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BU Firsts and Special Achievements

Did you know that BU was the first university to open all its divisions to women? Find out what other firsts BU is known for.

Fun Fact

Since its founding in 1869, Boston University has been at the forefront of some of the 19th and 20th centuries’ most significant social and technological changes. For example, BU was the first:

University to open all its divisions to female students

University in the United States to have a college of music (1873)

American university to exchange professors with European universities

To admit women to its medical school, the School of Medicine (1873)

University in America to award a Ph.D. to a woman, classical scholar Helen Magill (1877)

To offer a degree in public relations (1947)

To have a graduate school of dentistry (1963)

In the nation to have a combined cancer research and teaching laboratory (1965)

In addition, students, faculty, and alumni have accomplished some notable achievements:

School of Law graduate Lelia Robinson Sawtelle, Class of 1881, was the first woman admitted to the bar in Massachusetts.

In 1875, Boston University Professor Alexander Graham Bell received a year’s salary advance to allow him to pursue his research. The following year, in a Boston University laboratory, he invented the telephone.

Anna Oliver, an 1878 graduate of the School of Theology, was the first woman in the United States to receive a degree in theology. Although the Methodist Church would not ordain her, she did serve as a pastor to several churches.

African-born physician Solomon Carter Fuller, an 1897 graduate of the School of Medicine, became the first black psychiatrist in the United States.

Goodwill Industries was founded by a Boston University graduate, Edgar Helms (STH 1895, Hon.’40), while he was teaching applied Christianity at the School of Theology.

Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House, probably the first co-op house in the country, was founded in 1928 at 328 Bay State Rd.

In 1953, Howard Thurman (Hon.’67) became dean of Marsh Chapel, the first black dean at a predominantly white university.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he presented his manuscripts, records, and personal papers to the University’s Mugar Memorial Library.

In 1961, Boston University was one of the first institutions in the nation to introduce the combined liberal arts and medical education program leading to the M.D. degree in six years.

The world’s first patent ductus operation, forerunner of open-heart surgery, was performed by School of Medicine faculty member John Streider in March 1937.

Former women’s track coach Joan Benoit, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon, represented the United States in the first Olympic women’s marathon, in 1984, and won the gold medal.

Boston University contributed four key players, including captain Mike Eruzione (SED’77), to the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team that skated to gold medal victory at Lake Placid in 1980.