Margaret Haase: The business school’s “first lady”

The following is an archived profile of Margaret Haase Calhoun, Olin Business School’s first woman graduate (1920). The article was first published in Business School News in 1985. Margaret Haase Calhoun passed away Dec. 20, 1999, at the age of 102, at her St. Louis home. 

In 1918, when Margaret Haase entered the Business School and became its first female graduate two years later, the United States was just beginning its career as a world power, women could not vote, and Prohibition was just around the corner.

What was Washington University like during that Victorian age of innocence? “It was a street-car college,” recalls the former Margaret Haase, now Mrs. John W. Calhoun. “Most of the student body came by street-car—there were not many out-of-town students. Some faculty and out-of-town students lived in McMillan Hall where there were also sorority rooms. Ridgley housed the library on the first floor and the law school on the second.”

Mrs. Calhoun remembers Busch Hall, Francis Gym, Graham Chapel, Eads Hall—the art building by Skinker—and two men’s dormitories, one of which was Liggett Hall, remodeled into Prince Hall in 1961, present home of the Business School.

“Duncker Hall was about to be built,” says Mrs. Calhoun. (Duncker was the home of the Business School from 1924 to 1961). “There were great open spaces everywhere,” she continues. “The territory around the campus was very sparsely built.”

The Washington University campus in 1922.

The Washington University campus in 1922.

Although Mrs. Calhoun was the only woman enrolled in the School of Commerce and Finance’s first class, she did not feel out of place taking such courses as finance, economics, accounting, and business law. She did, though, feel a solidarity with other women University students. “I knew most of the women,” Mrs. Calhoun recalled, “and there were not nearly as many women as men. Our dream was to have a Women’s Building.”

For a young woman during the Victorian Age, Mrs. Calhoun possessed an exceptional sense of the importance of a college education. She believed that a degree in business was a necessity for her. The untimely death of both of her parents and the responsibilities of inheriting one third of the family food importing business—the A.C.L. Hasse Co.—made a business education essential. Although her brother Walter, who graduated from the Business School in 1921, took over the family business, Mrs. Calhoun later became one of the directors and worked with the company’s investment portfolio.

Photos from The Hatchet yearbook indicate that Margaret Haase (second row, second from right) participated in several activities and clubs while a student at Washington University. We found photos of her with her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta; as a member of the Women’s Council; and as a student athlete. According to her bio on the senior class page, she played hockey, basketball, baseball, and excelled at tennis as articles from Student Life attest she was champion of the singles and and doubles tournaments. She also won a swimming meet and participated in the Shotput. Among her other activities, Margaret served as Vice President of the Commerce Club.

Photos from The Hatchet yearbook indicate that Margaret Haase (second row, second from right) participated in several activities and clubs while a student, including Kappa Alpha Theta, the Women’s Council, and as a student athlete. According to her bio on the senior class page, she played hockey, basketball, baseball, and excelled at tennis. Among her other activities, Margaret served as Vice President of the Commerce Club.

“It is terrific to have women in business,” Mrs. Calhoun says. Four of her nieces have earned MBAs, three of those from Harvard, and Mrs. Calhoun believes it is “great they are trained to be self-sufficient.”

Mrs. Calhoun married soon after graduation and while attending to her responsibilities as a mother of three daughters, put her business skills to use doing productive community service. She served in various capacities with the Girl Scouts of Greater St. Louis including over three years as the president and later as the finance committee chairperson. A few years ago, she resigned as the only female board member of the state-appointed board of the Tower Grove Park Commission, having served 11 years. “I learned an awful lot about the problems in established organizations,” says Mrs. Calhoun. “I was lucky to have the leisure time to devote to them.”

In 1985 at the time of this interview, as an 88-year-old grandmother of eight, Mrs. Calhoun attributed her longevity and good health to the physical education that was emphasized during her years as a student. During her life she has been active in tennis and gardening.

Mrs. Calhoun’s response to both the changes in the world, and those at the University since her graduation in 1920, is: “What strides have been made in the interval!”

This article was originally published in Business School News, 1985.

Photos courtesy of WashU Archives.

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