MIT woman was 1 in 300

Mary Elsa Rice '15 made history a century ago

As Commencement 2015 approaches, we look back 100 years to the Class of 1915 and its lone woman graduate who made history at MIT.

Mary Elsa Rice (née Plummer) was the only woman to graduate in a class of more than 300 men. More notably, she was also the first co-ed elected to class office. In her junior year at MIT, Rice won the seat of Class Secretary, earning more votes than her two opponents combined. This victory set a precedent for future female class officers.

Officers of the Class of 1915

Mary (Plummer) Rice, third from left, and the other officers of the Class of 1915

Rice graduated with the SB in chemistry, one of the most difficult courses in the curriculum. According to her peers, she worked just as hard as her male classmates. As a testament to her distinction, a newspaper article in the Boston Globe about the 1915 Commencement made special note that Rice received particularly loud applause when her name was called to receive her diploma.

During her three years at the Institute, Rice was a member of Cleophan, the women’s social club, and was voted by her peers to be the “most-ladylike” and “the most popular co-ed” in the 1915 volume of Technique

Rice was not the first woman to receive a degree from MIT. Hundreds of women had attended the Institute by 1915, with over 90 receiving bachelors and two masters degrees. However, as the only woman in a class of more than 300 men to receive a degree that year, and the first-ever female class officer, she will always be an indelible part of MIT’s history.

Story credit: Suzana Chilaka