Did You Know? Alice in Wonderland Has a Columbia Degree!

In addition to falling down rabbit holes and talking to cats and caterpillars, Alice had other adventures, such as receiving an honorary degree from Columbia.

In May 1932, Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s famous tale, came to Columbia for a celebration marking the centenary of the authors birth. At 10, Hargreaves asked family friend Charles Dodgson (“Lewis Carroll was his pen name) to tell her a story and write it down. The tale he created about Alice’s fantastical experiences became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Although Dodgson died in 1898, the celebration of the anniversary of his birth brought more than 2,000 fans of his work to Columbia to watch Hargreaves receive her degree. The original manuscript was loaned to the school and was on exhibit during her visit.

Alice Pleasance Hargreaves

COURTESY COLUMBIA RARE BOOK & MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY

During the ceremony, President Nicholas Murray Butler (Class of 1882) presented Hargreaves (then 80) with the degree of doctor of letters. Butler thanked her for “awakening with her girlhood’s charm the ingenious fancy of a mathematician familiar with imaginary quantities, stirring him to reveal his complete understanding of the heart of a child as well as of the mind of a man and said she was key to “building a lasting bridge from the childhood of yesterday to the children of countless tomorrows.”

I feel very greatly, Hargreaves said in response to being presented the degree, “the signal honor which you have conferred upon me. I shall remember it and prize it all my life. I love to think that, however unworthy I am, perhaps Mr. Dodgson Lewis Carroll knows, and rejoices with me in this honor.

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