Effa Funk Muhse: First Woman Ph.D. at Indiana University

Effa Funk Muhse
Effa Funk Muhse

Effa Funk Muhse made history by being the first woman Ph.D. student at Indiana University. Born on June 19, 1877 in Blachleyville, Ohio, she and parents Laban and Eliza (Bair) Funk, moved to Hebron, Indiana in the 1890s, where Effa later graduated from Hebron High School in 1894. She attended the Northern Indiana Normal College (now Valparaiso University) until 1896, when she left to begin teaching in the public schools of Indiana. On August 12, 1899, Funk married Albert Charles Muhse, and soon thereafter enrolled at Indiana University under the name “Funk Muhse” in September 1900.

During the summer of 1902 she was named a fellow at the IU Biological Field Station on Winona Lake in Warsaw, IN. There she taught embryology, histology and histogenesis. She went on to receive all of her degrees in zoology from IU, earning her A.B. in 1903; her A.M. in 1906; and her Ph.D. in 1908. Her husband would receive degrees in economics from IU in 1901 and 1902.

Effa Funk Muhse, "Heredity and Problems in Eugenics" 1912
Effa Funk Muhse, “Heredity and Problems in Eugenics” 1912

Conferral of Muhse’s 1908 zoology degree gave her the distinction of being the first woman at IU to receive a Ph.D. The title of her dissertation was The Cutaneous Glands of the Common Toad and was published in the May 1909 issue of the American Journal of Anatomy. Muhse’s dissertation refuted others research that said common toads had several different types of glands. She showed that the glands were all of the same type – just in different stages of development. She began her research on this paper at Cornell University where her husband had been given a fellowship. She returned to IU during the 1907-1908 school year to accept a fellowship and to teach while finishing her dissertation under the direction and advisement of Professors Carl Eigenmann and Charles Zeleny.

After obtaining her Ph.D., Muhse was interested in teaching, but found it difficult to find a position that accepted married women. Instead, she began teaching on lecture circuits, giving her attention “…more especially to questions of public health and to general biological questions.” She decided to settle in Washington, D.C., and gave public lectures at clubs near her home there, as well as around the country and in China. Hoping to return to the state of Indiana to teach, Muhse contacted IU President William Lowe Bryan in October 1911 with a list of topics to which she could speak. Lectures she offered for 1912 included “Heredity and Problems in Eugenics,” “Insects as Agents in Plant Fertilization,” “Non-contagious Diseases: Deafness, Adenoids and Nervous Troubles,” “The Food of Schoolchildren,” and “The School as a Center of Sanitary and Health Work in the Community.” During these years she became a pioneer lecturer on the Mendelian Laws of Heredity, on rural sanitation, and eugenics.

Laboratory Notes and Drawings
Laboratory Notes and Drawings, undated
Laboratory Notes and Drawings
Laboratory Notes and Drawings, undated







While in Washington, D.C., Muhse became involved in women’s suffrage, becoming a member of the National Woman’s Party (NWP), founded by Alice Paul. In 1917, Muhse was sent to Idaho, Pennsylvania and Chicago to help organize the NWP. Reflecting upon this work in an interview with the Indiana Alumni Magazine in 1963, she said she still urged “…women to ‘continue the struggle for equal rights.’ She believed that the greatest change in the role of the woman…came with the right to vote. At the same time, she felt that rearing families is still the most important work of today’s women, putting ‘minor office jobs’ a poor second.”

Drawings of Cells on Cards
Drawings of Cells on Cards, undated
Drawings of Cells on Cards
Drawings of Cells on Cards, undated










Between 1921 and 1927, Muhse began teaching at several institutions, two of which were the National Park Seminary and the Colonial School for Girls. In the fall of 1927, she became the head of the Biology Department at Chevy Chase Junior College in Washington, D.C. and continued to teach there for 21 years, substantially increasing the enrollment of young women in biology classes, as well as throughout the field.

During her lifetime she was a member of the Eugenics Education Society of London; American Association for the Advancement of Science; Phi Beta Kappa; Sigma Xi; the National Woman’s Party; and the Twentieth Century Club of Washington, D.C. Her favorite hobbies were drafting house plans and carpentry. Muhse died on February 27, 1968.

