Agnes E. Wells

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Agnes Erminia Wells

Agnes Ermina Wells, Ph.D. (January 4, 1876, Saginaw, Michigan – July 6, 1959) was an American educator and a women's equal rights movement activist. She was Dean of Women at Indiana University and professor of mathematics and astronomy there.

Early life and education[edit]

Wells was born in Saginaw, Michigan on January 4, 1876.[1] She had a sister Florence and a brother Ben.[2]

She attended the Arthur Hill High School[1] and she then spent one year at the Saginaw County Training School for Teachers[3] and another in Dresden, Germany, where she studied the German language and music. She studied at Bryn Mawr College before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she studied mathematics and graduated in 1903. In 1916, she earned her Master of Arts degree from Carleton College in Minnesota, where her field of study was astronomy.[1] After completing her dissertation on A Study of the Relative Proper Motions and Radial Velocities of Stars in the Pleiades Group, she received her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Michigan in 1924.[1]


Wells first worked as an educator in Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she was a high school principal for the 1904 to 1905 school year.[4][5] She then worked at Duluth High School in Minnesota as a mathematics teacher. From 1907 to 1914, she was the head of the mathematics department. While working on her master's degree, she was an instructor at Carleton College.[5]

In 1917, she was a faculty member and during the summers she was dean of women at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.[4][5] At the Helen Newberry Residence, she was the social director.[5] She then went to Indiana University and taught mathematics[6] and was the dean of women beginning in 1919.[4][5] Wells provided guidance to female students and assisted with them housing,[1] as well as being credited with establishing the dormitory system at the school. In 1924, she became a member of the Indiana Academy of Science,[5] and that year also began to teach astronomy courses.[7] She retired as the dean of women in 1938, and she taught mathematics and astronomy at the university from that point until 1944.[5] The Agnes E. Wells quadrangle at Indiana University comprises four buildings: Morrison Hall, Sycamore Hall, Memorial Hall, and Goodbody Hall, all built between 1925 and 1940.[8][9]

For the American Association of University Women, she established a fellowship fund in the amount of $1 million.[4]

Wells was active in many clubs and organizations. She helped found chapters of the Mortar Board for senior women at both University of Michigan and Indiana University.[5] She was a member American Association of Deans of Women, Michigan State Society, National Education Association, Daughters of the American Revolution and Phi Beta Kappa.[1]

Women's rights[edit]

She was a member of the National Woman's Party, and became its chair in 1949. The organization worked for the right for women to vote via the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution and for the Equal Rights Amendment,[1][4] which Wells spoke about to the subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of Congress in 1945.[10]

Personal life[edit]

She lived with a woman named Lydia Woodbridge, a teacher at Indiana University, who was identified as Well's partner in Bloomington, Indiana.[11][12] Woodbridge was assistant dean of woman and a professor of French. When Wells retired as dean, Woodbridge also stepped down as assistant dean and devoted her efforts towards teaching French.[6] Woodbridge died on July 28, 1946 in Bloomington, Indiana at the age of 70.[13] Soon after her death, Wells wrote in a letter to Anita Pollitzer, an acquaintance in the Party, that her “friend of 41 years and house-companion for 28 years” had just died.[14]

In her later years, she lived with her sister Florence Wells in Saginaw, Michigan.[2] She died there on July 7, 1959.[1] In 1971, she was inducted into the Saginaw Hall of Fame.[15]

Selected published works[edit]

Wells, Agnes E. A Study of the Relative Proper Motions and Radial Velocities of Stars in the Pleiades Group, University of Michigan, 1924.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Wells, Agnes Ermina, 1876-1959. Papers of Agnes Ermina Wells, 1894-1959: A Finding Aid". Online Archival Search Information System (OASIS), Harvard University Library. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Miss Agnes E. Wells Dies; Ex-Dean at I.U." The Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis, Indiana. July 8, 1959. p. 11. Retrieved July 18, 2017 – via (Subscription required (help)).
  3. ^ Edward W. J. Miller (1976). The Saginaw Hall of Fame: Biographical Sketches. Saginaw County Bicentennial Commission, Saginaw County Bicentennial Commission. p. 114.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ed Miller; Jean Beach (2000). "Saginaw Hall of Fame, Biographical Sketches". The Saginaw Hall of Fame – via Women Who Dare, site by historian Amy French of Delta College in University Center, Michigan.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. 69. Indiana Academy of Science. 1959. pp. 49–50. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Miss Wells is Transferred; I.U. Dean of Women Named". The Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis, Indiana. June 12, 1938. p. 12. Retrieved July 18, 2017 – via (Subscription required (help)).
  7. ^ Marilyn Ogilvie; Joy Harvey (16 December 2003). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. Routledge. p. 1362. ISBN 978-1-135-96343-9.
  8. ^ Ed Miller; Jean R. Beach, Biographical Sketches, Saginaw Hall of Fame and Castle Museum of Saginaw County
  9. ^ "IU Chronology". Indiana University. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  10. ^ Beverley Manning (1980). Index to American Women Speakers, 1828-1978. Scarecrow Press. p. 305. ISBN 978-0-8108-1282-6.
  11. ^ "Agnes E. Wells, N. Indiana Street, Bloomington, Indiana", 1930 Federal Census, Bloomington, Monroe, Indiana; Roll: 619; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0009, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
  12. ^ "Agnes E. Wells, N. Indiana Street, Bloomington, Indiana", 1940 Federal Census, Bloomington, Monroe, Indiana; Roll: T627_1079; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 53-11, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
  13. ^ "Retired I.U. Teacher Dies". The Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis, Indiana. July 29, 1946. p. 9. Retrieved July 18, 2017 – via (Subscription required (help)).
  14. ^ Nancy F. Cott (1993). Sexuality and sexual behavior. K.G. Saur. p. 378.
  15. ^ "Saginaw County Hall of Fame seeks nominations for 2016". MLive. May 17, 2016. Retrieved July 18, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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