We've come a long way since 1870! February 2023 marks 153 years since the first female was ever admitted to the University of Michigan.

Even more remarkable is the fact that this female student who made waves at the university was from our very own neck of the woods! Have you ever heard the name Madelon Stockwell?

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About Elizabeth Madelon Stockwell

Born in 1924 in Albion, Michigan, Madelon was the daughter of Reverend Charles Franklin Stockwell and his wife Louisa. Madelon's ties to Southwest Michigan run deep as her maternal grandfather and his family are credited as the first white settlers to arrive in Albion.

From a young age, Madelon was surrounded by education as her father, Reverend Stockwell, was the first principal of the Wesleyan Seminary at Albion known today as Albion College.

Eventually, the family moved to Kalamazoo where to Madelon attended public school. Upon graduating as an "advanced student" in 1864 she wished to further her education. At that time that meant studying at a women's college. In Kalamazoo that was the Ladies College within Kalamazoo College.

However, Madelon wanted more! She is quoted as saying she felt it was "her duty" to earn a diploma just like her father.

Dangerous Experiment

Upon completing her studies in Kalamazoo, Madelon made a visit to the University of Michigan where she heard a professor remark,

...that he did not think young women would be able physically or mentally to bear the strain of higher education...my heart sank.

It turns out Madelon wasn't the only one who stood for co-education. Although some argued the university should remain male-only as it had since its founding in 1817, many taxpayers and professors thought a publicly funded university should be open to all.

Thanks to an 1870 university resolution Madelon got her wish!

Ann Arbor - 1870

As soon as the Board of Regents passed a resolution recognizing, "the right of every resident of Michigan to the enjoyment of the privileges afforded by the University" Madelon was one of the first to apply!

Her application was accepted and at age 24 she began her university studies in Greek in 1870. At the time U of M was one of the largest schools in the country and of the 1,100+ student body, she was the lone female.

Although Madelon was first met with mixed reactions, her fellow students eventually came around. By the time she graduated in 1872 Harry Burns Hutchins, who would later go on to become the university's 4th president wrote,

The scholarship of the University did not suffer, and none of the anticipated administrative embarrassments arose...The young women conquered the situation.

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Madelon's Legacy

Sadly, Madelon passed away in Kalamazoo at age 78. At that time she was known for being a recluse as well as the richest woman in town. She died alone in, "a stately brick home that was one of the grandest in the city."

U of M opened a female dorm room in her honor in 1939. For a time, a dress from Madelon's personal wardrobe was on display at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Learn more about Madelon's legacy here.

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Gallery Credit: Lauren Gordon

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