Olympia Brown (January 5, 1835 – October 23, 1926) was an American suffragist. She is regarded as the first woman to graduate from a theological school, as well as becoming the first full-time ordained minister. Brown was also one of the few first generation suffragists who were able to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment.
Olympia Brown was born on January 5, 1835 in Prairie Ronde Township, Michigan. Brown was the oldest of four children. Her parents, Lephia and Asa Brown, were farmers in what was then considered frontier land. They were the great-great-aunt and -uncle, respectively, of U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Lephia raised her children in a household that regarded religion and education as very important. This is evident from the building of a schoolhouse on the Brown territory.
The drive for education instilled by Olympia’s mother had compelled her to finish high school and advance to the university level. Olympia and her younger sister Oella decided to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Mount Holyoke and a college education were what Olympia had hoped for. Her excitement was tempered by the restrictions placed on women at Mount Holyoke. These restrictions included a list of forty rules, the abolition of a literacy society founded by the Browns, and religious restrictions. Perhaps the best example of thinking were the words of a Chemistry professor, “You are not expected to remember all of this, but only enough to make you intelligent in conversation.” Olympia, who already knew she could meet the challenges of a higher education, looked elsewhere.
Putting aside her experiences at Mount Holyoke, Olympia enrolled at Antioch College. Once Olympia began her education at Antioch, she realized she had to catch up to higher standards. Olympia also learned that despite the progressive nature at Antioch, there were still forms of discrimination. For example, in Olympia’s English class, women were not required to have speeches memorized. In a defiant act, Olympia delivered her speeches from memory, just as the men had. Perhaps the crowning achievement of Olympia’s time at Antioch was her ability to persuade her hero, Antoinette Brown, to speak at Antioch.
Once Olympia Brown finished her schooling at Antioch, she decided her calling was to be a minister. After countless rejections, she was accepted to the Theological School of St. Lawrence University. Once again, Brown faced opposition from many sides. This included fellow students and the wives of the faculty. Brown took it all as a challenge. After her first year, Brown had gained acceptance and finished her schooling.