- 1918-1921: Acting Dean of Women at the University of Kansas
- Namesake of first women’s dormitory in Kansas
- Speaker alongside Susan B. Anthony in 1912 Women’s Suffrage Campaign
- Led legislative battles to build co-op housing, scholarship halls, and dormitories for the University of Kansas and other state universities
Many KU alumnae might recognize the name Corbin one of the all-female residence halls. But the name behind the building, Alberta Corbin, belongs to a truly extraordinary woman whose namesake building is a marker of extraordinary perseverance and change.
Alberta Corbin first came to the University of Kansas as one of its first female students, entering in 1889 and graduating with her AB degree in the famed Class of 1893. There, she was a founding member of the local Torch Society, the honors organization later known as Mortar Board. She later received her PhD from Yale University in 1921; her studies also took her to the University of Wisconsin and the University of Berlin.
She began her service to the University of Kansas in 1901, and remained there for 35 years. She began as a teacher in the Department of German in 1910, and become a full professor in 1920. Ms. Corbin often wrote commentary on the similarities and differences between Germany and America and was a scholar on the challenging works of Goethe and Faust, a testament to her talents in academia. She was known as a teacher who “sought constantly to develop each student’s individuality.”
Ms. Corbin served from 1918-1921 as the Acting Dean of Women at the University of Kansas. Marie Miller, the Assistant Dean of Women under Ms. Corbin, stated: “Her depth of character and personality is hard to describe in words. A chief characteristic was a vital interest in people, particularly girls and their problems. I think every student who knew her loved her deeply and gained much from her teaching.”
Ms. Corbin was active in many roles fighting for women’s rights. She spoke alongside such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony and feminist minister Anna Shaw in the 1912 women’s suffrage campaign. She was a member of the Women’s Self Government Association of the University, the Kansas League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women. She served as the first president of the Kansas Dinner Club, an organization of women teachers. In 1912, she organized a lecture series in Lawrence for prominent women activists. One of these activists was the legendary Jane Addams of Hull House. To promote funding for the new dormitory, she organized a “Woman’s Day” at Robinson Gymnasium; this enthusiastic event attracted many alumnae and prominent women from all over the state.
During her tenure, she worked to establish cooperative housing options for collegiate women within the Lawrence community. These efforts led to the beginnings of Watkins, the first scholarship hall, which spawned several others for both women and men. However, she quickly realized that an even larger home would be needed to serve the growing number of women who were wholly or partially self-supporting. Women who wanted to obtain a college education should not be limited by marriage status or staying at home with their family near the University.
Alberta Corbin provided both the inspiration and leadership to secure this home for women students. She led the fight for the appropriation to build the halls in two strenuous sessions in front of the legislature. Ms. Corbin even likened the battle to a ‘war’, declaring boldly in an October 3, 1918 University Daily Kansan article, “To help win the war, we must be physically and mentally vigorous. We shall fail in our duty to our country if we do not live in a way to create this vigor.” This work paid off not only for the University of Kansas, but for female students at five other state schools who quickly followed suit.
When the new dormitory costing $200,000 to build was named in honor of her, it was “possibly the first instance in university life in America in which a great building upon the campus had been named for a living member of the faculty,” as one colleague noted.
Alberta Corbin passed away in March of 1941 at the age of 70. She requested that friends not send flowers to her funeral, but instead use that money to contribute the KU Flower Fund for continuing campus beautification. In a eulogy given by Olin Templin, ironically, it seems that her message of women’s liberation was still not fully engrained, as he commented on how the fates had intervened from her achieving her ‘highest desire’ of living at home and raising children, also known as the life of a ‘normal’ woman. However, even if her message was not yet fully appreciated, her life as an amazing individual was. Templin also declared: “What she did then has had enduring value. The institution never had a more competent, more willing, more devoted worker than it had in Alberta Corbin…Her penetrating mind, her safe judgment, her eager desire to have the right win in any contest with the wrong, her unwavering loyalty to all good people, placed her high in the ranks of superior people.”