The True Story of the Sorin Sisters
Elizabeth A. Sorin 1832-1909, Emily Robertson Sorin Meredith 1836-1913, Mary Sorin Crary 1838-1904

When Rev. Matthew Sorin arrived with his family in Red Wing, Minnesota, it was a territorial village set on land only recently populated by Dakota Indians. Sorin, one of the first Hamline trustees, was also a Methodist Episcopal preacher familiar with building congregations on the frontier. In the fall of 1855 just after Hamline University was chartered, two Sorin children, Elizabeth and Emily, enrolled as students. The following year, Mary also enrolled with siblings Susan, Thomas, and John Emory. The three eldest daughters of Matthew and Moriah Sorin were the first three women to receive bachelor’s degrees from any Minnesota college or university[1] and were among the earliest women in the nation to graduate from a coeducational college.

On June 15, 1859, Hamline graduated its first collegiate class: Elizabeth and Emily Sorin. Graduation exercises featured commencement addresses from the two graduates. Elizabeth read “Unlaureled Heroines”; Emily, “The Ministry of Sorrow.”[2] The Red Wing Sentinel reported their orations were “fine productions, proving that their fair authors were well worthy of the honors conferred upon them.”[3] Elizabeth remembered that magnificent day was “important to the class of two, my sister Emily and myself, because it crowned our efforts. Hers was the Salutatory, mine the Valedictory. Could we have divided the honors more evenly?”[4]

A year later, two more women graduated from Hamline—Mary Sorin and her friend Sara Louise Williams. Like Elizabeth and Emily in 1859, the centerpiece of commencement was the reading of the graduates’ essays. Sara read “Education, Real and Unreal,” a scathing comment on frivolous education for frivolous women that celebrated the benefits of Hamline’s true education—one that focused on empowering women by cultivating both their intellect and character. Mary Sorin’s “Aesthetic Culture and Valedictory,” for The Red Wing Republican, “furnished evidence of both thought and judgment.”[5] Its theme, the usefulness of the fine arts in perfecting the soul as a reflection of the love of God, was a topic befitting a daughter of Rev. Matthew Sorin.
Written by Kristin Mapel Bloomberg