case western reserve university



The Flora Stone Mather Alumnae Association and
Mather Advisory Council

Professional Education
The College for Women Alumnae Association did not confine its support for women’s higher education solely to the undergraduate level, but advocated for access to medical and legal education. At the 1915 annual meeting, the following resolution was adopted:
“Whereas, Western Reserve University has always led the educational institutions of Ohio in providing an educational system commensurate with public need
and whereas, the legal and medical schools of Western Reserve University are at present not open to women
Whereas, this exclusion results in forcing our own graduates to attend law schools and medical schools of inferior grade, thus decreasing the value of their professional training.
Therefore be it resolved that the Alumnae Association of the College for Women respectfully request the President and the Trustees of Western Reserve University to devise some method of opening to women the legal and medical schools of Western Reserve University."
The resolution was brought by Florence Allen (A.B. College for Women, 1904 and M.A. Graduate School, 1908). Her own law degree was conferred in 1913 by New York University Law School. Florence Allen later achieved numerous firsts as a lawyer and jurist. She was the country’s first woman assistant county prosecutor (1919, Cuyahoga County), first woman elected judge (1920, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court), first woman on a state supreme court (1922, Ohio), first woman appointed to an Article III federal court (1934, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit), and first woman Chief Judge of a federal court (1959).

Florence Allen
Florence Allen, 1918

Miss Allen headed the committee charged by the Alumnae Association to confer with the University’s president and trustees. At the 1916 annual meeting, Miss Allen reported, “…that Dr. Thwing was heartily in favor of the step and allowed the committee to occupy a chapel session at the College to present the subject to the students. Four undergraduates were interested in the legal profession and eight in the medical school. The Trustees voted to leave the matter in the hands of the two respective faculties, who are giving careful attention to the matter, but have not yet taken a vote upon the question.” Although pleased with progress, Miss Allen’s committee was unwilling to let the matter rest. They recommended that the Alumnae Association appoint a committee each year “to handle this matter until women were admitted to the schools in question.”
Report of the Alumnae Association, 1917
The following year, 1917, Miss Allen reported that “Dr. Thwing told her that the schools would be opened if ten girls would apply, altho no formal action had been taken by either Board. Miss Allen made a plea for interest in spreading this report among college graduates so that this great opportunity might not be lost.”
It would take another year for women’s admission to the Law School. The 1918/19 student directory listed five women among the first year students. Three were College for Women students; two were from Vassar. In his annual report of the year, Dean Dunmore wrote, “Women were admitted to the Law School for the first time this year. Four women entered in September and one in February. These five women have all done very creditable work, and there certainly is no reason to regret this step in thus opening the department to women who are graduates of colleges and universities of approved standing.”
Anna TillesAnna Tilles, seen here at the 1922 Law School commencement, was the first woman elected to the Law School's Order of the Coif
The Medical School faculty approved women’s admission in January 1919. The 1919/20 student directory listed three women as regular first year students. The Medical School had admitted women in the 1850s, 1870s and 1880s. Indeed, in 1852 Nancy Elizabeth Talbot Clark graduated from Western Reserve’s Medical School, becoming the second woman to receive a degree from a regular American medical school. But women had not been admitted to the Medical School between the 1880s and 1919.
President Thwing, in his annual report for 1918/19 described the change. “This conclusion was reached by a common consent. The war hastened the result. The civil, political and social rights of women added evidence to the academic sentiment. The number of women who desire to become physicians and lawyers will apparently never be large, but it is the duty of the University to give the professional education to those who so desire.”

Information was compiled by staff of the Case Western Reserve University Archives, November 2007.