For Women's History Month, a Look at NYU's Past

Photos and documents from the NYU Archives point to milestones in the history of women teaching and learning at NYU.
photo: women posing in a dorm room in the 1940s

Chance Vought scholars pose in their dorm room in 1942. The scholarship program provided free tuition, room, board, transportation, and a $50 monthly stipend for women to study aeronautics engineering at NYU.

This Women's History Month, as we recognize the struggles women have encountered on the way to numerous victories—and continue to look for ways to remove the remaining obstacles to true gender equity—we're also taking a look within to tell the story of women's contributions to our own institution. In 1873, there were just three female students at NYU. Today, women make up 57 percent of NYU's undergraduate population of over 25,000—and the history of the intervening years is a catalogue of "firsts."

Discussions about admitting degree-seeking female applicants to NYU began as early as 1876-1877, and women were formally admitted to the graduate department in 1888. The School of Law admitted women in 1890—1860 years before Harvard. When, also in 1890, NYU became the first university in the country to create a school of pedagogy (now Steinhardt), the new school recruited female faculty and admitted women to its very first class. Stern admitted women from its inception (as the School of Commerce) in 1900, and by 1936 they made up 15 percent of the school's total enrollment.

Two women received B.A. degrees from NYU in 1915, and when Washington Square College was founded in 1913, it opened its doors to women as well as commuters, recent immigrants, and professional students. By 1931, a local newspaper noted that "the combined faculties of Washington Square College, the School of Commerce, and the School of Education boast[ed] women prominent in the fields of vocational guidance, physical education, science sociology, and literature."

During World War II, the Chance Vought Division of United Aircraft established a scholarship for women to complete an eight-month course in aeronautical engineering at NYU; 110 completed the program. In the Bronx, the University Heights Campus—comprising the University College of Arts and Science and the College of Engineering—became fully co–ed in 1959.

View more milestones in the slideshow below.