About Winifred Edgerton Merrill

Winifred Edgerton Merrill was a graduate of Wellsley College. She was determined to attend Columbia University for graduate school, Ms. Merrill found an ally at the time in Columbia President Frederick A.P. Barnard. President Barnard supported the concept of co-education and advised her in her quest to attend the university. He suggested that Ms. Merrill speak to each of the Trustees personally to convince them. At the time, the trustees believed that "the average female intellect is inferior in native capacity to the stronger sex," and her attendance would somehow lower the academic standards of Columbia. 

 She was able to take the classes and complete the work; however, she was not allowed to attend any lectures. Even with this as an obstacle, she graduated cum laude with a doctor of philosophy in astronomy in 1886. 

After graduation, Ms. Merrill went on to teach mathematics at several institutions. Still, she declined the opportunity to teach at Wellesley because of her impending marriage to Frederick Merrill, also a Columbia graduate. They married in 1887 and had four children.

In 1889, Ms. Merrill was a committee member that drafted the proposals that launched the founding of Barnard College. Barnard College is named in honor of President Barnard and was established immediately after his death. After leaving the committee at her husband's request, she continued to assist as a consultant. 

In 1906, she founded the Oaksmere School for Girls in upstate New York. She taught mathematics and encouraged the students to participate in athletics. She championed allowing women the opportunity to advance in higher education. When the school closed in 1926, Ms. Merrill became the librarian at the Barbizon Hotel, a safe residential option for working women, where she worked until her retirement. 

In addition, she also published a book with her son-in-law, Robert Russell Bennett, Musical Autograms, which invented a system that turned handwriting into music by using the signatures of famous people of the time. 

In 1933, the 50th anniversary of her graduation from Wellesley, the Wellesley class of 1883 gave Columbia a portrait of Ms.Merrill for her accomplishments. The portrait hangs in Columbia’s Philosophy Hall, with the inscription underneath, "She opened the door."

Winifred Edgerton Merrill at the age of 88 died in 1951 in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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  • Marui Lavinder
    published this page in History of SOTD 2024-01-31 00:36:54 +0600