the dusk a new moon shone on the snowclad foothills. The
train stopped and a young woman stepped down. Dr. Joseph
Sewall, first president of the University of Colorado,
was meeting her. He asked, "How does it look to you?"
Looking West to the mountains which reminded her of the
Alps, she replied "Glorious!"
Miss Mary Rippon was born on May 25, 1850 in Lisbon,
Illinois. She graduated from Illinois Normal School where
Dr. Joseph Sewall, MD. was one of her professors. After
teaching in a one room rural school, Mary went in search
of a college degree. She traveled to Europe and studied
languages and history throughout the continent until 1877.
Upon her return Dr. Sewall persuaded her to come to Colorado's
Mary Rippon, third faculty member at the university,
arrived soon after. It was January, 1878. Old Main was
set on a barren, sometimes muddy hill. A black bull lived
in a nearby pasture. Beyond the fence were a pigsty, a
chicken coop and a stable. Miss Rippon and Dr. Sewall's
wife diligently planted flowers, shrubs, and grass, hoping
to beautify the landscape of the university campus.
Historians believe that Mary Rippon was the first woman
to teach at a state university. Within three years of
her arrival, Miss Rippon became a full professor and departmental
head of Germanic languages, a position she held until
her 1909 retirement. She lived in Boulder at 2463 N. Broadway
(still standing) as a proper Victorian lady. A popular
teacher, Miss Rippon shared savings from her $1200 annual
salary with needy students. She often stayed on campus
to counsel and befriend women boarders as the unofficial
women's dean. A faculty daughter wrote, "Beautiful
Mary Rippon was like a piece of Dresden, but she must
have had a stern jaw somewhere to be dean of women in
those early days..."
Professor Rippon was described as quiet, low-voiced,
attractive, full of energy and wholly devoted to her work.
She raised funds for the CU and Boulder libraries, founded
the Fortnightly Club for townswomen, established the Women's
League (later the YWCA) to foster development in the social
graces and developed booklists and study guides aimed
to teach culturally isolated women on ranches and in mining
camps. She fought for women's equality through education
and the right of women to vote. When speaking to clubs,
Miss Rippon brought to light the sights of Europe which
she toured often to renew her knowledge of language, literature,
and the arts. Helped by a fellow faculty member, J.R.
Brackett, she used the new medium of lantern slides. "How
difficult it was to illuminate slides", she wrote.
"The lantern was run with the aid of gas composed
of oxygen and ether... (it) had the most uncomfortable
way of exploding prematurely during its manufacture if
not treated exactly as it thought proper - but of this
difficulty the audience was all unconscious."
From age 37 Professor Rippon wore a wedding band. An
unpublished manuscript in Norlin Library at CU written
by her grandson, Wilfred Rieder of Glen Head, NY, reveals
a story Mary wanted told "when it would seem appropriate".
Mary Rippon and Will Hausel met when Will was a student
of Mary's, first in college preparatory classes, and later
in German classes. They were married in 1888 in St. Louis
and parted soon after. He continued his studies; she traveled
to Germany where her daughter Miriam was born. The marriage
fell apart because of long separations imposed by Mary.
She felt compelled to continue her teaching career alone
and leave the responsibility for raising their daughter
to her husband. At that time a female teacher was not
allowed to be married, much less to have children. If
the truth had been known, Mary most likely would have
lost her job. Will raised "Mimi", eventually
moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan where she attended college.
When visiting Boulder, Miriam referred to her mother as
Later, after Miriam Hausel's own marriage had ended,
she moved to Boulder with her son Wilfred. Like her mother,
Miriam taught Romance languages at CU for 36 years. Except
for extensive travels, both Miriam and Mary remained in
Boulder for the rest of their lives. In the 1935 obituary
of Mary Rippon, her daughter was referred to only as "Miss
Rippon's friend and protégé.
Mary seems to have enjoyed her life, once writing, "If
experiencing widely contrasting lifestyles is living,
I am living to the hilt in this world". She is buried
in Columbia Cemetery (9th and Pleasant). The outdoor theater
at the University of Colorado is named for her. In Mary
Rippon's thirty-one years at the university, she saw it
grow from 15 students to more than 3,000 while faculty
increased from 3 to over 300. Mary Rippon profoundly influenced
generations of students while leading a life of great
For more information on Mary Rippon please visit the
Western History Collections at Norlin Library. Personal
diaries and letters of Mary's as well as poems she copied
in her beautiful handwriting are housed there.