Why Ms. Ernst is a Boss


Ms. Lillie Rose Ernst graduated cum laude from Washington University in 1892. She went from being one of the first women to graduate from Wash.U. to a very influential woman within the University and throughout St. Louis.

Image right: Portrait of Ms. Ernst (Collection of Photographs of Unusual Format) [click to enlarge]

To give you an idea of what an authoritative woman she was, here is an excerpt from her speech at the 1905 campus dedication ceremony:

“Unlike the gentlemen who have preceded me, I have my paper in my hand. It is not under my napkin- nor is it in my pocket with everything on it transferred into my head for extemporaneous use. I hold it and mean to use it. I have just a few things to say, but do not want to leave any of them out, and, being a woman of course I want to be brief. No, I refuse to acknowledge the intent of your demonstrations, for you know as well as I do that it is the men’s tongues that are like disordered clocks that keep right on striking, not to tell us the time o’day, but just because there is something wrong on their insides.
I have prepared no good stories. I have hunted up no jokes, studied no Latin or Greek quotations, because I could not for the life of me be other than serious in my thinking towards today’s ceremonies.”


Image above: the Quad on Dedication Day, June 15, 1905 (Photographic Services, Events)

I don’t know about you, but her sarcasm makes my heart happy.  Considering her audience and how she was pretty radical for her time and didn’t try to put on a façade to make other people happy. She took her job seriously and demanded respect for her position. Other people threw shade at her for not being married and having so much power (she later became the first female high school principle in the country) but I doubt they understood or cared about how important her work would be in the struggle for gender equality. She’s super straightforward and doesn’t try to cover up her beliefs. At the same time she is trying to protect her career, so it’s a delicate balance. All I can say is, I’m a fan.


Learn more about Ms. Ernst here: http://uaexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/celebrating-women-washington/alumni/alumni-page1 


Image above: Female Students at Wash.U., 1903-04,  Isla Sloan, Elma Nipher, Sara Clayton, May Hamilton, Joanna Hoolan, Caroline Steinbreder, Hirrel Stevens, Charlotte Crane, and Florence Bixler, all members of Eta Epsilon Tau Sorority (Hatchet yearbook 1903, page 170).

For more information on other incredible women who have been part of WashU’s history, see: http://uaexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/celebrating-women-washington/overview 

For suggestions on researching women and gender studies at University Archives consult the online research guide http://libguides.wustl.edu/gender-archive

Or consult the book In Her Place : A Guide to St. Louis Women’s History  by Katharine T. Corbett.   Available from the WU Libraries: http://catalog.wustl.edu:80/record=b2576964~S2

This post is part of an occasional series, marking the 110 year anniversary of the Danforth Campus’ first use for academic programs, in 1904-05.  Read more about the dedication events and first commencement ceremony, June 1905, in the Alumni Bulletin available in full text on-line.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.