One of three early professors at the University of Colorado, Mary Rippon taught from 1878 until her retirement in 1909. At a time when female teachers were practically unknown at state universities, Miss Rippon served with distinction.
At the time, Victorian customs did not permit a professional woman to marry. Rippon dedicated herself to teaching German language and literature, shunning marriage for the quiet, scholarly life of a female professor; or so it appeared. In fact, she fell in love with one of her students, Mr.Will Housel. She arranged for a sabbatical in Germany and met Will in St. Louis before she left the country. There, they secretly married and Mary later gave birth to their daughter, Miriam Edna Housel, in Stuttgart, Germany.
At the end of her sabbatical, “Miss” Rippon returned to Boulder to teach, presumably leaving Miriam with foster parents or in an orphanage in Germany. She did keep her marriage secret, and by doing so kept her position at the university and in the community. However, she was unable live with her husband or to raise her only daughter. Rippon and Will eventually divorced, Will remarried, and he and his new wife raised Miriam. Miriam was raised with the belief that Mary was her aunt.
Throughout her life Mary carefully guarded her secret, only telling one or two very close friends. After 31 productive years at U of C (now known as the University of Colorado Boulder), she resigned in 1909 amid great acclaim but “in ill health.” Her daughter, Miriam, also taught foreign languages at U of C. The two ultimately built a close relationship. When Mary Rippon died in 1935 her obituary listed Miriam as her “closest friend.”
Mary Rippon received an honorary doctorate from CU in 2006.