Filed Under Education

Dr. Miriam Urban Taught European History to Generations

Long-time Avondale Resident Dr. Miriam Urban spent four decades as a pioneering woman faculty member in the Department of History at the University of Cincinnati. Originally from Piqua, Urban’s large family moved to Cincinnati in the early twentieth century. They first settled on Forest Avenue, and later moved to a spacious Colonial Revival home on Avonale’s Burton Avenue.

Miriam Belle Urbansky (changed to Urban around 1920) was born in Piqua, Ohio, the youngest of twelve children of Prussian immigrants Rachel (Henry) and David Urbansky. Her father served the Union Army in the 58th Ohio volunteer infantry and is one of only six known Jewish soldiers decorated in the Civil War, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, for gallantry at Shiloh and Vicksburg. He died after a long illness in 1897. Miriam graduated from Piqua High School in 1905, then moved to Cincinnati with her family.

After the move, Urban first studied music at Metropolitan College of Music, earning a degree in 1910. She had a deep love of music and continued to teach music, lead musical groups, and perform throughout her life. Miriam Urban’s enrollment in the University of Cincinnati in 1911 was the beginning of forty years as a learner and educator there. After receiving a bachelor's in history in 1915 and master’s in history in 1917, Urban briefly left UC to pursue her doctorate from Columbia University, but returned to teach in 1920. Specializing in European history and world affairs, Miriam Urban served UC from 1920 to 1953 and became the first woman to earn the rank of full professor of history in 1944–a feat not repeated until Barbara Ramusack earned full professor of history thirty-five years later, and only six times since then. One of few women faculty members at UC, Dr. Urban fought against sexism and pay inequities to establish herself as a premier scholar of European history. She gave frequent public talks, especially to Jewish and women’s organizations, and worked to make tempestuous world affairs relevant to her fellow Cincinatians. