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June 27, 1877

Laura Johnson Wylie ’77 gave the valedictory address—“perfect in finish and exquisite in sentiment” according to The Vassar Miscellany—and Emma Culbertson ’77 spoke on women in medicine as 45 members of the Class of 1877 received the bachelor’s degree at Commencement. “Her words,” The Miscellany said of Culbertson’s address, “could give us no new or startling ideas, but all felt that they were spoken by a true woman, a woman of whom Vassar is proud. It was not the essay itself which was enthusiastically applauded, but the essay as delivered by Miss Culbertson.”

Among the first women admitted to graduate study at Yale, Wylie was also among the first group to receive, in 1894, the Yale Ph.D. Yale’s publication of her doctoral dissertation, “Studies in the Evolution of English Criticism,” in the same year, was the first such publication by the university of a dissertation by a woman. Returning to Vassar in 1895, Wylie became head of the English department in 1897. She and her colleague Gertrude Buck pioneered in the modern development of an English curriculum that conceived of literature as an organic bonding of art and scholarship and of action and analysis. Wylie taught in the English department until her retirement in 1924.

Dr. Emma B. Culbertson received her A.M. from Vassar in 1881, the same year she earned her M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. A practicing phyisican in Boston from 1883 until her retirement, she was attending surgeon to the New England Hosipital for Women and Children and, the first woman to be admitted to the American Academy of Medicine, she served that organization as a vice-president. In “The Best Preparation for a Woman Physician,” which appeared in The Vassar Miscellany in 1896, she wrote, “The field for women in medicine is constantly enlarging and there will be ample room in the next fify years for all who come fitly prepared. Indeed it would seem that the woman physician is to be a very important factor in the sociological evolution of the twentieth century.”

The Years