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Dorothea Poulin Woodside- the first female graduate of Springfield College

By Collin Atwood


The first year women were allowed to enroll as full-time students at Springfield College.

For the most part, this is true. From Springfield College’s opening in 1885 to 1951, no women were allowed to take the required number of credits to be considered a full-time student.

However, that 66-year gap involves a small glitch in time where this rule did not apply. In 1935, 11 women were admitted as Springfield College students. Most were part-time, but just one of these students found her way to being the first female four-year undergraduate student in the school’s history.

That student was Dorothea Poulin Woodside.

Woodside was from Pittsfield, Mass. and like most Springfield College students, she came to Alden Street to pursue athletics. As an adolescent, Woodside dipped her toe in a multitude of activities like girl scouts and piano lessons. But the one sport she tried, and loved, was swimming.

Once she got to high school, she decided to pursue swimming and dropped everything else.

“Swimming was definitely for me,” Woodside wrote in her autobiography.

Woodside had her first taste of Springfield College as a freshman in high school. Although she already intended to put everything she had into the sport, it was her visit at the College that inspired her to take swimming more seriously.

Woodside’s coach brought her to Springfield to train with the coaches and test her abilities at the school’s facilities. She learned new training techniques and received valuable feedback from the coaches at Springfield. That experience was very important in her progression as a swimmer.

She writes that she was “truly inspired in my swimming from then on.”

That inspiration led to her having success in the pool during high school. According to her autobiography, she won the New England 100-yard breaststroke and came just short of reaching nationals during her senior year.

Woodside graduated high school in January of 1935, earlier than most of her classmates. She was eager to go to college, but money was always a problem. She received offers from multiple schools, but none of them proved to be affordable.

She hadn’t thought about going to Springfield until that summer. She worked at an aquatics school in South Hanson, Mass. and while she was there she met a man who informed her about Springfield College.

At the time, the college was thinking about going co-ed. According to Woodside’s autobiography, “they wanted to start with a few co-eds to break in gradually.” This was looked at as an experiment.

Eventually, Woodside started trading letters with Springfield College which led to a man going to her home in Pittsfield to interview her. By the end of it, she was offered multiple scholarships for her membership at her high school’s YMCA club, her academics and athletics.

It was impossible for her to go college without these scholarships.

Once Woodside made her visit to the campus she was sold. She’d been there before, but only to see the swimming facilities.

“My first sight of the campus was exhilarating,” she wrote. “I thought it was so large and beautiful.”

At the time, the campus was very bare. Buildings like Abbey-Appleton Hall, Lakeside Hall, Cheney Hall and many more wouldn’t be built for years to come.

Not very long after she returned from her visit, Woodside would be accepted as a full-time student at Springfield College, majoring in physical education. “I knew where I was going and that was such a good feeling,” she wrote.

Just like she did as a child, Woodside put herself out there and got involved with many activities and clubs. According to volume No. 87 of the Triangle Magazine, Woodside was a member of the swim team, an associate editor of the Massasoit, a reporter for the Springfield Student and a member of co-curricular programs.

Woodside valued her time at Springfield College and was always grateful for the way she was treated there.

“My mom paid no tuition to Springfield College and always felt indebted to them,” Woodside’s son, Frank, told the Triangle Magazine.

Frank and his siblings knew how much love Woodside had for Springfield, so they decided to start the Dorothea L. Poulin Woodside Scholarship. This scholarship is for a female who is from Western Mass. and is majoring in physical education. The recipient also needs to show that she is in need of financial support.

After she graduated from Springfield, swimming would still be a part of Woodside’s life. She went on to win a national breaststroke championship…at age 70.

According to Melanie Smeltzer of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Woodside was a member of the Southwest Ohio Masters Team and competed in her age group at a national swim meet in Houston.

“Woodside captured two first-place ribbons and one second-place award,” Smeltzer wrote.

Cincinnati is where Woodside resided until she died on April 22, 2005. Her legacy at Springfield will never be forgotten.

For more information on Woodside, visit

Photo Courtesy Triangle Magazine

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