John Wesley Edward Bowen

John Wesley Edward Bowen earned a PhD at Boston University in Theology with extra work in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, and Arabic. Born in 1855, Bowen was the first African-American born a slave to earn a PhD in the United States (BU 1887).  He moved to Atlanta, GA, where he was the first Black professor at Gammon Theological Summary. He married Ariel Serena Hedges (Bowen), herself a Professor of Music at Clark College in Atlanta. They had four children. Bowen’s essay, “An Apology for the Higher Education of the Negro” (Methodist Review, 1897) spoke passionately about higher education and Classical Studies. Bowen died in 1933 at the age of 78.

Helen Magill

Helen Magill earned a PhD in Greek in 1877 at the Department of Classical Studies at Boston University, the first woman ever to receive a doctorate in any subject in the United States. She served as a principal at a secondary school in Johnston, PA, and then later became an instructor at Evelyn College for Women, an institution associated with Princeton University. After marrying Andrew White, the cofounder and first president of Cornell University, she accompanied him to diplomatic posts in St. Petersburg and Berlin, then spent her later years in Ithaca, NY. Dr. Magill White passed in 1944 at the age of 90.

“Dido’s Feast” & Women in BU Classics

On May 1, 1896 a coed production of “Dido’s Feast,” took place at Boston University and was the first production to take place entirely in Latin at BU. The cast consisted of eleven women and only one man. The newspaper article that was released the following day summarizes the takeaways in its title, “‘Dido’s Feast’ As A Play. Boston University Women as Players. Beautiful Costumes and Perfect Pronunciation Were Features. Girls Prove that They Can Get Along Without Male Help.” The article recounts the evening show stating that,

“The scenery, the costumes, the accessories, the fair participants themselves, and the skill displayed in the management of the whole, combined to make the presentation such as to arouse the warm appreciation of the audience.”

The author goes on to emphasize the dedication of the women to their roles and their command over their Latin pronunciation. The article, notably applauds the portrayal of Æneas by Miss Hila H. Small as being, “always consistent and evidenced an intelligent appreciation of the character and qualities which went to make up the ideal hero of early Latin literature.”  The performance was managed by Miss Alma Whitman and supervised by Professor Thomas B. Lindsay, who was then head of the BU Latin department.