Low Expectations

Olympia Brown was strongly encouraged by her mother to pursue her education, so she enrolled in Mount Holyoke, founded by Mary Lyon, an active proponent of women’s education in the 19th century. Holyoke was one of the original efforts to create institutions of higher learning for women.

Even at Holyoke, Brown found low expectations for female students, so she transferred to Antioch College. Antioch was one of the first colleges to admit black American students.

Its president was the hugely influential American educator Horace Mann. Mann proposed a broad range of progressive—often unpopular—ideas such as:

·       Public education should be paid for by public taxation

·      Public schools should be open to children of all backgrounds

·       Teachers should be trained

·       A common curriculum to inculcate a sense of common citizenship and to educate the public rather than leave it ignorant

Brown received such an excellent education there, that her entire family moved to Antioch to enable all her siblings to attend the school.  

Olympia wanted to become a minister and chose St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Even though its president “did not think women were called to the ministry”, she was accepted and became its first female graduate.

She achieved the distinction in 1863 of becoming the first woman ordained by a whole denomination, the Unitarian Universalists—the one in which she had been raised. She preached for forty-eight years.

By 1880, there were one-hundred and sixty-five ordained female ministers with parishes.

Click the first video to learn more about Horace Mann’s efforts to advance the common school

Olympia Brown (1835-1926) dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school at St. Lawrence University.