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Moment #012: First Woman Receives Diploma

POSTED ON: May 24, 2019

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Rosalinda H. Palmer becomes the first woman to receive a Cooper Union diploma, and earns the only Cooper Union Medal awarded that year. The medal was awarded to "such pupils as shall complete the full course of study prescribed by the Trustees, and shall at each examination have received a first class certificate, the Cooper Union medal is given as the highest honor of the Institution," according to the seventh annual report.

Upon presenting the medal to Ms. Palmer, Peter Cooper was recorded as saying:

"The Medals of this Institution, requiring as they do, a thorough course of instruction in all the important branches of positive science, are exceedingly difficult to obtain. This year, the Medal—the highest prize of the Institution— has only been awarded to a single individual, and that person a lady of extraordinary merit.

"The life of the lady who is now to receive this medal, should be written in letters of light. Such a life would show how great and uncommon difficulties can be met and overcome, when all the powers of body and mind are brought into requisition to do the work of an honorable and useful life. Miss Rosalinda H. Palmer, to whom it is now my pride and pleasure to tender this Medal, stands before you, an honor to her sex. (Turning to Miss Palmer,) I now hand you this medal with, I am sure, the best wishes of all present, that you may enjoy health and happiness through life.”

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.