Elizabeth Brown Thompson, 1853-1931

Dean Elizabeth Brown Thompson was the first head of the history department and the first dean of women at Buchtel College (now The University of Akron). In addition, she was also active in many community organizations in the city.

Elizabeth Brown was born in Scotland. On Dec. 14, 1853, her family arrived in the United States. They lived in Philadelphia, where she graduated from a girl’s high school and a normal school. She then taught history in Philadelphia until 1878, when she married Charles Thompson, who was once secretary to the Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker. They had one son, Roy. After her husband died, she and her son moved to Akron in 1885. They became members of the First Congregational Church.

Thompson ws a history teacher in Akron high schools and continued in that position for 23 years. In 1908, she resigned that post and left high school teaching, to join the staff of Buchtel College, where she would teach history under popular teacher/administrator O.E. Olin in the philosophy department.

In 1911, The University of Akron gave her an honorary Master’s degree of Arts; at this time she was still an associate professor. In 1914, she was named dean of women at the university. The university also created a history department, putting that in her charge. In 1916, she was promoted to full professor. Thompson served as both dean of women and head of the history department for 17 years, until her death in 1931.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, she had a “colorful career of 45 years teaching in Akron Schools, during which time she taught many of the city’s most successful men and women, and endeared herself to thousands of school and university students.” The Akron Alumnus magazine wrote that this “rarely gifted woman” had instructed more high school and college students than anyone else in the city.

Thompson also impacted the adults of Akron, by becoming active in many civic organizations. Not only was she a leader of the current events lecture course of the Woman’s City Club, but also was a gifted public speaker herself, often lecturing before Akron organizations and clubs. She was a member of the Woman’s City Club, the Woman’s Club League and the Division of Literary Extension in the Department of Applied Education of the College Club.

She was president of the Art and History Club, and had honorary memberships in both the Altrusa Club and the College Club.

Thompson died March 29, 1931, after suffering a stroke. Dr. George F. Zook, president of the university at that time, said the university would miss its long-time faculty member/dean. “Mrs. Thompson was a continual inspiration to students of the university for many years. She was most high[ly] respected among members of the faculty and student body,” he recalled.

Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.

–Stephanie Devers