“The Year of the Woman”: Recognizing female leaders & innovators in 1935

Oglethorpe University President Thornwell Jacobs was a driving force of innovation during his three-decade tenure. Under his leadership, the then-fledgling university launched initiatives that would bring international acclaim to Oglethorpe: the Crypt of Civilization, re-discovering the tomb of James and Elizabeth Oglethorpe in England, and The Year of the Woman.

It was 1935—just 15 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, prohibiting states and the federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex. In recognition of their careers in “public advancement,” President Jacobs conferred honorary degrees to 12 prominent women leaders who represented many fields, including aviation, astronomy, education, anatomy, politics and history. Each of the recipients represented excellence in fields that were previously male-dominated. The Year of the Woman was emblematic of the growing empowerment of women across the country.

Honorary degree recipients during  included:

  • Amelia Earhart, famous aviator (Doctor of Public Service)
  • Annie Jump Cannon, distinguished astronomer (Doctor of Science)
  • Martha Berry, founder of Berry College (Doctor of Public Service)
  • Caroline Love Goodwin O’Day, Congresswoman-at-large (Doctor of Laws)
  • Caroline Miller, Georgia’s first Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Doctor of Letters)
  • Clara Mildred Thompson, Dean of Vassar College (Doctor of Laws)
  • Cora Smith Gould, noted artist and publisher (Doctor of Public Service)
  • Dr. Florence R. Sabin, noted anatomist (Doctor of Science)
  • Helen Rogers Reid, Vice President of the New York Herald Tribune (Doctor of Laws)
  • Ruth Blair, State Historian of Georgia (Master of Public Service)
  • Josephine Aspinwall Roche, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (Doctor of Commercial Science)
  • Sidney Lanier, Jr., daughter of Oglethorpe alumnus and poet Sidney Lanier (Doctor of Public Service)

In a renowned speech, Amelia Earhart, who had just finished her famous transatlantic flight in 1932, strongly voiced her conviction that women deserved every opportunity that men had.

“Machines have come to the rescue of women,” she declared. When it came to feats of strength, she contended that “machines equalized matters.” It was her strongly-held belief that women could achieve anything men could.

On Thursday,  April 15,  Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Mariel Meier will be giving a lecture on American Astronomer and women’s rights activist Annie Jump Cannon. In this talk, Dr. Meier will explore the unique challenges Cannon faced as one of the first female astronomers in the United States. Visit OUConnect for more details.

Photo above: Amelia Earhart receives an Oglethorpe honorary degree, May 26, 1935. (AP Photo)

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