From ‘Night School Girls’ to Full-Time Students

When Union College was chartered in 1795, the founders never even considered the possibility of female participation, either as students or educators. The world was decades away from the Suffragette movement. As Union opened its doors for the first time, the role of women was clearly defined: They would be wives and mothers and little else.

It is not surprising that a small number of independent, forward-thinking, academically gifted women pushed open the doors of coeducation at Union by attending school or by appealing to the all-male trustees for special concessions to attend classes.

These three women made their Mark prior to the approval of coeducation at Union College in 1970:

Florence Folger Buckland '25

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Florence Folger (Buckland) entered Union College in 1922. She earned a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1925. As an employee of General Electric, she worked in turbine engineering and later became a fluid flow consultant. Buckland was the third female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and served as president of the area League of Women Voters.

“When two more women applied in 1928, the administration asked the trustees to establish a policy, and the board decided that women could be admitted. In fact, however, the second woman graduated from the program a half-century later in 1977."

- Encyclopedia of Union History, page 349

Dr. Grace Jorgensen, “Night School Girl” at Union College, 1947

Grace Jorgensen

“Actually I consider myself very fortunate to be at Union. In the past and even at this time, it has not been the general custom of the college to admit women. I sincerely hope that those of us who are here now will be able, through our records, to help change the present policy and make possible a co-educational Union in the future.”

- Grace Jorgensen, “Night School Girl”

Dr. Jorgensen began her education by taking night courses at Union College in 1947. She later transferred to Russell Sage College and was one of eight women (in a class of 125) to graduate from New York Medical College.

Dr. Jorgensen did her internship at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. She later worked at nearby Bellevue Woman’s Hospital that was founded in 1931 by her mother, Mary Grace Jorgensen. After her mother’s death in 1949, Dr. Jorgensen assumed a leadership role in operating the hospital. Bellevue Woman’s Hospital was absorbed by Ellis Medicine in 2006.

“I was the only one with the credentials so I had to take over,” said Jorgensen, whose mother never became a physician. “I became what was the medical director, making all the decisions about medical things, and my father and brother continued to do the management and administrative work.”

Schenectady Gazette, May 16, 2009

Sally Brown Van Schaik ‘58

A wife and mother of five children, Sally Brown Van Schaick was the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1958 through a new undergraduate degree program at Union’s Evening Division (night school). She had earned previous college credits at Duke University and Seaton University.

Concordiensis, May 16, 1958, p. 5

Mrs. Van Schaick

"I hope that when other women read about this, they will feel moved to further their education also. I am sure they will enjoy and profit from it as much as I have."

- Sally Brown Van Schaick. Concordiensis, May 16, 1958

From Legacy Obituary:
"After graduating from Union College in 1958, Van Schaick was honored by Schenectady Mayor Sam Stratton who named her a Schenectady Patroon. She taught English and creative writing at Linton High School for 15 years and was active in organizing a teachers union in Schenectady. Van Schaick later taught 4th and 5th grade at Zoller elementary for 15 years. After retiring from public school teaching, she taught at the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs. In 2003, she received an award from the NYS United Teachers for her union leadership and community service."

Coed and the first generation of women students admitted to Union

The Decision: to approve coeducation at Union College came after years of protracted debate.

On July 3, 1969 the Trustees of Union College approved the measure. In the fall of 1970, the first class of female students matriculated under the auspices of President Harold Martin. Women students at Union College no longer needed to make special arrangements to take classes or attend night school in order to earn a degree.

Katherine Stout Van Woert '74

The first woman admitted to Union College for undergraduate studies was Katherine Stout Van Woert ‘74.  She was described as “a top 10 percent scholar, track star, basketball player, sailplane pilot, musician, and girl." - Encyclopedia of Union History, page 797

Photo from: Garnet 1970

“We have come so far since 1970, when coeducation was a novelty at the more elite colleges. But there is so much more that needs to change. The energy that young people and young women, especially, are bringing to the conversation is inspiring.”

- Katherine “Kay” Stout Van Woert, Making Our Mark interview.

Kate White ‘72




Kate White appeared on the cover of Glamour Magazine in 1972 as one of the country’s “Top Ten College Girls.”




From Vertical File, Special Collections & Archives, Schaffer Library, Union College

Kate White ‘72 on the cover of Glamour Magazine in 1972

From Vertical File, Special Collections & Archives, Schaffer Library, Union College

Kate White in Glamour Magazine, years later

In 1995, Ms. White reappeared in Glamour to discuss her then new book, Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gusty Girls Do: Nine Secrets Every Career Woman Must Know. Ms. White is a prolific author and served as the editor in chief of Child, Working Woman, McCall’s and Redbook Magazines. Today Kate is a nationally recognized professional speaker on career success.

Union College is proud to celebrate the numerous accomplished women who have made their Mark! Click here for more of their stories!

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