- First woman to chair an academic department at the University of Kansas
- First woman in the United States to chair a university department of Greek Language and Literature
- Helped found the KU Alumni Association and was its first President
This inductee was the first woman to chair an academic department at the University of Kansas and the first women in the United States to chair a university department of Greek Language and Literature. She helped found the KU Alumni Association and was its first president. Kate Stephens arrived in Lawrence shortly after the Civil War at the age of 13 and began her studies at KU in 1872. She graduated in 1875 and received her master’s degree in Greek Language and Literature in 1878. She studied at Cambridge and in Germany and accompanied Susan B. Anthony on some of her lectures, acting as her German translator. She became assistant professor of Greek in 1879 and then a full professor and chair of the department in 1885. Although she was an excellent teacher who inspired her students, the Regents fired her in the same year, creating a huge uproar by students, alumni, the community, and the state. Politics probably played a part—one of the regents had a personal grudge against Kate’s father, a circuit court judge, but Kate believed, “The real grounds are sex and religious conviction, or a lack of religious conviction.”
She moved to New York City where she was an editor for Doubleday, Harper’s, Macmillan, and other publishers and wrote hundreds of articles, reviews, essays, and a number of books. She started her own Antigone Press in her home. She was an adamant supporter of Woman’s Suffrage and campaigned for a second female Kansas Board of Regents member to be named, which finally happened in 1913 – Cora Lewis. She donated funds for KU’s first residence hall - Corbin. Kate Stephens moved back to Lawrence in 1935, and when she died in 1938, she bequeathed her entire estate to KU.
Even though fired from her academic position by the Regents, and challenged for her strong support of women’s rights, she remained steadfast in her support of the University of Kansas. To honor her, two of her fellow women faculty members – Rose Morgan, Associate Professor of English, and Edith Clarke, Librarian, had a “redbud bench” installed just west of the Natural History Museum in a grove of redbud trees that still stands today. When Kate Stephens arrived on the Kansas plains in 1866, the redbud was the first tree she saw. Inscribed on the bench is this verse:
Winds of Heaven Brave It.
Rains of Heaven Lave It.
Sons of Men Save It.
Save our Redbud Tree.