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Throwback Thursday: UAlbany’s First President was UAlbany’s First Trailblazing Male Feminist

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 9, 2017) — Rev. Joseph Alden (1807-1885) was well qualified to become this institution’s sixth leader, and the first to hold the title of president, when he assumed office at what was then the New York State Normal School in 1867.

Joseph Alden UAlbany

Joseph Alden, at left. At right, a copy of an 1882 resolution by eight female faculty members lauding Alden for championing equal pay and treatment for women. (Photo courtesy of University Archives)

He began teaching in a public school at the age of 14, rising after college to teach at Princeton Theological Seminary and Williams and Layfette colleges. Holder of a bachelor’s degree from Union College and a Doctor of Divinity from Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey), Alden went on to serve a decade as president of Jefferson College in Pennsylvania before arriving in Albany.

Alden immediately began introducing more government and philosophy courses into the curriculum that trained future state teachers. He was also rare for college presidents of his time in being a firm believer that the study of the English language was just as important as the study of Latin and Greek.

But it was as an early supporter of the equal educational and employment rights of women that Alden made his mark. He championed the school’s women faculty and worked to improve living conditions in Albany for female students. He also submitted that when they graduated they should be treated on an equal basis in the profession with men.

When he retired from the Normal School in 1882, a group of eight women faculty penned and signed a resolution of praise. It read, in part, “The women, the majority of the members of the faculty of the N.Y. State Normal School, are and forever ought to be deeply grateful to Dr. Alden for the pronounced and liberal views he entertains and practically exemplifies toward the advancement of [the] woman in the teacher’s profession . . . and her right to a recompense paid for the work done and not to the sex of the worker, are a proof of the noble mind that can outgrow the prejudices of the past.”

Fittingly, what was known as “Women’s Dormitory” on Alumni Quad when it opened in September 1958 was officially dedicated as Alden Hall the following February. The fourth of five dormitories to open on the quad, it housed 200 women.

An interesting side note regarding the 1882 resolution was that the eight signatures were topped by one sporting Hancock-ian authority. It belonged to Kate Stoneman ’66, who returned to her alma mater after graduation to teach for 40 years. The same year as Alden’s departure she began studying law at night, passing her law exams on the first try in 1866. She was denied admittance to law school, however, because of her sex. Nine days later, through her lobbying of the state legislature, a bill was passed allowing women to practice law in New York.

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