By: Dawn Fuller
Miriam Urban was the only female professor in the history department during the 1920s and ‘30s. During this period of common discrimination against women in higher education, she fought to get tenure. Urban earned her bachelor’s degree from UC in 1915 and her master’s degree in 1917, earning a PhD from Columbia University before joining the UC faculty in 1920. Her field was European history and though she taught at the University of Cincinnati for 33 years Urban was not promoted to full professor until 1944.
Described as wearing shapeless tweed with white blouses, along with multiple glasses strung with black ribbons around her neck, students also commented that her hair was usually in “disarray.” Despite her “hot mess” eccentricities, Urban was a delight to her students, even though she was known to kick a dozing student in the shins or thump someone on the head with a pencil. She would signal the end of the class period by snapping her girdle.
Charlotte Shockley, a 1937 graduate in English from the Liberal Arts College, wrote, “Miss Urban’s dark eyes glittered as she likened Hitler to a ‘takeoff on Groucho Marx.’”
One of her students, former UC President Henry R. Winkler, revealed that she could become beautiful through her passion for history. “Miriam B. Urban was somehow beautiful when the excitement of some issue in the historical record shone in her eyes and rang in her voice,” he wrote in a tribute to her. “She was one of the best undergraduate teachers I have ever encountered.”
Urban served as president of the UC Alumni Association in 1932 and directed two important projects – raising funds for construction of the women’s dormitory and a scholarship fund for women students. After her death, she left an endowment fund of $125,000 for the purchase of books and journals on the history of modern Europe.