Mabel Smith Douglass

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Mabel Smith Douglass (February 11, 1874 – September 21, 1933) was the first dean, in 1918, of the New Jersey College for Women in New Brunswick, NJ. In 1955, the college was renamed Douglass College in her honor.[1]


Douglass was appointed Dean of the New Jersey College for Women when it opened in 1918 with just 54 students and some 16 faculty members. Students had the choice of liberal arts or home economic curriculum. With her commitment to providing women a four-year college education and outstanding leadership, Douglass spent the next 14 years shaping the college and was instrumental in helping students rise to success.

Douglass was an extraordinarily energetic woman, which played a major role in her accomplishments and success as the founding dean of NJC. Her advocacy with state legislators helped pave the path for the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs to open the doors for women, even though resources were very limited.

Douglass attended public school in Jersey City. In 1899 she graduated from Barnard College in New York City. In 1903, she married William Shipman Douglass, owner of a shipping business. They had two children, a son, William Shipman Douglass Jr. and daughter, Edith Douglass. After her husband died in 1917, she managed her husband's business, and later sold it when offered the opportunity to be Chairwoman at the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs.


The Associate Alumnae of Douglass College celebrates Founders Day each spring. In 2008, on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the college, the Associate Alumnae commemorated Douglass with a graveside ceremony at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where she and her family are interred.


In September 1932 Douglass retired due to ill health.[2] On September 21, 1933, she went rowing on Lake Placid and never returned. She was last seen rowing alone across the lake by servants at a camp she owned. Her boat was found capsized near the shore of the deepest part of the lake, three miles opposite her starting point. Police dragged the lake and searched the surrounding mountain trails, to no avail.[3] Thirty years later, her remarkably preserved remains were found by scuba divers on a shelf about 95 feet below the water's surface.[1]

Douglass is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn, New York.


  1. ^ a b "Woman Drowned in Lake Placid Identified as Ex-Douglass Dean". The New York Times. September 27, 1963. A body found remarkably preserved in the waters of Lake Placid was identified today as that of a women's college dean who disappeared 30 years ago, 
  2. ^ "JERSEY GIRLS' COLLEGE NAMES ACTING DEAN; Professor Albert Meder to Act for Mabel Smith Douglass, Who Is in Ill Health.". The New York Times. September 16, 1932. 
  3. ^ "SEARCHERS FAIL TO FIND EDUCATOR; No Trace of Ex-Dean Mabel Douglass Is Discovered at Lake Placid.". The New York Times. September 23, 1933. Search for Mrs. Mabel Douglass, 56, retired dean of the New Jersey College for Women at Rutgers, was continued today in the surrounding mountain trails, and a diver went down in the lake.