Maggie Boyd class of 1873

Ohio University class of 1873

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Libraries


The Boyd diary

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Libraries


Margaret Boyd

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Libraries

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First OHIO Alumna Tweets from Beyond

Margaret Boyd's diary provides glimpse into her senior year

In June of 1873, Margaret Boyd became the first female to graduate from Ohio University.

As the first Ohio University alumna, Boyd paved the way for future generations of female students. Today, she is stepping into the 21st century and making it possible for anyone to experience her final year at OHIO.

According to Betty Hollow's book "Ohio University 1804-2004: The Spirit of a Singular Place," Boyd cautiously enrolled in the University in 1868 under the name M. Boyd, until the University could be sure that the faculty and the public would not object to a female student joining the school. Upon her return for her final year, she carried with her a small leather-bound journal in which she chronicled the goings-on of that monumental time.

Current OHIO students, Matt Wesley and Karah Finan, both student employees for Ohio University Libraries, are bringing Boyd back to life via the social media site by tweeting daily excerpts from her diary.

Through Maggie's words, followers can get a taste of what life was like in Athens, Ohio, before the Burrito Buggy and the Convocation Center lined the streets.

"Maggie Boyd is an inspirational person. I can't imagine what it would be like to be the first and only woman at a college," says Finan, a junior majoring in journalism.

"Her collection of diary entries is a unique look into the actual daily life of someone living in the Victorian period. It's so much more than you could ever find in a history book."

Margaret's diary is unique in more ways than one. The tiny palm-sized notebook held emotions and thoughts on everything from classwork to crushes, which was unusual for the time.

"Reading through Maggie's diary entries is interesting because her diary alludes to her own personal feelings on a variety of topics," said Wesley, a senior history major. "For reference, this was not a common practice, as many diary writers and journal keepers of the era kept more objective styled journals."

While her life at Ohio University is certainly very different than the experiences of today's students and community members, many of her concerns are familiar in the 21st century.

"There are a lot of similarities to today," says Digital Initiatives Coordinator Janet Carleton who helps oversee the project. "She writes about being sad that it is her last year and how she wants to study more, but she is just so tired."

Maggie's journal entry on Jan. 17, 1873 sounds eerily similar to the words of any modern senior.

"1/17/1873: I cannot help feeling sad to think this is my last year at college. Many a pleasant hour have I spent within its walls. Still I will be so glad to be able to make something. I have always had to be so careful of every cent."

So far the project has been a success. As of mid-January, a mere three weeks after its launch, @MaggieBoyd1873 had more than 250 followers and the count continues to grow.

One of Maggie's twitter followers is 2003 OHIO Alumna and Cincinnati resident Liz Barnett. She served as resident director of Boyd Hall (named for Margaret) from 2004 to 2007 where she posted excerpts from Maggie's diary on the bulletin board outside her office.

"[The students] enjoyed her so much that they created a Facebook account for her," said Barnett. "Unfortunately that was against Facebook policy so I believe it was removed, but many of the current students were her "friends" on Facebook, in the early days of that site."

Barnett now writes a blog for women and is very active in social media. Through her ventures in Twitter she was reunited with Maggie and is excited about the connection.

"I think [the Twitter account] is a great idea," she said. "It's a good way to connect with current students, alumni and with the world; I am proud to be affiliated in some way with such an inspirational woman – Margaret Boyd."

To complement the Twitter page, the Libraries' News Blog is posting regular entries about the diary and its clues about the things that have changed – or not changed – for Ohio University students in the last 139 years.

"The thing about the daily tweeting is that it provides a nice little bite of history," says Carleton. "It isn't a big investment for readers, but by clicking through the blog posts, if they want to learn more, they can."

The blog entries provide more information on topics such as Maggie's coursework, pastimes, communication and transportation that might seem unfamiliar or unusual today.

"One idea for the blog-posts that I'm excited about is the topic of Victorian womanhood," says Wesley. "Other exciting topics we've been discussing are the history of Boyd Hall (which was named after her), social activities of the era, and the role of religion in Boyd's life."

Boyd's diary is now a part of the Boyd Family Collection housed in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections. In addition to the diary, the collection includes letters from 1821-1881 sent among family members such as her father, Daniel Boyd, an 1819 immigrant from northern Ireland, and many of her eight siblings. 

The diary was originally scanned and transcribed to be a part of the State of Ohio Bicentennial Celebration almost 10 years ago and is available in the University Archives online collections. Follow Boyd's Twitter account, the @AldenLibrary Twitter account or the Libraries' Facebook page for updates.