Maggie Boyd’s World: Commencement

With graduation ceremonies just a short week away, many students are preparing for the next phase of their life with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, as was Maggie Boyd 139 years ago.

On June 26th, 1873, Maggie made Ohio University history when she became the first female to graduate here. However before commencement ceremonies had begun, Maggie voiced her frustration with her diploma’s masculine Latin endings to President Scott, requesting that he have them changed. Scott heard her plea, and had the endings changed to feminine (Diary).

Tuesday, June 17, 1873: “J.M. Davis & R.H.K. went with me to Scott’s room. I tell Scott I do not want a deploma with masculine endings and he says he will have it fixed.”

The 59th Ohio University commencement was a week-long event commencing with a baccalaureate sermon given by President Scott on Sunday, June 22 (Catanzaro). In his sermon, Scott commended Maggie as the first female graduate of Ohio University, while further praising the Victorian women’s domestic role (Robinson).

The week included events such as annual meetings of the Board of Trustees and Alumni Association, and an annual university address given by Rev. Ransom Dunn (Commencement program). It also included a contest between the Athenian and Philomathean literary societies (Catanzaro).

At the literary society contest of 1873, the Philomathean literary society was victorious, and Maggie writes

Tuesday, June 24, 1873: “The ‘Philos’ gained the contest. As I am an Athenian I can not give vent to my joy.”

Literary Societies were so important to Maggie and to the Ohio University community during the Victorian Era that Maggie and her Philomathean classmates received diplomas from their literary societies before their actual university diplomas (Ohio Alumnus).

The graduation program itself began at 8 a.m. on June 26 (Commencement Order). It dawned a warm, sunny, and beautiful day, with Maggie attired in a white cotton dress with small blue accents on it (Catanzaro).

Sources differ on the location of the 1873 commencement ceremony—according to the Columbus Dispatch, OU was one of the first colleges west of the Allegheny Mountains to hold its commencement on outdoor greens. However a conflicting source places it inside Atheneum Hall (Catanzaro).

Unlike today, the program included speeches by all graduating students (Commencement Order). These required speeches were original orations and covered a wide range of student-chosen topics, with titles including “Beggars,” “Imperfection,” and “Cannibalism.” Maggie’s speech was titled “Whitewash,” and more than 15 diary entries for the 1873 school year mention her work on the speech (Commencement order, Diary). Though the original copy of Maggie’s speech cannot be found, the topic was “whitewashing” the truth—telling falsehoods to cover up reality  (Ohio Alumnus March 1941).

On the day of her commencement, Maggie notes her anxiety over giving her “Whitewash” speech.

Thursday, June 26, 1873: “I was so very frightened before I went up on the stage that I thought I would fail completely. I did much better than I feared. They cheered me as I went up and I think that helped me.”

In addition to the speeches, Maggie’s commencement included music between each speech, a prayer to begin the ceremony, and a benediction to close the program (Commencement Order).

To read Maggie’s Diary and to learn more about her thoughts on graduating, please follow Maggie’s Twitter account @MaggieBoyd1873 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.

Works Cited

Boyd, Margaret. “Pocket Diary for 1873.” Digital Initiatives. Ohio University. 1873 Web. 29 Dec 2011.

Catanzaro, Margaret. “A Biography of Margaret Boyd, The First Female Graduate of Ohio University.” Unpublished undergraduate honors paper. Ohio University, 1955. Print.

Hollow, Betty. Ohio University, 1804-2004: History of a Singular Place. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003. Print.

Kras, Connie. “Ohio U’s First Coed.” Columbus Dispatch 5 Apr. 1959: 18. Print.

Ohio University Alumni Association. “Diary Indicates First Co-Ed Was Noticed on OU Campus.” The Ohio Alumnus Mar. 1941: 2-3. Web. 28 May 2012.

“Ohio University. 59th Annual Commencement.” Digital Initiatives. Ohio University. 1873 Web. 28 May 2012.

“Ohio University Commencement Program, June 26, 1873.” Digital Initiatives. Ohio University. 1873 Web. 28 May 2012

Robinson, Frank. “Troubled Pioneer: The Diary of Maggie Boyd.” Unpublished undergraduate paper. Ohio University, 1994. Print.