In the history of Penn, Alice Emerson is the only person to hold the title of Dean of Students. Emerson came to Penn in 1966 as the Acting Dean of Women, and two months later, she was named Dean of Women. Emerson was also an assistant professor of political science.
In 1969, the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees changed the Dean of Women title to Dean of Students, and Emerson became the first woman at an Ivy League school to hold the position.
Prior to accepting her appointment at Penn, Emerson was a lecturer in political science at Bryn Mawr College.
During Emerson’s six years as Penn’s Dean of Students, her responsibilities were equivalent to those of the present-day Vice Provost for University Life.
One of the campus’ senior administrators, Emerson oversaw 12 offices of student affairs, including residential life, performing arts groups, and study abroad programs.
In 1975, Emerson left Penn to become the president of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.
After Emerson’s departure from Penn, the Office of the Dean of Students merged with the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. The office was renamed the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and University Life.
Under Emerson’s 16-year tenure at Wheaton, the college went through a significant transformation involving its buildings, educational offerings, and the student body.
Major physical changes to campus included an addition to its library and renovations to its student center and to its oldest building, Mary Lyon Hall.
Recognized nationally as a pioneer in the development of a gender-balanced curriculum, Emerson led Wheaton when the college decided in 1987 to open the doors of the 152-year-old women’s college to men. Its first co-ed class was admitted in the fall of 1988.
For more information about this and other historical people of Penn, visit the University Archives online.