105-Year-Old Woman Finally Gets Her Master’s Degree From Stanford

105 year old Virginia Hislop was handed her diploma for a master's in education that she earned 83 years ago.

Photo: Charles Russo/Standford University

Only a few short generations ago, American women were expected to end any professional aspirations once they married. For Virginia “Ginger” Hislop, now aged 105, this meant giving up a teaching career despite investing time and energy in years of training. In 1941, with most of her credits completed, Hislop moved away from Stanford University before receiving her master's degree in education. Now, after raising two children and an impressive career in education, Hislop finally got to cross the graduation stage and receive her master's hood and degree.

Hislop had little choice about cutting her degree short. Her then-boyfriend George had been called up to military service due to World War II. This prompted a quick marriage before they moved to the U.S. Army outpost at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Hislop originally wanted to be a lawyer like her father. However, he wasn't keen on women lawyers and even less so on paying law school tuition for his daughter. Teaching was the next best choice for Hislop who was inspired by her grandmother and aunt that were both teachers themselves. They instilled in Hislop that “if you’re part of the community, you help with the housekeeping. You have a responsibility to other people.”

She enrolled at Stanford in 1936 and received her bachelor's in education four years later. A year after that, she was nearly finished with her master's work, just having to submit a thesis. She never got to finish that thesis, but 83 years later, her son-in-law Doug Jensen found out the graduate program had done away with its thesis requirement. This meant Hislop had in fact finished her coursework, and all she had left to do was don a cap and gown. “My goodness,” Hislop has said, “I’ve waited a long time for this.”

105 year old Virginia Hislop was handed her diploma for a master's in education that she earned 83 years ago.

Photo: Charles Russo/Standford University

Despite having only just been awarded her master's, Hislop managed to forge a career in education. It's worth noting that even if she had received her degree, many school systems wouldn't have hired her as a married woman. Not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act were these “marriage bars” that allowed for schools to not hire wives, and even fire teachers who got married after hiring, completely done away with. Gender disparities may have put a hold on her career, but they led to her becoming a powerful advocate for all students.

When her daughter Anne entered ninth grade, the Yakima school she was attending was adamant young Anne take home economics instead of her preference, an advanced English class. Her mother didn't stand for this, and ended up joining the Yakima school board. “I felt that all the kids should have an opportunity to develop their potential as best they could, and that everybody should have a crack at higher education if they wanted,” said Hislop, who remained on the school board for 13 years.

She then worked with local and state legislators to have what was a junior college under the Yakima school district, become its own entity with its own board and budget. Because of her work and the Community College Act of 1967, Yakima Valley College is no longer just 13th and 14th grades. It now awards associates, bachelor’s as well as master’s degrees. Hislop went on to serve as board member of several other education and arts-focused organizations.

“I didn’t return to teaching, but I feel I put my teaching certificate to good use serving in committees and on boards and trying to improve the educational opportunities every chance I got,” Hislop posits. While you might think her master's is a perfect bookend to her impactful career, Hislop is still very much an active member of her community. Jensen agrees, “The biggest lesson I’ve taken from her is that you never really stop learning. She’s a voracious reader, and at 105 she’s still actively moving and shaking. No moss grows under her feet.”

Judging from the uproarious applause she received from the audience at commencement, she's still continuing to inspire.

105-year-old Virginia Hislop finally received her master's degree in education from Stanford University, 83 years later than she anticipated.

h/t: [Today]

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Elizabeth Beiser

Elizabeth Beiser is a Contributing Writer and Project Coordinator at My Modern Met. She has a background in American Cultural History with a special focus on Modern art and democratic community building. She received her B.A. in history, with a minor in Studio Arts, and her M.A. in history from the University of Rochester. She has worked on multiple political campaigns, as well as in non-profit operations and direct service. When she’s not writing, she’s experimenting with all varieties of arts and crafts. She also enjoys spending time with four-legged friends and exploring her hometown of Boston.
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