Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood Becomes Dartmouth’s First Woman Professor


Hapgood, a talented linguist, created the Russian program at the College.

The following is excerpted from Dartmouth’s Unkown History, which appeared in the January 2000 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. 

Dartmouth’s first woman professor was an accomplished linguist and Russian language expert. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood had lived in Russia for several years, published articles, and established a program in Russian language and culture at Columbia University. In 1918, Dartmouth President Ernest Martin Hopkins ’01 recruited her to initiate a Russian program at the College. She expected a dozen students at most. Whether lured by her subject or the novelty of having a female professor, 28 students showed up the first day. An influx of students bound for the army in the last days of World War I swelled the numbers to 89 for the course they nicknamed “Bolshevik One.”

“As the first woman teacher in a man’s college I felt I must be sure to assert my authority, and perhaps I was a bit severe. At least I set a high standard!” Hapgood wrote in her journal. She found that not all students had a gift for the language. “There was one of them who used to go down on his knees to me at the end of the class and beg to be ‘let out of here.’ ”

Hapgood’s stay on campus was short-lived. A year after she arrived, the professor left Dartmouth to travel with her husband, Norman Hapgood, who had been named special enjoy to Denmark by President Woodrow Wilson. 

Oddly, Dartmouth’s loss was the acting world’s eventual gain. Back in the United States in 1924, the Hapgood’s met famous Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski and talked him into writing a book about his acting system. Elizabeth became his encourager, translator, editor, and friend. Stanislavskii’s influential 1936 book, An Actor Prepares,  would not have been published without her help.


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