Mary Rippon Time Line

  • In 1850, Mary Ann Rippon was born May 25th to Thomas F. Rippon and Jane Skinner Rippon in the farming community of Lisbon Center, Kendall County, Illinois.

  • In 1851, Mary's father Thomas F. Rippon died. His estate was put in trust for Mary, his only child.

  • In 1853, Mary's mother Jane Skinner Rippon married Norman W. Whitney.

  • In 1856, Mary's mother, half-brother, and stepfather moved to Kansas.

  • In 1856, Mary moved in with her uncle and guardian, William W. Skinner (her mother's brother).

  • Civil War -- 1861 through 1865.

  • In 1867, Mary finished high school in Normal, Illinois, where she met Joseph Sewall, one of the school's teachers. Mary wanted to go to the University of Illinois, but was not admitted because she was a woman.

  • In 1868, Mary inherited $3,485.15 from father's estate, equivalent to about $40,000 today.

  • Ca. 1868-1870, Mary taught in rural schools in Illinois.

  • In 1871, Mary joined a "study group" of young women in Detroit. They traveled to Europe with their teacher/chaperone.

  • From 1872 through 1876, With money from her inheritance, Mary stayed in Europe and attended universities in Germany, Switzerland, and France.

  • In 1876 and 1877, Mary taught German in the Detroit High School in Detroit, Michigan.

  • In 1878, Mary traveled on the train to Boulder, Colorado, at the invitation of Joseph Sewall, her teacher from high school. Sewall had become the first president of the University of Colorado. Mary began teaching at the University in January, at the beginning of the second term of the first academic year. She was their third faculty member and first woman teacher. When she arrived she was 27 years old and taught mathematics and English grammar as well as French and German.

  • In 1878, Edgar and Julia Housel were in Mary's class. Their younger brother, William "Will" Cephas Housel, was a 15 year-old student at Boulder's Central school.

  • In 1878 and 1879, Will Housel was enrolled in the Preparatory School (high school classes) held at the University.

  • In 1881, Mary was promoted to full professor -- the University's first woman professor.

  • In 1881, Will left Preparatory School to work out-of-town.

  • In 1882, The University of Colorado graduated its first class. Mary taught just German and French.

  • In 1883 and 1884, Mary took a year off to study in Europe.

  • In 1884, Mary returned to Boulder. With two other women, she founded the Fortnightly Club (studied Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, and others). She also attended the Unitarian Church. A small transcendental liberal movement existed in Boulder for a few years in the 1880s. It was made up of the university community, Fortnightly Club, and Unitarian Church. Mary belonged to all three.

  • In 1886, Will Housel began a degree program at the University. Mary continued to teach and tutored him as she did all of her students.

  • In 1888, prior to April, Mary and Will become lovers. Mary was 37 years old when she became pregnant, in April, 1888. Will was 25.

  • In 1888, Mary Rippon and Will Housel eloped to St. Louis, Missouri where they secretly married on June 9th. Mary requested, and received, a year's sabbatical.

  • In 1888, Mary and Will stayed with her relatives in Illinois during the summer. Then Mary boarded a ship for Germany. Will returned to Boulder and the University to finish his senior year.

  • In 1889, Mary and Will's daughter, Miriam Edna Housel, was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17. Mary's students and colleagues had no idea she was married or had a child.

Miriam Edna Housel

Miriam's portrait was taken on her eighth birthday while living in Boston with Will and his new wife. Author's collection.

  • In 1889, Will Housel graduated, in May, from the University. Then he traveled to Germany to see his wife and daughter. The family spent the summer together. Then Mary left Will and Miriam in Europe and returned to Boulder. Will was enrolled in a graduate school and Miriam was placed in an orphanage. Mary paid for both.

  • From 1889 through 1891, Mary continued teaching at the University of Colorado as if nothing had changed. She chaired the Department of German Language and Literature. She was still active in the Fortnightly Club. Mary "mothered" her students and even helped them financially.

  • In 1891, Will returned to Boulder, in December, after leaving Miriam in an orphanage in Europe. Mary still paid child support.

  • In 1892 and 1893, Will and Mary both lived in Boulder, but not together. Will lived on his parents' farm, and Mary boarded in a private home. Except for one or two very close friends, no one else knew of Mary's "secret" life. According to both of their diaries, Mary and Will saw each other about twice a week. The strain of their secret relationship eventually dissolved their marriage. Miriam was still in Europe.

  • In 1893, Someone, probably Will, brought Miriam from Europe to a children's home in Denver, then to Mary's relatives in Illinois. Mary continued to support her financially. Will began graduate school at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Miriam joined him in Michigan. Mary kept teaching in Boulder.

  • In 1894, Mary voted for the first time. (Colorado was the second state after Wyoming to allow women the right to vote. Wyoming allowed women to vote, in 1869, when it was still a territory.) Mary continued to teach and pay child support. Two of Mary's students published a book entitled Evenings With Colorado Poets and dedicated it to her.

  • In 1896, Will remarried a much younger woman. Miriam lived with her father and step-mother, but Mary still sent child support. She exchanged letters and gifts with Miriam who thought she was her aunt. Mary finally bought a home of her own. At this time in her life, she appeared to successfully separate her professional and private lives.

  • From 1900 through 1909, Mary visited Miriam every summer, first in Buffalo, New York, and then in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Mary bought Will and his family a farm. Mary partially supported Will, his second wife, and their four children. During the school year, she continued to teach and was a role model and unofficial Dean of Women to her female students.

  • In 1909, Mary retired due to ill health after 31 years of teaching. She probably had a nervous breakdown. Miriam started college at University of Wisconsin. Mary lived with her there for over a year.

  • In 1910, Miriam fell in love with Rudolph Rieder, her German teacher. Miriam became pregnant and then married Rudolph. Mary partially supported them and their child.

  • In 1912, Will was killed in motorcycle accident. Mary was traveling in Europe at the time, her last, and eighth, round-trip.

  • From 1913 through 1935, Mary enjoyed a quiet retirement in Boulder. In 1920, Miriam became a professor of Italian, French, and Spanish at the University of Colorado. Except for one or two close friends, no one knew they were related. As an adult, Miriam found out that Mary was really her mother.

Mary Rippon's Grave

Mary's flat stone is engraved with an open book and two columbines symbolizing her love for learning and wildflowers. Photo by Author, 1995.

  • In 1935, on September 9th, Mary died. In her obituary, Miriam was called her "closest friend." Mary was buried in Columbia Cemetery. The University was building an outdoor theater and named it the "Mary Rippon Theater" in her honor. It's still in use today and is the summer home of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

  • In 1957, Miriam Rieder died. In the place for mother's name on her death certificate was written "unknown." Even Miriam took the secret to her grave.

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