Alice Louise Pond

Alice Louise Pond was not the first nor even the second woman to receive a Columbia diploma. Those honors belong to Winifred Edgerton, the first woman to receive a degree from Columbia, a PhD in Mathematics in 1886, and to Mary Parsons Hankey, who completed the Collegiate Course for Women and became the first woman to receive an undergraduate or LLB degree in 1887. But Alice Louise Pond also deserves all due recognition: in 1888, she was the second woman to complete the Collegiate Course for Women and, luckily for us, she told a reporter about what her college experience was like. 

What was the Collegiate Course for Women?

Collegiate Education of Women Circular of Information, 1883. (CT5 I) University Archives.

The Collegiate Course for Women was created as a compromise: President Frederick A.P. Barnard was eager to allow women to study at Columbia, while the Trustees wanted to avoid coeducation. For the Collegiate Course, women students would have to pass entrance exams and then could enroll in classes towards earning a degree, but were “entirely free as to where and how to pursue [their] studies, whether in some school, private or public, or at home.” This meant that the women could not attend the lectures with the male students, even though they would take the same final examinations as those in the live classes. Male students could also sign up for the no-lectures-just-exams degree course. The men who pursued this option were considered “non-resident” students and, as the Handbook states, this option was created for “teachers and others engaged in indispensable occupations which interfere with class hours.” 

What was it like to be a student in the Collegiate Course for Women?

In 1888, when a reporter first approached Alice Louise Pond, she fled to the President’s Room, the main administrative office on campus. Once cards were exchanged and proper introductions were secured, she did eventually agree to an interview.  She revealed: “You see, I really had no college life … I always studied at home with tutors, so there was absolutely no competition. I followed exactly the same line of work, however, but I was always by myself, even at examination.” When talking about the math exams, she explains that “the others of my class had the advantage of daily recitations and daily instructions and the stimulus of working with others.” Pond did keep her marks up because she said “I love study.” At the 1888 Commencement, Pond became the first woman to receive an AB from Columbia.

What is the difference between an LLB and an AB degree

According to the 1886-1887 Handbook of Information, the Bachelor of Letters (LLB) means that a student has completed all the classics and none of the science of junior and senior years; Bachelor of Science (SB), all the science and none of the classics of junior and senior years; for the Bachelor of Arts (AB), a mixed course of classics and science in junior and senior years. Mary Parsons Hankey completed the more classical LLB degree and even wrote a thesis on Greek literature in 1887, but Alice Louise Pond was the first to complete the combined program in 1888.

What was Commencement like?

Commencement Program, 1888. Alice Louise Pond appears at the top of the second page. Commencement Collection, University Archives.

Pond admitted that she dreaded the ordeal “fearing that the rest of the class would be dismissed before I was called and so I would have to go alone to receive my degree.” Fortunately, Pond’s fears proved unfounded. When her name was called, she received an ovation from the audience and her fellow classmates. Acting President Henry Drisler “was compelled to wait for a storm of applause to subside.” (NYT, 14 June 1888: 9.) Not only was there great applause, but the Class of 1888 gave her the school cheer three times (Rah! Rah! Rah! C-O-L-U-M-B-I-A!) before the students from the other classes also took up the cheer for Miss Pond. 

Newspaper accounts of Alice Louise Pond’s college experience and graduation can be found in the Historical Biographical Files (Box 250, folder 7), Commencement scrapbook (Volume 9), Flat Files Collection (Box 9, “Miss Pond is Now an AB”) and the Columbia student newspaper, Spectator.