Those interested in learning more about Effa Funk Muhse and her academic publications should feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives for assistance!


Alumni, it’s time to vote!

Sarah Parke Morrison's vote for Trustee, June 3, 1906
Sarah Parke Morrison’s vote for Trustee, June 3, 1906

If you have heard the story about IU’s first coed, Sarah Parke Morrison, sending in her Trustee ballot marked “For some woman” and thought it was just old university folklore, here you go.

Dated June 3, 1906, Sarah, who entered as IU’s first female student in 1867, mailed in her replacement ballot with the note, “For some woman. Every new man who allows his name to appear does that much to keep out some woman.”

There are no women appearing on this year’s ballot but nonetheless, if you are an alum, it is important to get that vote in!

The Purdue Train Wreck of 1903: A Football Rivalry Touched by Tragedy

Here at the archives blog, we strive to showcase some of the fun and insightful parts of our history that have been forgotten or remain obscure. For this post, our focus of interest will be on a much grimmer, not-so-fun topic.

Um, are you still there? OK, good…

Our sad story involves football, the historic rivalry between I.U. and our friends at Purdue and…trains.

It was Saturday, October 31, 1903. Already by this point in time not only was football an essential part of the fabric of university life, but the competition between I.U and Purdue for gridiron glory had already heated up into a fever pitch. In fact, the rivalry was so hot and intense, that both universities had agreed that matches between the two teams should be held on neutral ground, so as to limit potential hooliganism on the part of the spectators. Both had agreed on the most suitable ground for avoiding this nastiness–Indianapolis.

Arrival of the “Purdue Special,” November 20, 1909.

To get to the location, the teams, the entire student body (including Purdue’s president), and other followers from both universities crowded onto separate special service trains to take them en masse to into the city from Bloomington and Lafayette. In Purdue’s case, the train was cobbled together from available coaches, from modern (for the time) steel cars to older wooden coaches. The wooden coaches were attached near the front of the train, and the Purdue team rode took their place of honor in these cars at the front of the train procession.

As the train triumphantly chugged their way into the city limits of Indianapolis, the Purdue entourage had no way of knowing that their train was locked into a collision course with an opposing train on the same tracks, courtesy of a signaling error on the part of the railroad switching crew. The engineer of the Purdue special continued to rocket the train along at a speedy clip, unaware of danger up ahead. By the time he spotted the opposing locomotive bearing down on his machine, there was no chance of his being able to halt his barreling procession in time. Resigned to fate, he threw on the air brakes and leapt off of his engine.

Print  from copy negatives apparently made by The Indianapolis Times. The Purdue University Archives holds many more images of the wreck site: http://tinyurl.com/mhzr8qu

The collision forces were such that the wooden cars attached at the front of the line splintered like kindling, and the cars immediately adjacent to these were sent violently off the raised tracks to the ground below. In contrast to this carnage, the cars further back were spared the crushing and derailment at the front of the procession, barely registering a jolt. The rearmost passengers wasted little time in coming to the assistance of the victims up ahead. According to Joseph Bradfield, then a Purdue student riding in the procession, “We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital [….] There was no ambulance, no cars…” By the time the scene was brought under control and the victims accounted for, eighteen riders had died as a result of the disaster, including most of Purdue’s football squad.

The shock of what had occurred thoroughly jolted not only Purdue, but I.U. as well. The intense rivalry was pushed entirely aside as I.U. flooded its fellow university with expressions of condolence and solidarity in the face of tragic and unprecedented loss of life. Faculty members paid tribute to the fallen Purdue footballers in an open letter as “honorable and friendly rivals, not our enemies,” and likened their shock at Purdue’s loss as “…to brothers who have lost the comrades of their day’s work.” In a similar spirit, some students suggested that the revenue from the cancelled game be directed to both university athletic associations as an appropriate way to deal with the financial matters stemming from the accident. In short, the tragedy served to cool the burning football rivalry between the two universities, so that future games would be normally played on either the I.U. or Purdue campus rather than alternate locations.

An unused ticket from that tragically doomed game.

So ends our sad but fascinating slice of university history, courtesy of the extensive collection at the I.U. Archives. If you’d like more details on this episode or others, please contact the staff at the Archives.