In 1873, when two dozen young people showed up at University Hall to enroll in the then-new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, two were women – in fact, they were the daughters of the first Professor of Agriculture.
Alice and Harriet Townshend were the youngest children of OSU Professor Norton Strange Townshend, who had stepped down from the College’s first Board of Trustees to teach agriculture classes at the new school. He was an advocate for women’s rights, and believed in higher education for all.
So, on the morning of September 17, 1873, Alice and Harriet, and their older brother, Arthur, walked from their home near 15th Avenue and High Street to sign up for classes, according to an interview with Harriet Townshend published in the October 1948 issue of The Alumni Monthly. In the interview, Harriet Townshend said that College President Edward Orton Sr. “almost fainted” when the two sisters showed up because he was not expecting women to enroll in the new school. He left it to the Trustees to decide, and upon reading the legislative bill passed to establish the College, they determined that women, as well as men, could attend.
While Arthur graduated with the first class in 1878, it took two more years for Alice Townshend to earn her degree; however, Alice was one of the three students on the committee in 1878 who purchased the ribbons that adorned the first diplomas. The colors of those ribbons were scarlet and gray, and Alice helped pick them.
Shortly after graduation, Alice married Charles Mayhew Wing; little else is written about her, except for her death on December 1, 1925.
Though Harriet Townshend never graduated, she worked as an OSU Library staff member for more than 30 years, making sure all of the materials had proper binding. Townshend never lived far from the University; her last residence was listed as 53 W. 11th Avenue, which today is across the street from the Moritz College of Law. And she continued to be an advocate of higher education for women until her death at age 92 on April 29, 1950.
– Filed by C.N.