Dawes was first female Blackburn graduate
By Tom Emery
CARLINVILLE (Jan. 11, 2018) – On June 9, 1870, the first graduating class in Blackburn College history received their diplomas in a ceremony at the newly-opened Macoupin County courthouse. The initial class was comprised of six men and one woman, whose life is a story all its own.
Orlena Dawes was the first-ever female graduate of Blackburn, and clearly a lady who was ahead of her time. In her long life, she became an active member of Springfield society while never losing touch with her Blackburn roots.
It is not believed that she is related to Edward Dawes, the namesake of Dawes Gymnasium, which opened in 1938.
Born near Carlinville on July 20, 1851, Dawes was the daughter of Joseph and Margaret Dawes, who had moved to the Carlinville area from Washington, D.C., around 1844. Joseph later became the president of the Macoupin County Agricultural and Mechanical Association. He died on Dec. 28, 1861, on his farm one mile north of Carlinville. Margaret died on Nov. 13, 1893.
As part of that first commencement at Blackburn, all seven graduates presented a literary exercise, and Orlena read her essay, “Shapes That Shadows Wear.”
On Nov. 16, 1872, she married Nicholas Dubois, who was a member of Blackburn’s second graduating class in 1871. The son of a prominent Carlinville banker, Nicholas was a Civil War veteran and active force in the creation of the Carlinville Library Association.
In 1875, the couple settled in Springfield, where Nicholas successively supervised a manufacturer of agricultural implements, worked in banking, and started a business in accounting, bookkeeping, and mapmaking. Later in life, he enjoyed substantial success as a patent attorney.
Orlena, meanwhile, became involved in many causes in Springfield. An active member of the Methodist Church, “Orrie,” as she was known, was a charter member of the Springfield Woman’s Club and president of the Women’s Home Missionary Society. She also served on the board of the Springfield Art Association.
She also made frequent trips home to Carlinville, visiting family and friends, and was one of four members of the class of 1870 to attend the 50th Blackburn commencement in 1920.
Nicholas died on Dec. 6, 1933, and Orlena remained in the family home at 327 South Glenwood Avenue in Springfield. She died there at the age of 89 just after 12:30 a.m. on March 23, 1941, survived by her two adult children.
Orlena Dawes Dubois is buried next to her husband in Carlinville City Cemetery, under a nondescript headstone.
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville. He may be reached at (217) 710-8392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.