Julia Peachy Harrison’s middle name was a family name, and not an adjective. My goal for #WHM was to spotlight one sorority woman a day. I didn’t want to write about the well-known women who appear on the lists of “famous alumnae.” Rather, I wanted to concentrate on the women who joined the organizations and went on to do amazing, yet largely unsung, work. I think these women find me. In researching Harrison, I found out something about Richmond College I had not known. Richmond College is now the University of Richmond. I know the story of Westhampton College, the coordinate of Richmond College, which was founded in 1914, because May Lansfield Keller, Ph.D., Pi Beta Phi’s Grand President from 1908-1918, was Westhampton’s founding dean and served in that role for decades. I did not know that Richmond College, for a short time, was coeducational and that a chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha was in existence there. The first woman graduated from the college in 1899 and there were a number of women graduates, including Harrison, before the class of 1914 became the first Westhampton College graduates.
Enter Julia Peachy Harrison, Virginia Binford, Lorena Boyd Mason, Marie Bristow, Mary Tyler. There were six men’s fraternities on campus. The ratio of men to women was 9:1, and of the 10 percent of students who were women, there were some who wanted to share the same bonds that the men had as members of a fraternity. During the 1904-05 academic year, there were 20 or so women enrolled in the college. The five who came together had been friends, some of them from childhood, and they had a friend who was a Zeta at Randolph Macon Woman’s College.
The Iota Chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha was installed on March 11, 1905 in Harrison’s home at 104 North Monroe Street. It was followed by a banquet in the same home. For the first year, chapter meetings were held in the Harrison home, but a room was obtained for the following year. More women were initiated and an alumnae chapter was chartered in Richmond. The Iota Chapter charter was withdrawn at the 1908 convention due to the small number of women at the college and the attitude of the administration towards the organization.
Harrison earned her B.A. in June 1906. A year later, she earned an M.A., the first woman at Richmond College to earn that degree. The November 1908 Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha told of an honor bestowed on Harrison and took the account from an article which appeared in the October 25, 1908 Richmond Dispatch. Her Master’s thesis, The Fluidity of Liquids, was being translated into German by the Head of the University of Leipsic so that it could appear in one of the leading chemical journals of Europe. Her study was an “original investigation into the reciprocal relations of fluidity and viscosity.” She taught high school chemistry for a year before she returned to Richmond College to earn a B.S. in 1909. The article goes on to state, “In connection with her work in chemistry, Miss Harrison is also doing advanced work in integral calculus and the calculus of variations. Miss Harrison is one of the most popular students of the college and her wide circle of friends wonder how she finds time for so much painstaking and successful scientific work. She is as vivacious of spirit and charming in manner as if she did not know a parabola from a circle or had never soiled her hands with the acids and alkalis of a laboratory.”
In 1909, she entered Johns Hopkins as a graduate student in chemistry. She earned a Ph.D. in 1912. Her dissertation was titled, On the Reversible Addition of Alcohols to Nitriles Catalyzed by Sodium Ethylate, II.
She is listed in the third edition of American Men of Science: A Biographical Directory, published in 1921. She is not the only female who has biographical data in there, so it is odd, but not surprising for 1921, that the title of the book makes no mention of the women.
She was a Carnegie Fellow and a Bryn Mawr Fellow. She taught at a number colleges including Bryn Mawr, Sweet Briar, Agnes Scott, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Skidmore, and Wilson College. The last mention of her that I could find was from a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, newspaper in the early 1930s when she was teaching at Wilson College.
She died in Richmond, Virginia, on November 19, 1962. If anyone has any information on her whereabouts and activities from the 1930s until her death, I would love to add it to this post.
P.S. Shirley Gee, the Kappa Delta archivist, sent me this info on “Peachy:”
In the 1940 census records she was living in a boarding house in Cincinnati, Ohio with close to 50 other people. A majority of the others were salesmen, store employees or teachers. She was by far the most educated. Most listed reported an 8th grade education, no high school. She had lived in Cincinnati over five years. I am assuming she was teaching in one of the colleges at this time. In 1939 she worked 38 weeks with an income of $3,300. As for later in life, we can verify that she traveled. There were three entries where she boarded a boat in New York to travel abroad: 1949-France; 1953-Denmark; and 1956-Oslo. She is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
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