Ada Comstock

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Ada Comstock
Ada Comstock in 1905
Born Ada Louise Comstock
(1876-12-11)December 11, 1876
Moorhead, Minnesota
Died December 12, 1973(1973-12-12) (aged 97)
New Haven, Connecticut
Other names Ada Comstock Notestein
Education Smith College
Columbia University
Title President of Radcliffe College
Term 1923–1943
Predecessor LeBaron Russell Briggs
Successor Wilbur Kitchener Jordan
Spouse(s) Wallace Notestein
(married 1943–1969)

Ada Louise Comstock (December 11, 1876 – December 12, 1973) was an American women's education pioneer. She served as the first dean of women at the University of Minnesota and later as the first full-time president of Radcliffe College.


Early life and education[edit]

Ada Louise Comstock was born on December 11, 1876, in Moorhead, Minnesota, to Solomon Gilman Comstock, an attorney, and Sarah Ball Comstock. The oldest of three children, she graduated from Moorhead High School at age 15.[1] Comstock began her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota in 1892, where she was a member of Delta Gamma woman's fraternity. After two years, she transferred to Smith College, graduating in 1897. She returned to Minnesota to complete a graduate course in teaching at Moorhead Normal School (now Minnesota State University, Moorhead), then went to Columbia University where she earned a master's degree in 1899.[2]


Ada Comstock, president of Radcliffe College 1923–1943

Comstock began her career at the University of Minnesota as an assistant in the rhetoric department under Maria L. Sanford. She was promoted to the position of instructor in 1900 and assistant professor in 1904. She was appointed the school's first dean of women in 1907 and a full professor in 1909. In 1912 Comstock accepted an invitation to become the dean of Smith College, where she served as acting president for a period in 1917-1918.[3] From 1921 to 1923, she served as president of American Association of University Women. On October 20, 1923, Comstock was inaugurated as president of Radcliffe College. She spent 20 years leading the school, strengthening its academic programs and, in 1943, persuaded Harvard to accept classroom coeducation.

When Radcliffe celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1954, Comstock was called "the chief architect of the greatness of this college".[4]

In addition to her academic career, Comstock was appointed to the National Committee on Law Observation and Enforcement, known as the Wickersham Commission, in 1929.[5][6]

After her retirement from Radcliffe, Comstock remained active in academia, serving on the Smith board of trustees, working on a graduate center for Radcliffe, and traveling extensively in support of her husband's research.[1]


A week after her retirement from Radcliffe in 1943, Comstock married Yale professor emeritus Wallace Notestein.[3] They had met in Minnesota decades before, but Comstock had focused on her academic career, as her father wished. Neither had married in the intervening years.[4] Notestein died in 1969.[7]

Death and legacy[edit]

Ada Louise Comstock Hall, Radcliffe Quadrangle, Harvard University

Ada Comstock Notestein died of congestive heart failure at her home in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 12, 1973.[2]

The largest collection of her papers, the Ada Louise Comstock Papers, 1897-1950, are housed at the Smith College Archives.

Comstock's name has been honored with buildings on college and university campuses, including Comstock Hall at the University of Minnesota,[8] Comstock Hall in the Radcliffe Quad,[9] and Comstock House residence hall at Smith College.[10] Her full name has also been used for the title of Smith college's program for non-traditional students,[11] as well as for a lecture series.

Her childhood home is maintained as a historic site by the City of Moorhead and the Minnesota Historical Society.[12]

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smith, Susan Margot (1998) [1977]. "Ada Comstock Notestein". In Stuhler, Barbara; Kreuter, Gretchen V. Women of Minnesota (2nd ed.). Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 208–225. ISBN 978-0-87351-367-8. 
  2. ^ a b Leavitt, Judith A. (1985). American Women Managers and Administrators. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-0-313-23748-5. 
  3. ^ a b Solomon, Barbara Miller (1980). "Comstock, Ada Louise". In Sicherman, Barbara; Green, Carol Hurd. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. 4 (6th ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 157–159. ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8. 
  4. ^ a b Fowle, Farnsworth (December 13, 1973). "Ada Comstock Notestein Dies; President of Radcliffe, 1923–43". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-03-18. 
  5. ^ "Woman Educator on Law Council". New York Times. 1929-05-26. 
  6. ^ Adams, Mildred (1933-04-30). "To the Woman in Politics Comes Also a New Deal". New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Wallace Notestein Dies; Famed Yale Professor". The Hartford Courant. 1969-02-03. p. 4. 
  8. ^ Brady, Tim (January–February 2006). "A Place for Women". Minnesota. 
  9. ^ "Education: Radcliffe's First". Time. 1958-11-24. 
  10. ^ "West Quad Comstock House". 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter C" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 29, 2014. 
  14. ^ "The Jane Addams Medal - Rockford College". 
  15. ^ Freedberg, Sydney P. (1973-12-15). "Ada Comstock Dies at 97". The Harvard Crimson. 
  16. ^ "Hollins University Alumnae Hollins Medal Award". 

External links[edit]