Sarah Parke Morrison , the first female to attend classes and graduate from Indiana University, was born September 7, 1833, in Salem, Washington County, Indiana, the eldest child of John I. and Catherine (Morris) Morrison. The above photo is Morrison c. 1869 (From the collection of the IU Archives Photograph Collection. Used with permission.)
John came to Washington County in 1820, at the age of 18, and was hired to teach at the Salem Grammar School. He left for a time to complete a degree at Miami University in Ohio, then returned to Salem and opened the Washington County Seminary for Men. Sometime later, along with his wife, he opened the Salem Female Seminary.
Education was important to the Morrison family. Catherine taught her children at home, and when she was old enough, Sarah was sent to the Mount Holyoke Women’s Seminary in Massachusetts where she received a degree. Afterward she enrolled at Vassar in New York to continue post graduate work.
Meanwhile John Morrison served as treasurer for the State of Indiana and was a member and past president of the IU Board of Trustees. While serving on the board some of the members told him that as an ardent advocate of co-education he should find a female student to enroll at the all-male university. “I will,” he answered.
At the age of 34, with years of education behind her, Sarah was persuaded by her father to apply to IU. She had no desire herself to attend IU but hoped some other woman would step forward. When no one did, and fearing others would think her foolish for even bringing up the subject, Sarah entered as a sophomore in the fall of 1867. Six more women followed suit in January 1868.
Two years after her enrollment, Sarah graduated from IU with an A. B. degree, and three years later she received her A. M. In 1874, she became IU’s first female faculty member. Later she held faculty positions at Glendale College in Ohio, the University of Chicago and Western Seminary in Oxford, Ohio. She was also very involved in the suffrage and temperance movements well into her 80’s.
Sarah never married. During the last years of her life she made her home with her sister, Mrs. G. W. Coffin, at 947 North Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis. In the summer of 1919, there was a fire at the home. Soon afterward Sarah had a paralytic stroke believed to have been brought on by excitement incident to the fire. She died in the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on July 9, 1919, at the age of 85, and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.
Post Submitted By: Randi Richardson (Library Volunteer)
For additional information see:
- Dina Kellams, “Women’s History Month: IU’s First Coed, Sarah Parke Morrison,” https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iubarchives/2011/03/07/womens-history-month-ius-first-coed-sarah-parke-morrison/
- “Oldest Graduate Dead,” Bloomington (IN) Evening World, July 11, 1919, p. 3.
- Dawn I. Powell, “Ladies First…Washington County’s Pioneer Women Were Influential in Development of Indiana,” Salem (IN) Historian, Spring/Summer 2015, pp. 4-7.