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.
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.
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.”
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!