — have assumed leadership positions, she believes there’s still room for progress, Kerr said. 

“I just know that there's still work that needs to be done and whether that's with gender inequalities or racial inequalities, I think UW still has a lot of work to be done and so as an alumni, hopefully one day I'll be able to see that progress,” Kerr said. “But that being said, I'm still very excited that I will be able to say that I graduated from here.”

Women at UW-Madison have long used their education and power to open new doors for those after them. For example, valedictorian Clara Bewick Colby — one of the first six women to earn her degree from UW-Madison — went on to become a prominent suffragist. 

Sophomore Molly McEneany is the VP of Professionalism for Badger AKPsi. Her position prepares her for a career in business and is important to her because it might inspire other girls to pursue leadership positions, McEneany said. 

“I would hope that I'm kind of setting that precedent for other younger girls within our chapter looking to take leadership roles,” said McEneany. “I think you know just having this role and encouraging other girls to apply for leadership roles like this one, I think that's what makes this position so important to me.” 

152 years after women first earned undergraduate degrees at UW-Madison, McEneany is proud to be part of the tradition.  

The first women’s sports team at UW-Madison was a women’s boating crew that began in 1895. The athletic board approved 12 female sports teams in 1974, and the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women coordinated championships. The NCAA and the Big Ten Conference officially recognized women’s sports in 1981-82.

Today, there are more women’s teams than men’s teams, and female Badgers have earned UW-Madison seven national titles. Badger women’s hockey have earned five national titles — and won the WCHA Championship this last weekend — and women’s cross country have earned two.

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“UW-Madison is by all means such a rigorous institution and so I think to keep having women graduate from the school and for me to be a part of that community that really means so much,” McEneany said. “And hopefully 100 years from now we’ll be even more progressive than we are today.” 

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