Maria Sanford, 1836-1920

  • Maria-Sanford-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education and Activism & FeminismWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Educator, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    An innovative educator, one of the first female professors in the United States.

    Born in Saybrook, Connecticut. From an early age Sanford knew she meant to be an educator, and by the age of 16, she had already taught at the local day schools. At 31 she moved to Pennsylvania, where she was appointed as a principal and campaigned for county superintendent, but lost to a male opponent. Two years later, Sanford got hired as a history professor at Swarthmore College and became one of the first female professors in the US. When she was 44 years old, Sanford accepted a tenure at the University of Minnesota, where she taught rhetoric, elocution, literature, and art history for nearly thirty years.
    Sanford was not a regular educator, she was known for her innovative teaching approach and for her belief that the teacher’s role is to instill moral as well as aesthetic values. She also conducted teachers meeting to demonstrate new teaching methods and founded parent-teacher organizations.
    Maria Sanford had a close relationship with her students, offering them advice and support, and hosting student social events. In addition to being a university professor, Sanford gave public speeches, advocated for multiple causes, such as women’s right, education of blacks, adult education, healthcare, and environmental preservation.
    After her retirement, Sanford continued giving lectures about art and history, but also about social and political issues, and during WW1 she traveled the country and delivered patriotic speeches. She established the Minneapolis Improvement League and served as a head director for Northwestern Hospital. At the State celebration after the 19th amendment ratification, Sanford was one of the main speakers.

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Sanford used her dowry to fund her university tuition.
    • A statue of Sanford was donated to the National Statuary Hall Collection by the State of Minnesota.
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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Connecticut in the Capitol: Maria Sanford Statue

  • Sanford's statue in the Statuary Hall Collection. Photo credit - WWP team.