Joanna Harris Haines 1865

Grinnell's first woman graduate

September 15, 2009

Joanna Harris arrived in Grinnell in 1855 at the age of 11, and did not venture much farther until her death at the age of 87 in 1931. She graduated in 1865 as the first female graduate of Grinnell College and one of the first women to graduate from a college west of the Mississippi.

Her family traveled by covered wagon from Mercer County, Pa., where she was born, to Farmington, Iowa. The family didn't stay in Farmington long, because their neighbors there were mostly pro-slavery. The Harris family "believed in freedom for both black and white," according to the funeral address given by Rev. E.M. Vittum, the family's pastor at the Congregational Church of Grinnell. The Harrises moved to Grinnell from Farmington because they liked the "New England colony" atmosphere of Grinnell.

After growing up in Grinnell, Joanna became a member of the first female class to attend Grinnell College. In the mid-1860s, most male students were off fighting the Civil War, and the school needed to increase enrollment. The women were allowed to study in a "ladies' course," in which they received diplomas, but not bachelor of arts degrees, at graduation.

Vittum remarked at Joanna's funeral that members of the first female class--graduating in 1865--was denied their degrees because the college officials "felt a little delicacy in declaring that the young ladies were bachelors of arts.

"Afterwards," Vittum continued, "they atoned for their neglect and gave the degrees the ladies had earned."

At Grinnell, Joanna met Robert M. Haines, who graduated with Joanna in 1865. They were married two years later in 1867, and Joanna, then 22, became Joanna Harris Haines.

Her obituary in the Grinnell Herald Register referred to Joanna a "natural teacher." At the time of her marriage to Robert, Joanna held a teaching position at the College, where Robert also worked. Before that, she spent two years teaching at a school in Troy, Iowa.

Her income from teaching helped support her family while Robert pursued a law degree at the University of Iowa. After receiving his degree, they moved back to Grinnell; they remained there for the rest of their lives, living in a house on High Street, a few blocks from campus. Robert would eventually become a trustee of the College, and Joanna would teach at Grinnell High School.

While living in Grinnell, Joanna and Robert raised six children. Following in their parents' footsteps, all of them attended the College and three of them married other Grinnellians. The Haines family ended up sending four generations of students to Grinnell -- more than 20 family members in total.


Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Fa;; 2009

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