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1888 First Honorary Degree

In 1869,  Susan J. Cunningham (1842-1921) became one of the founders of the mathematics and astronomy departments at Swarthmore, and she headed both divisions until her retirement in 1906. At that time, President Joseph Swain said:

"Susan J. Cunningham has the distinction of being the only one in the faculty who has been connected with the College since its beginning in 1869. She is energetic, forceful and learned in her profession, and a thorough believer in the gospel of work. She has loved Swarthmore more than her own life, of which she has unsparingly given. She has in season and out of season been ready not only to serve the College but to help individual students by giving them her advice, her time and in numerous cases her money."

Cunningham planned and equipped the first observatory at Swarthmore, where she lived until her retirement. The original President's House was converted into a second observatory to house research-quality astronomical equipment donated by Pennsylvania Gov. William Sproul, one of Cunningham's former students.

In 1891, Cunningham became one of the first six women to be elected a member of the New York Mathematical Society (later to become the American Mathematical Society). She remained a member until her death in 1921.