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Flora Richardson Colman

Year Inducted: 
2003
Flora Richardson Colman
Highlights: 
  • First female graduate of the University of Kansas in 1873
  • Valedictorian of the University of Kansas’s first graduating class in 1873
  • Founding member of I.C. Sorosis (Pi Beta Phi Sorority) at the University of Kansas
Biography: 

Flora Richardson Colman was selected as the 2003 Pioneer Woman because of her accomplishments not only at The University of Kansas, but in the state of Kansas as well. Although Flora’s accomplishments might not be known to many in the campus community, it is important that we recognize and honor her for being a pioneer, scholar, and role model for female students at The University of Kansas.

The Center would like to note that all information gathered for this award was compiled from The University of Kansas history website, and would like to take this time to thank Mr. Henry Fortunado and others who have contributed to making information such as this available on the Internet. It has been not only educational, but enlightening researching the life of Ms. Flora Richardson Colman.

In June 1873, the first graduating class at The University of Kansas received its diplomas and was recognized for its accomplishments. Amongst the masses of graduates, all four of them, was one female graduate. Ms. Flora Richardson. Flora had the honor of being not only the first female graduate at KU, but was also valedictorian of the class of 1873. Although not the first female student at KU, she was, however the first to graduate. The University of Kansas has admitted women since its founding but many did not finish due to marriage and children. Upon her graduation, Ms. Richardson was able to accomplish what many women before her were not, solidifying her as a pioneer in women’s higher education -- she became a graduate of The University of Kansas.

Flora Richardson began here undergraduate career at The University of Wisconsin before transferring to Lombard University, then to The University of Kansas in 1870. Upon her arrival she became involved in numerous predominantly male-dominated campus activities. She was active in the Oread Literary Society, was a founding member of the I.C. Sorosis, now Pi Beta Phi sorority, and created KU’s first student entomological collection of over 140 specimens consisting of cockroaches and walking sticks under the direction of Francis Huntington Snow, who later became Chancellor of the university.

A requirement of graduates at KU at the time was to deliver an oration to the community. Richardson, who presented on the “Uses of Superstition”, was noted in the Kansas Daily Tribune for her outstanding presentation. The article stated, “The young lady came forward, tastefully and elegantly attired in white, and delivered her oration in a firm, though pleasant voice. Perfect quiet reigned throughout, and the speaker’s clear utterance was heard in every part of the hall”. Following the orations, Richardson gave her valedictory speech to the junior class. In her lighthearted remarks, she stated, “To you, we leave the laborious task of filling our places”.

Flora’s education did not end with her Bachelor’s degree. She went on to earn her Master’s degree, also from The University of Kansas in 1875 and went on to participate in some post-graduate study as well. Although there were many opportunities for Flora’s male peers in the professional world, for her, opportunities were limited due to her gender. Ms. Richardson became employed as a secondary school teacher in Kanwaka, a community near Lawrence, thus, further proving her devotion to education. She later married Mr. Osgood Colman and had seven children.

Flora remained in Lawrence until her death in 1924. According to her obituary, she was active in the community, specifically with issues involving women and children. Her daughter, Nellie Colman, stated in her obituary, “There has been no movement for the benefit of her community or for women and children that did not receive her ardent support. Women’s suffrage, the women’s rest room, the various plans to provide high school privileges for rural pupils, and the farm bureau for rural women each in their turn were things she was untiring in her efforts to secure”.

Ms. Flora Richardson Colman is a role model for women in higher education.


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