We often talk with pride about Alfred University being inclusive from the start, which is evident in our founding as the first institution of higher education both to admit women and allow them to pursue the same full course of studies offered to male students. Just as noteworthy, Alfred University was one of the first higher educational institutions in the United States to admit African American and Native American students as well as to award an honorary degree to a woman (Caroline Dall in 1878 for her writings related to women’s labor and legal rights).

From time to time we are presented with reminders of Alfred University long-standing commitment to inclusivity. A recent example was the discovery of a letter written in October 1903 from noted women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony to Edward Mulford Tomlinson 1904 HD, who was our University librarian at the time. Tomlinson had asked for books to add to our library’s collection and Anthony wrote a letter in response telling Tomlinson she would donate a copy of the fourth volume of the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage.

Fifteen years earlier, in 1888, Anthony had presented the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage to Abigail Allen 1844, wife of Jonathan Allen 1844, 1886 HD, Alfred University’s second president, who herself was a staunch women’s rights advocate. Today, Herrick Library has the full six-volume set.

Laurie Lounsberry Meehan ’91, librarian and Alfred University archivist, learned recently from a researcher she was working with that the October 1903 letter from Anthony to Tomlinson was being offered on a website that sells historical autographs. In the letter, Anthony writes of the impression she had of Alfred University, specifically with regard to our University’s legacy as a supporter of women’s rights.

“Alfred was one of the first places I visited in 1852, and I have watched your institution with a great deal of interest ever since, and I hope now that its best friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, are gone it will proceed on the even tenor of its way,” Anthony wrote.

The discovery of Anthony’s letter to Tomlinson is timely, as next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting a woman’s constitutional right to vote and the 200th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s birth.

Years before Anthony penned her letter to Tomlinson, Alfred University made a similar impression on Frederick Douglass, famed civil rights activist. Douglass made several visits to our campus, including one on October 15, 1861. He commented that while at times he felt unwelcome in neighboring towns—including one community where the doors were locked in the place that he was scheduled to speak—he was always well-received in Alfred.

Of his 1861 visit to our campus, Douglass remarked: “In Alfred, I was most kindly and hospitably entertained. I found the people of this denomination [Seventh Day Baptist] generally anti-slavery in sentiment, and disposed to cooperate with me in my efforts to promote that sentiment throughout the country. The students…nearly exhausted my box of books, and I came away feeling that I had left the good seed of anti-slavery sown in good ground. The moral sense of the…[young] is keen, their sensibilities are more alive to the inhumanities of slavery, and they have more courage to grapple with questions of reform, than those who have settled down content with things as they are. Alfred…is about one of the finest locations for a school that could possibly be selected. There are lofty hills on all sides of it, most of them covered in forests. Such a place in England or Scotland would be made classic ground by the genius of either country.”

As the New Year, 2020, approaches, let us constantly strive to live up to and promote the ideals and values that were set forth at the time of our University’s founding and throughout its early years. These ideals and values have left a profound impression, not only on renowned humanitarians like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, but also on generations of our students.