Sanford, Maria Louise, 1836-1920

Alternative names
Birth 1836-12-19
Death 1920-04-21

Biographical notes:

Maria Sanford was Professor of Rhetoric and Elocution at the University of Minnesota 1880-1909.

From the description of Maria Sanford papers, 1869-1922. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 63301117

Born on December 19, 1836 in Saybrook, Connecticut, Maria Sanford attended the Normal School in New Britain, graduating at the age of 19. After graduation, she taught local children in various Connecticut communities until 1871. Since women were not yet allowed to attend Yale University, a professor of history gave Maria Sanford outlines of college courses so that she could study independently. Her teaching skills were highly regarded, and in 1871 she was offered the position of professor of history at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. She is widely considered the first female professor in the United States. Professor Sanford remained at Quaker College for 9 years, until Dr. William W. Folwell, first president of the University of Minnesota, offered her a position at Minnesota in 1880.

She began as an assistant professor of rhetoric and elocution, and in 1881 she was appointed to the rank of professor. Professor Sanford led the rhetoric department from 1881 until her retirement in 1909. In addition to her teaching, she was a highly requested public speaker. Even after her retirement from the University, she continued to travel throughout the United States for public speaking engagements. Professor Sanford spent her entire academic career without the advanced degree she helped so many students attain. In July 1917, at the age of 80, Carleton College awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

At the time of her retirement in 1909, she was asked to give the commencement address, noted as being the first woman to give the address at major university in the United States. The first women's dormitory opened on campus in 1910 and was named for Professor Sanford. On April 19, 1920, Professor Sanford gave the speech "Apostrophe to the Flag" at the opening celebration of the continental congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C. She died two days later at the age of 83.

From the guide to the Maria Louisa Sanford papers, 1869-1922, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc])


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Ark ID:


  • Education
  • Rhetoric--Study and teaching
  • Elocution Study and teaching
  • Missionaries
  • Lectures and lecturing
  • Teachers institutes
  • Reclamation of land
  • Civic improvement


  • College teachers--Minnesota
  • College teachers--Pennsylvania


  • Minnesota--Minneapolis (as recorded)
  • Minnesota (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Turkey (as recorded)
  • Blackfeet Indian Reservation (Mont.) (as recorded)
  • Pennsylvania (as recorded)
  • Florida (as recorded)