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UC Seeks Photo of First Woman Graduate

The University of Cincinnati hopes to locate a photograph of the first woman to graduate from the school.

Date: 3/17/2014 1:00:00 PM
By: Greg Hand
Phone: (513) 556-1822

UC ingot   As the University of Cincinnati marks Women’s History Month, the search is on for a photograph of Winona Hawthorne Buck, the first woman to graduate from UC. 

Five years from now, in 2019, UC will mark the bicentennial of its founding in 1819. In preparation for that celebration, UC is beginning to explore gaps in the institutional history. While a fair amount is known about UC’s first woman graduate, no one at the university has a photograph of her.

Winona Lee Hawthorne was the first woman to graduate from the University of Cincinnati, a distinction she holds because she was the only woman in the university’s first graduating class of 1878.

Vintage Drawing of Woman
As the University of Cincinnati prepares for its bicentennial celebration, it seeks a photo of the school's first woman graduate.

Born Nov. 30, 1856, Winona was the first child born to Louise and Leroy R. Hawthorne of Newport, Kentucky.  It appears that Winona began taking classes at the University of Cincinnati almost as soon as classes were convened in October 1873 at the old Woodward High School. 

Eight students received degrees from the University of Cincinnati on June 20, 1878, in a ceremony at Pike’s Opera House. Each graduate was required to read a baccalaureate essay. Winona’s essay was a “Plea for the Classics.” The Cincinnati Post noted that Winona was “a young lady already possessing more than the average share of knowledge and talents bestowed on those of her sex…What did we tell you about Kentucky girls?”The hometown paper, the Newport Local, cited the “particular pride” with which it called attention to “one of Newport’s most estimable young ladies”:

“She is a young lady whose amiability, pleasing manners and industry in the way of literary and other educational attainments present an example which could be followed to great advantage by many other young ladies in this city.”

Three years later, Winona married a young Army lieutenant named William Langdon Buck and spent the next three decades raising three daughters - Winona, Louise and Leroy - in locations throughout the United States as her husband was promoted to the rank of colonel. Some of these postings were in the Wild West of the American frontier including Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Nome, Alaska. 

When her husband accepted command of Fort St. Michael in Alaska, Winona applied for a passport. In the absence of a photograph, it is the best description we have. She is recorded as five foot, six and one-half inches tall, with a high forehead, small nose, oval chin and “medium” mouth. Her oval face was dark-complexioned and surrounded by black hair. 

Beset by chronic illness after service in the Philippines during the War with Spain, Col. Buck died in 1912, after which Winona retired to San Diego. Two of her daughters married military men. The eldest, Winona, earned a degree from Pratt Institute and worked in the New York Public Library system before marrying Vincent Elmore. The youngest, Leroy, earned a teaching degree from Columbia and married Oliver Andrews Dickinson. 

Winona was joined in San Diego by daughter Louise, who had just finished her studies at the University of Wisconsin, as well as Winona’s widowed mother. Louise married a San Diego architect named Frank O. Wells. In 1926, Winona moved into a new house designed by her son-in-law. 

In March 1933, at the age of 78, Winona Lee Hawthorne Buck died in San Diego, California. On June 7, she was laid to rest next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. Buried nearby are her parents. 

Winona appears to have lost touch with her Alma Mater (a 1926 UC alumni directory lists her as deceased). Winona’s children remembered her place in the University’s history. The 1941-42 Winter Issue of the Cincinnati Alumnus magazine reports a visit to campus by Mrs. Oliver A. Dickinson of Fort Knox, Kentucky. Mrs. Dickinson’s mother, according to the Alumnus, was the “University’s first co-ed.”

The University of Cincinnati invites anyone who owns or knows of a photograph of Winona Lee Hawthorne Buck to contact Greg Hand at