Christine Ladd-Franklin, a mathematics and logic scholar, was the first woman to complete the requirements for a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1882. Due to her gender, Ladd-Franklin was not awarded her degree for forty-four years, until 1926 when she was nearly 80 years old. Remarking on the belated degree, the Baltimore Sun asked, "Is Johns Hopkins University now conferring an honor upon Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, or is Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin conferring an honor on Johns Hopkins University?" She authored 64 scientific papers and a book entitled Colours and Colour Theories. Dr. Ladd-Franklin taught at Johns Hopkins University and later at Columbia University as an unpaid lecturer.
Her admittance in 1878 to Johns Hopkins University for graduate study was pushed by James J. Sylvester, Gilman’s chosen inaugural professor of mathematics at the university. In 1879, Ladd-Franklin was finally awarded a stipend and the title of fellow, but the board of trustees refused to allow her name to be published alongside those of the other fellows. She is best remembered for her theory of color vision and her papers submitted to The Analyst and to the American Journal of Mathematics. In totem, Ladd-Franklin is one of the pioneering American females in academia for her contributions to psychology, mathematics, and logic.
Ladd-Franklin was born in Windsor, Connecticut in 1847 to Eliphalet Ladd and Augusta Niles Ladd. Ladd-Franklin’s mother Augusta, as well as her aunt Julia, were passionate suffragettes and took the young girl to women’s rights lectures. When Ladd-Franklin’s mother died in 1860, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1865, she graduated as valedictorian from Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts taking many of the same courses as the male students preparing for entrance into Harvard. Following graduation from Wesleyan Academy, Ladd-Franklin managed to convince her socially conservative grandmother that she needed to attend college. Both her father and grandmother rejected her attending college, but Ladd-Franklin pleaded that she was unlikely to find a husband due to her average physical appearance and was better off getting an education. Once Ladd-Franklin began her studies, her father supported her academic work and encouraged her success.
In 1866, Ladd-Franklin entered Vassar College, one of the historic Seven Sisters. She was thrilled to be attending and wrote in her diaries, "Vassar! Land of my longing! Mine at last." Ladd-Franklin obtained her A.B. degree from Vassar in 1869, inspired by many female mentors, including Maria Mitchell, an astronomy professor. While she was most interested in pursuing physics, she eventually settled on mathematics instead as the field was more accessible to women. Ladd-Franklin taught and published in mathematics for nine years.
Applying as “C. Ladd” in 1878, Ladd-Franklin began her doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University. Initially, her admittance was an accident as the committee mistook her for a man. One professor recognized her published work and convinced the board to let her study with him. Though she published her dissertation on logic in 1883, the conferral of her Ph.D. was denied until 1926. However, Vassar awarded Ladd-Franklin an honorary LL.D. in 1887. She married Fabian Franklin, a young professor in the math department and had two children.
After finishing her doctoral work, Ladd-Franklin remained in Baltimore in the mathematics department and began to develop her theory of color vision. Presented in 1892, her paper on color vision established that color differences arise from the mind’s perception of white, yellow, and blue light. Ladd-Franklin also noted that peripheral vision was more evolutionarily primitive than foveal vision, or sharp central vision, and that red-green sensitivity evolved last.
In 1930, she died in New York City.
Bertrand Russell wrote of Ladd-Franklin in 1948, saying: "I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”