The Woman’s Laboratory (1876-1883)

Lab photo

Woman's Laboratory at MIT, circa 1880.

A Great Experiment


After graduation, Ellen Swallow Richards became involved with the Women’s Education Association (WEA), an organization founded in 1872 to promote education for women. As a student at MIT, Richards had not been allowed to conduct laboratory research alongside her male counterparts due to a lack of proper bathroom facilities for women. Richards wanted to ensure future women students had better access to laboratories than she had.


In 1875 WEA approached MIT with a proposition: if WEA provided the funds, would MIT house a laboratory specifically for women to conduct laboratory work in chemistry and biology?


On May 10, 1876, the MIT Corporation voted to approve the use of the Rogers Building Annex for the Woman’s Laboratory and accepted the WEA’s funding condition "that hereafter special students in Chemistry shall be admitted without regard to sex."

Lab opening

Announcement of the opening of the Woman's Laboratory, 1876.



A Space for Women


Between 1876 and 1883, the Laboratory served as the site of instruction for nearly 500 women, ranging from MIT students to school teachers advancing their education. Women students conducted advanced scientific research on subjects ranging from chemistry and chemical analysis to mineralogy and animal and vegetable physiology.


In 1883, a new and larger chemistry laboratory was built and labs were opened to all students. The Woman's Laboratory had established a legacy of scientific education for women not only at MIT but also at universities throughout the nation.