Do you know who the first woman ever to be admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was?
Her name was Ellen Swallow Richards, and she stopped at nothing until she got the education she deserved and went on to become an important engineer and chemist.
Ellen was born in Massachusetts in 1842. She was born to two former teachers who decided to homeschool her as a little girl so she could get a decent education. When she grew up and went to high school, she excelled in subjects like math and science.
When it was time for her to go to college, her parents couldn’t afford it, so she worked multiple jobs until she could save up and enroll in Vassar College by the time she was 26.
Ellen fell in love with chemistry as she admired how it plays a role in our everyday lives. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1870 and sought to work in a chemical lab after college.
Ellen applied to work in multiple labs in the United States but was consistently turned down because none wanted to hire a woman. Finally, she decided to apply to work at MIT. After much discussion, the board at MIT thought it would look better if Ellen were brought in as a “special student.”
Although she wasn’t charged tuition or put on any class rosters, Ellen became the first woman admitted to MIT in 1870.
Although Ellen was often left out of opportunities at MIT because of her “special student” status, she still worked extremely hard and gained more respect at the institution.
When she became a research assistant at MIT, she began studying water sewage for the Massachusetts Board of Health. She did a lot of water analysis projects and graduated from MIT in 1873 with another undergraduate degree.