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Douglass Celebrates a Century of Higher Education For Women

New Brunswick Home to One of Nation's Leading Women's Colleges For 100 Years
College Hall
College Hall, Douglass Residential College (New Brunswick, NJ) Benjamin Clapp

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–This year marks a historic milestone for women and higher learning in New Jersey, as Douglass Residential College celebrates its one-hundredth anniversary. 

The school, originally named the New Jersey College for Women, opened its doors for the first time in 1918 to 54 students - a mere fraction of its current enrollment of 2,500.

It was founded specifically as a school for women - in stark contrast to its well-known neighbor, Rutgers College, which was only open to men at the time and remained that way for the next half-century.

Douglass Residential College is the only college for women that is nested within a major public research university in the United States, and one of only 38 women's colleges remaining in the nation, according to Rutgers.

The New Jersey College for Women was renamed Douglass College in 1955 in honor of its founding Dean, Mabel Smith Douglass, and later became Douglass Residential College in 2007.

In observation of the college's momentous 100-year anniversary, Rutgers University Press has published "The Douglass Century: Transformation of the Women’s College at Rutgers University," a comprehensive book exploring its strategic growth and rich history.

A public event will be held to launch the book will be held at the Kathleen W. Ludwig Global Village Living Learning Center on April 3. 

The book was written by three Rutgers University faculty members:

  • Kayo Denda, the women’s studies librarian at the Douglass Library and leader of the Margery Somers Foster Center
  • Mary Hawkesworth, a professor of political science and women’s and gender studies
  • Fernanda H. Perrone, an archivist and head of the Exhibitions program for Rutgers University Libraries. 

The book's publisher says it "demonstrates how changing historical circumstances altered the possibilities for women and the content of higher education, comparing the Jazz Age, American the Great Depression, the Second World War, the post-war Civil Rights era, and the resurgence of feminism in the 1970's and 1980's."

"Concluding in the present day, the authors highlight the college’s ongoing commitment to Mabel Smith Douglass’ founding vision, 'to bring about an intellectual quickening, a cultural broadening in connection with specific training so that women may go out into the world fitted…for leadership…in the economic, political, and intellectual life of this nation.'"

To further showcase the history of the college, the book features eighty full-color images from the Special Collections and University Archives of Rutgers University Libraries.

According to a Rutgers Today article, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly celebrated Douglass with a resolution in 2017, acknowledging the College’s historic focus on supporting women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors.

Academic enhancements such as mentoring, leadership groups, and themed and language based housing, were also recognized for contributing to the intellectual growth of Douglass students.

"Douglass has experienced so many turning points: becoming more incorporated into Rutgers, deciding whether to go coed in 1970, the faculty becoming consolidated into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1982, and the reorganization of undergraduate education at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in 2007," said current Douglass Dean Jacquelyn Litt.

"We’ve changed much over the decades, but we are committed to the mission that started the college: to advance women’s education and prepare them for success in the world in which they live." 

The fascinating 100-year evolution from the New Jersey College for Women of 1918 to the Douglass Residential college of today has captivated faculty and students alike, and has prompted a series of celebratory events and a commorative website chronicling an extensive collection of stories and photographs.

The "Douglass: The Power of 100 Years" website contains information and opportunities for public engagement around the centennial anniversary