History of diversity at Cornell College

1853 — Cornell is founded as the co-educational Iowa Conference Seminary. The faculty originally appointed include two male professors and one female “preceptress.” When classes officially begin, all students, male and female, are taught by preceptress Catherine Fortner (with assistance of substitute Frederick Knott), due to the temporary unavailability of the two male professors.

1858 — First Cornell class graduates. Perfect gender balance: one man, one woman. They marry each other.

1859 — Cornell trustees meet and deny admission to an African-American man already attending classes.

1859 — Abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass visits campus.

1870 — Trustees overturn 1859 decision and announce that “color or race shall not be considered” in admissions decisions.

1870 — First African-American admitted to prep program (high school), Samuel Johnson of Keokuk, of whom the student newspaper wrote, “He was a slave six years ago.”

1871 — Harriette Cooke becomes the first woman to hold the title of professor on the Cornell faculty and the first in the United States to receive a promotion to full professorship with a salary equal to that of male professors.

Harriette Cooke
Harriette Cooke

1874 — African-American student Charles Ruff enters prep program.

1900 — Booker T. Washington speaks at King Chapel.

1900 — First African-American graduate, Frank Jeremiah Armstrong.

1905 — W.E.B. Du Bois speaks on campus.

1910 — First female Asian graduate, Ruby Sia of Fuzhou, China.

1916 — Helen Keller visits, speaks at the Methodist church.

1921 — Likely first student from Latin America, Jose Navia Prado, Cochabamba, Bolivia.

1929 — Likely first Latinx American student, Armando “Tony” Vergara from New York City.

1942 — Five Japanese-Americans arrive from detention camps on the West Coast.

1944 — First Asian-American graduate, Masako Amemiya MacFarlane, who came from internment camp in 1942.

1945 — First Jewish faculty member, Eric Kollman.

1962 — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in King Chapel.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Cornell College in 1962.

1964 — First female African-American graduate, Madgetta Thornton Dungy.

1968 — Students take over Old Sem to protest racial inequality.

1968 — First full-time African-American male professor, William Jones (music).

1977 — Betty Friedan speaks at King Chapel (on Valentine’s Day).

Stephen Lacey '65
Stephen Lacey ’65

1978 — English Professor Stephen Lacey ’65 starts support group for gays. Lesbians were admitted to the group the following year.

2000 — First full-time African-American female professor, Alfrieta Monagan (sociology and anthropology).

2009 — Iowa Supreme Court ruling invalidates prohibition against same-sex marriage, after which Cornell Art Professor Christina McOmber and partner Lori Goetsch exchange vows in Allee Chapel. Cornell Chaplain Father Catherine Quehl-Engel ’89 conducted the ceremony.