Mary Estella Sprague (1870–1940) was the first woman to serve as the dean of an academic department at UConn. She oversaw the Division of Home Economics from 1920 to 1926.
Educated at Bridgewater State Normal School and Simmons College in Massachusetts, Sprague taught in public schools for more than 20 years before becoming house director and teacher of home economics at Caroline Rest, a home for new mothers in upstate New York. In 1914, Sprague became the first woman to work for the UConn Extension Service. Hired as the assistant organizer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Connecticut, she became professor of home economics and dean of women in 1917 and the first dean of the Division of Home Economics in 1920. Under her leadership, women composed nearly 26% of UConn’s student population in 1925 and 31% in 1930, up from only 19% in 1920. Dean Sprague retired in 1926.
During World War I, Sprague served as state director of home economics for the U.S. Food Administration. From June 1917 through 1918, she helped lead a statewide campaign to bolster food production and conservation on the home front in support of the war effort. As UConn’s trustees observed, this job required “a woman of broad vision and forceful personality who knew Connecticut people.” Sprague, they said, “more than met these requirements.”
Built in 1942, the M. Estella Sprague Residence Hall in Storrs was named in her honor.
By Michael Rodriguez
photo from university archives & Special collections