Ellen Swallow Richards and female students, 1888
Ellen H. Swallow Richards '73 was the first woman to be admitted to MIT. She graduated with the Class of 1873 and went on to serve as an instructor in sanitary chemistry from 1884 until her death in 1911. Richards created the first sanitary engineering laboratory in the United States.
Booker T. Washington looked to MIT as a model to develop a sound curriculum at Tuskegee Institute. In 1894, he sought Richards' advice on curriculum development and staff recruitment for Tuskegee Institute. Richards joined other women (including the wife of a Harvard professor and Stella Houghton Scott Gilman, a pioneer in women's education at Harvard) in urging Washington to establish at Tuskegee a department for the training of domestic servants.
The Institute's appointment of Richards could be considered MIT's first "minority appointment". MIT's first known black non-tenure appointments were made over 60 years after Richards' appointment and nearly a century after the Institute first opened its doors.