Pembroke College in Brown University

41°49′45″N 71°24′09″W / 41.8292°N 71.4026°W / 41.8292; -71.4026

Pembroke College in Brown University
This engraved stone on Brown's Pembroke Campus serves as a memorial of Pembroke College
TypePrivate liberal arts college
Women's college
Active1891 (1891)–1971 (1971) (fully incorporated into Brown University, which became co-educational)
Location, ,
AffiliationsBrown University

Pembroke College in Brown University was the coordinate women's college for Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. It was founded in 1891 and merged into Brown in 1971.

Founding and early history

1894 incoming freshmen class

The founding of the Women's College Adjunct to Brown University in October 1891, later renamed the Women's College in Connection with Brown University, provided an organizational structure to allow women to attend that institution; Brown College remained as the men's college. The system resembled those at Columbia University (Columbia College for men, Barnard College for women) and Harvard University (Harvard College for men, Radcliffe College for women).

Brown's single-sex status had first been challenged in April 1874, when the university received an application from a woman.[1] The Advisory and Executive Committee decided that admitting women at the time was not a good proposal, but they continued to revisit the matter annually until 1888. Subsequent discussions led to the creation of the Women's College on October 1, 1891.

The first women students were Maude Bonner, Clara Comstock, Nettie Goodale Murdoch, Elizabeth Peckham, Anne T. Weeden, and Mary Emma Woolley. Their classes were held at a grammar school that had once been associated with Brown. After the boys went home at two o’clock, the women arrived to learn from their professors in a classroom on the second floor. The school had no lights, so the women worked until the daylight was too dim to read by. One of the major advocates for admitting women to Brown University, Sarah Doyle, raised $75,000 to build the first permanent building for Brown's new female students; named Pembroke Hall, this structure would be renamed Pembroke College in 1928.[2]

Official recognition of the college as a body of the university came in 1896. The college received its own faculty in 1903. By 1910, 40% of students were from outside Rhode Island.[citation needed]

Deans of Pembroke College

1892–1900 Louis Franklin Snow
1900–1905 Anne Crosby Emery
1905–1923 Lida Shaw King
1923–1950 Margaret Shove Morriss
1950–1961 Nancy Duke Lewis
1961–1971 Rosemary Pierrel

Later history and coeducation

Pembroke Campus
Pembroke Hall, first building of the Women's College (1897)
The three dormitories of Metcalf Hall (1919), Andrews Hall (1947), and Miller Hall (1910) formed the heart of Pembroke College
Alumnae Hall (1927)

In 1928, the Women's College was renamed "Pembroke College in Brown University" in honor of Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge in England. Roger Williams, one of the founders of Rhode Island, was an alumnus of Cambridge's Pembroke. Due to this, one of the buildings on Brown's campus had been named "Pembroke Hall." This was the building on the Brown campus where most "Pembrokers," as Women's College students were already known, attended classes. The Women's College had also already been using the coat of arms of Cambridge's Pembroke for formal decoration on programs and pins.

In 1931 Pembroke College began a nursing program with the Rhode Island Hospital Training School for Nurses to train women to teach in nursing school.[3]

The "coordinate" status of Pembroke College was valued because it allowed women to take courses with Brown students yet still experience the characteristics of single-sex education. This included a separate student government, separate newspaper and separate social clubs.

In 1969, students from Pembroke and Brown began living in shared dormitories. Since women students had been attending classes and participating in extracurricular activities at Brown for some time, the Advisory and Executive Council proposed a merger between the colleges. On July 1, 1971, the merger became official, with all undergraduate students being admitted to and attending the same college.

In 1981, the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women was established at Brown, billing itself as a "center for interdisciplinary research on gender and society." Its mission also includes the preservation of the history of women at Brown. Affiliated with the Sarah Doyle Women's Center, it is home to the university's Gender Studies program and publishes the academic journal differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. The Pembroke Center has also sponsored the digitization of the Pembroke College newspaper "The Pembroke Record" which can be accessed on line.[4]

Although Brown became a fully coeducational institution with the merger, the history of women at Brown was still evolving. On September 3, 1991, Jill Ker Conway, the president of the all-female Smith College, delivered the opening convocation address to the student body in celebration of Brown's 100 years of women on campus. A four-day symposium was also held in October of that year in order to discuss women's issues, with President of Ireland Mary Robinson delivering the keynote address.

At the time of the merger, only 25% of the undergraduate students were women. By the 2005-2006 academic year, 51% of students at Brown University were female.

Notable alumnae


The first graduates were Mary Emma Woolley and Anne Tillinghast Weeden in 1894. In early graduation programs, the names of the female graduates were listed in a special section below those of men. This list is in alphabetical order, by surname.




  1. ^ Goodman, Lawrence (November 2008). "O Pioneers!". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  2. ^ "The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives" (PDF). Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Brown University. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  3. ^ "Encyclopedia Brunoniana - Nursing program". Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Pembroke Record Digital Archive". Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Overlooked No More: Before Kamala Harris, There Was Charlotta Bass". The New York Times. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020. Charlotta Amanda Spears is believed to have been born in Sumter, S.C., around 1880 ... Bass enrolled at Pembroke, the women's college that is now a part of Brown University, and got a job selling subscriptions for a local Black newspaper.

General sources


Further reading

  • Kaufman, Polly Welts. The Search for Equity: Women at Brown University, 1891–1991. Brown University Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 1991.
  • Mitchell, Martha. "Pembroke College". Encyclopedia Brunoniana. 1993. Providence, RI: Brown University Library.
  • Mitchell, Martha. "Seal". Encyclopedia Brunoniana. 1993. Providence, RI: Brown University Library.
  • Pembroke Club of Providence, "This Was Pembroke" (brochure), Providence R.I., August 2002.