Ohio University in 1873: Maggie Boyd’s World

On February 18, 1804, the Ohio General Assembly approved the charter plans for the creation of Ohio University, less than a year after Ohio became the nation’s 17th state on March 1, 1803. The university opened in 1808 with three students in the inaugural class (Ohio University Ohio University History). Six decades later, a student registered for the class of 1868 under the name “M. Boyd.” The student was Margaret Boyd, a 23-year-old who would become the first female to graduate from Ohio University.

Maggie Boyd attended Ohio University from 1868-1873 (Ohio University Alumni Association “Margaret Boyd”). She was in the “Classical” course of study, with 36 other undergraduates (Ohio University Annual Catalogue). Ohio University in the Victorian Era was an extremely dynamic place.

There were five faculty members in 1873; William Scott served as interim president from 1872-1873, then president 1873-1883 (Hoover). An Athens County native, he is one of only two Ohio University alumni to serve as the university’s president.

Several Ohio schools in the Victorian era, including Ohio University, were having financial trouble. Ohio University’s economic troubles were due in part to southeast Ohio failing to attract new business and residents (Daniel), while the university’s debt was largely caused by the Ohio state legislature not keeping its promise of providing extra funding to public universities (Hoover). In 1870, the university voted to open enrollment to all females to attract students, but by then Maggie was already enrolled (Daniel).

President Scott often had to plead the case of Ohio University in front of the state legislature (Daniel). After a bill to provide funding for Ohio University, Miami of Ohio, and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Ohio (now named The Ohio State University) was soundly defeated, Scott turned to taxation as a means to raise revenue for the university (Daniel).  According to Daniel, “In an effort to secure an annual income from the state, Scott and the trustees, in 1874, resolved to try to recover such state taxes as had been collected on those university lands which had been sold in fee simple.”

Though Maggie lived with her family off-campus, at the approximate location where 136 N. Congress Street is now, 90% of the male undergraduates lived in one of the three buildings on campus (Lawrence).  Cutler Hall on College Green along with the other two buildings, the Graduate Hall (now known as Wilson Hall) and McGuffey Hall (National Register of Historic Places Inventory) still stand today. The price of a room in one of these halls was $3/term for an inside room or $4/term for a corner room (Lawrence). There were no student dining services at the time period, though grocery stores such as H. Potter: Dealer in Groceries, Provisions, Crockery and Glassware, stood on Court Street (Lake).

In the 1870s, two fraternities existed at Ohio University, Beta Theta Pi (est. 1841), and Delta Tau Delta (est. 1862) (Hollow). Maggie enjoyed going to social events with fraternity members. On June 26th, 1873, she wrote:

“’Beta’ party tonight at Ballards. I go with Dixon.”

Literary societies were also an important part of Maggie’s college life. Maggie attended her Philomathean literary society at least a few times a month. “The literary societies commanded the kind of student loyalty which was later accorded to fraternities and athletic teams” (Brubacher).

Apart from literary society and fraternity social events, many of the social events were based around church meetings, such as the Mite Society. The Mite Society gathered regularly, with ice cream and cake always served at their meetings.  Activities such as card playing were frowned upon, and dancing could get you kicked out of the university (Lawrence).

For photographs and drawings of what Maggie’s world was like living in Athens in the Victorian Era, please check out our Pinterest board, Maggie’s World in 1873. Please follow Maggie’s Twitter account, @MaggieBoyd1873 – we will be chronicling her day-to-day entries from her pocket diary. Also, keep following the Library Blog, the @AldenLibrary Twitter account or the Alden Library Facebook page to read more about the university’s history during Maggie’s time and other aspects of Victorian life.


Boyd, Margaret. “Pocket Diary for 1873.” 1873. Ohio University Archives. Athens, OH. Web. 31 Jan. 2012.
Brubacher, John. Higher Education in Transition. 4th Ed. New Brunswick: Harper & Row, 1958. Print.
Daniel, Robert. Athens, Ohio: The Village Years. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997. Print.
Hollow, Betty. Ohio University, 1804-2004: History of a Singular Place. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003. Print.
Hoover, Thomas. The History of Ohio University. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1954. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.
Lake, D.J. Atlas of Athens, Co., Ohio, from Actual Surveys By and Under the Directions of D.J. Lake. 1875. Philadelphia: Simmons & Titus, 1973. Print.
Lawrence, W.B. “Margaret Boyd .” The Presentation of a Picture of His Aunt, Miss Maggie Boyd, to the Girls of Boyd Hall. Athens, Ohio. 13 May 1936. Speech.
Ohio University. Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the Ohio University, Athens, Ohio for 1872-73. Athens, OH: Ohio University, 1872. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.
Ohio University. Ohio University Campus Green Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Inventory — Nomination Form, June 11, 1979. 11 June 1979. Ohio University Archives, Athens, OH.
Ohio University. Ohio University History. Ohio University. n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.
Ohio University Alumni Association. “Margaret Boyd.” Ohio University Bulletin. June 1917: 8-11. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.