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Maria Louisa Sanford papers, 1869-1922

Summary Information
Title: Maria Louisa Sanford papers
Dates: 1869-1922
Creator: Sanford, Maria Louisa 1836-1920
Extent: 1 box Extent: (0.5 linear feet)
Language: English
Collection Number: 976
Collection contains letters, speeches and two printed volumes belonging to Maria Louisa Sanford, professor of rhetoric and elocution at the University of Minnesota.

Repository: University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

The collection was donated by Mrs. Gordon Paterson in 1947, Mrs. Harold M. Stanford and Frank Maloy Anderson in 1952, Nell Mabey in 1956 and Mrs. Florence P. White in 1963.

Access Restrictions:

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Requests for permission to quote from the Maria Louisa Sanford papers should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives head.

Preferred Citation:

Maria Louisa Sanford papers, University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Maria Louisa Sanford (1836-1920)

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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection contains letters, memorials, speeches and two printed volumes that Professor Sanford used to teach art appreciation to her literary criticism students.

Related Material

Anne Maud Butner papers

John Florin Downey papers

William Watts Folwell papers

Nora Frye papers

Northrop Family papers

Frank Miller Rarig papers

Lillian Bessie Swenson papers

The Minnesota Historical Society holds a collection of Maria Sanford's papers in their library collection.

Subject Terms
Index Terms
  • This collection is indexed under the following headings in the catalog of the University of Minnesota Libraries. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.
  • Firkins, Ina Ten Eyck 1866-1937
  • Sanford, Maria Louisa 1836-1920
  • University of Minnesota. Dept. of English
Contents of the Collection
 Location  Title
"To the School Directors of Chester County," [Pennsylvania], circa 1869 ((legal-size folder))  
Note Several photocopies of this letter, probably from a newspaper. It defends Miss Sanford's right to be elected and commissioned county school superintendent.
Letters, address, tribute, undated, 1922 ((letter-size folder))  
Letters handwritten by Miss Sanford  
Letters showing her efforts to stimulate competition in the fields of rhetoric and debate  
"Apostrophe to the Flag"  
Note A printed copy of her last public address
Tribute given at a meeting of Daughters of the American Revolution, Mankato, Minnesota, April 1, 1922 
Note Tribute was given by Ina Firkins, University reference librarian and Miss Sanford's very good friend
Two small printed volumes: "Leonardo" and "Giotto"  
Note Note in volume 1 explains: "Prof. Maria L. Sanford early added a course of art lectures to her course in literary criticism and rhetoric. As the Library had practically no material for this work, she bought large numbers of paper-covered monographs and had them bound in board at her own expense, for the use of her students. These are the two that escaped destruction in the burning of Old Main."