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Julia Sears (1840–1929) was a pioneering academic and suffragette. She achieved a milestone early in her career when in 1872, she became the first woman in the U.S. to head a public college, Mankato Normal School, now Minnesota State University, Mankato. The University named a recently built residence hall after Sears.

Julia Sears
Julia Ann Sears c 1872.jpg
Julia Ann Sears, c. 1872
Born1840 (1840)
Died1929 (aged 88–89)


Sears was born in 1839 in Massachusetts. She started teaching at the Mankato Normal School in 1871, becoming the president in 1872.[1]

Her first address to its female graduates was forthright, telling them

You are stepping out into life at a time when you hear not the sound, 'thus far in education may you go and no farther, this place you may fill, but not that'; but, instead, universities and colleges open wide their doors and bid you enter, and any place you are fitted to fill is no longer denied you.

However, such frankness was still controversial, and she was forced to leave the university after only a year. She retained considerable support among the students and the Mankato community, however, and the whole affair became so heated that it resulted in expulsions and was known as the Sears Rebellion.[2]

She then took a post as professor of mathematics at Peabody Normal School (now Peabody College of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, she worked tirelessly as an advocate of women's rights and in particular the right to vote. She remained at Peabody until her retirement in 1907, and a portrait of her, painted in 1904, hangs today in the Peabody library.

At her death in 1929[1], the campus newspaper said, "Her precision, her accuracy, her fairness, her brilliant demonstrations, and, above all, her ability to inspire the ambition of all those she taught became famous incidents of her instruction at Peabody." This quote was inscribed on the wall of a newly constructed residence hall that was named in her honor at Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2015, and is a reminder of the impact on the community.


  1. ^ a b Cameron, Harris. "Mankato State Normal School controversy, 1873". MNopedia. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Mankato's teacher college was a 19th-century pioneer for women's rights — for about a year". MinnPost. Retrieved 2017-10-27.

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