Mabel Smith Douglass (1877-1933)
Jersey gem: Worked in New Brunswick
Mabel Smith Douglass helped establish and served as the first dean of the New Jersey College for Women, later renamed Douglass College. The college was established in 1918 by the Trustees of Rutgers College as the result of a campaign mounted by the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs. Its inaugural class was comprised of 54 students.
Douglass built her career around empowering young women. As an active member of the College Club of Jersey City, she worked on a project to familiarize local high school girls with opportunities in higher education. Douglass was soon appointed president of the College Club and in this capacity attended a district meeting of the NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs. This first meeting was very fruitful for Douglass — she agreed to chair a subcommittee at Rutgers formed to explore issues related to the education of women.
As chair, Douglass gathered statistics on the status of women at state universities and the number of girls who traveled out of state to pursue college. She met with a number of public officials and even President Woodrow Wilson. Douglass soon calculated that New Jersey lost around a half million dollars each year because of the 800 state-bred girls who attended college out of state. She also discovered that 355 college graduates employed in New Jersey public schools had come from other states. Based on this research, the committee found that perfectly qualified and able women from New Jersey were being denied the chance to attend college and work in their home state. Douglass College was established in part to combat these inequalities.
As the first dean of the college, Douglass undertook the task of establishing exciting traditions and customs for the all-female institution. At her retirement in 1933, the college had grown to become one of the largest women’s colleges in the East; it boasted 1,071 students and 115 faculty members. In 1955, the Trustees Committee of the New Jersey College for Women renamed the educational institution Douglass College.