Winifred Edgerton Merrill
Winifred Edgerton (September 24, 1862 – September 6, 1951) was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, and was the first American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. She earned her B.A. degree from Wellesley College in 1883. She attended Columbia University in New York after a short stay at Harvard. She was awarded the PhD with high honors from Columbia University in 1886, by a unanimous vote of the board of trustees, after being rejected once.
In 1886 Winifred Edgerton '83 took the doctor's degree in Mathematics at Columbia, the first Wellesley graduate to receive that degree, and probably the first woman in the country to take it in mathematics. At the time we were greatly impressed and pleased to learn of the results of an effort on the part of some Columbia men to make things hard for this undesired student. They asked their professor to use the hardest possible text in their course in Celestial Mechanics. The book chosen was Watson's (Celestial Mechanics), which Miss Hayes' class, including Winifred Edgerton, had used at Wellesley." Mary Williams writes that "The granting of this degree was the outstanding event of the 1886 Columbia Commencement. When she was given her diploma, according to newspaper reports, there was a 'terrible round of applause which the gallant students in the body of the house kept up fully two minutes.'" On the fiftieth anniversary of her graduation from Wellesley, a portrait of Winifred Edgerton Merrill was presented to Columbia and now hangs in one of the academic buildings with the inscription, "She opened the door." Merrill was also a member of a committee that petitioned Columbia University for the founding of Barnard College in 1889, New York's first secular institution to award women the liberal arts degree.
- Kelly, S. E. and Rozner, S. A. (2012) Winifred Edgerton Merrill: "She Opened the Door", NAMS 59(4), 504-512.