Talk of zoology at Indiana University often turns to a scholar whose research shifted from gall wasps to human sexuality, shaking the world in the process. Decades before Alfred Kinsey began his groundbreaking work, however, the IU Department of Zoology became noteworthy for another reason—also related to sex and gender.
Having earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology, Effa Funk Muhse made history as IU’s first female Ph.D. when that same department awarded her the degree in 1908.
Born in Ohio in 1877, Effa Funk moved with her family to Hebron, Indiana, where she graduated from high school, attended Northern Indiana Normal College (now Valparaiso University) and went into public school teaching.
Marrying Albert Charles Muhse in 1899, the couple went on to pursue their respective studies at Bloomington. While Albert studied economics, Effa’s zoological work took her to Winona Lake, where, as a fellow at IU’s Biological Field Station, she taught embryology, histology and histogenesis.
Advisors Carl Eigenmann and Charles Zeleny signed off on Muhse’s doctoral dissertation, “The Cutaneous Glands of the Common Toad,” which was published in the American Journal of Anatomy in 1909.
The newly minted Ph.D. found teaching positions for married women to be scarce, though, and turned to the lecture circuit—speaking on topics from the Mendelian laws of heredity to rural sanitation to eugenics, which had a certain vogue among early twentieth-century academics.
Settling in Washington, D.C., Muhse became involved in the struggle for women’s suffrage, and became an organizer in the National Women’s Party around the nation.
The scientist directed the Biology Department of Chevy Chase Junior College from 1927 to 1948, substantially increasing the enrollment of young women in biology. Muhse remained a vocal feminist until her death in 1968.