Mabel Smith Douglass

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Mabel Smith Douglass (February 11, 1874 – September 21, 1933) was the first dean, in 1918, of the New Jersey College for Women in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1955, the college was renamed Douglass College in her honour.

Early in the 20th century, the State of New Jersey offered limited higher education for women. Then the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, active in the women’s rights movement at that time, convinced Mabel Smith Douglass to lead the effort to establish a women’s college as part of Rutgers University.

With dedication and persistence, Mrs. Douglass convinced the Rutgers trustees to support the venture. The Federated Women’s Clubs raised funds to support the project. The venture also received revenue from the Smith-Hughes Act, which supported home economics education.

Douglass was appointed the first dean of the New Jersey College for Women when it opened in September 1918 with 54 students and some 16 faculty members. With her commitment to providing women a four-year college education and outstanding leadership, Douglass spent the next 14 years shaping the college and was instrumental in helping students rise to success.

Douglass attended public school in Jersey City. In 1899 she graduated from Barnard College in New York City. In 1903, she married William Shipman Douglass, owner of a shipping business. They had two children, a son, William Shipman Douglass Jr. and daughter, Edith Douglass, both of whom were to die in tragic circumstances, the son in his teens, the daughter in her thirties.  After her husband's death in 1917, Mabel operated the W. S. Douglass & Co., a butter, egg, and cheese business.

In September 1932 Douglass retired due to ill health. On September 21, 1933, she went rowing on Lake Placid and never returned. She was last seen rowing alone across the lake by servants at a camp she owned. Her boat was found capsized near the shore of the deepest part of the lake, three miles opposite her starting point. Police dragged the lake and searched the surrounding mountain trails, to no avail. Thirty years later, her remarkably preserved remains were found by scuba divers on a shelf about 95 feet below the water's surface.

press cutingClipping found in The Central New Jersey Home News in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Sep 4, 1923

wedding notice

 Edith <I>Douglass</I> Roth



Sources for this article include:
  • Douglass Residential College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • The New York Times. September 27, 1963
  • Biographical Dictionary of American Educators

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    Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024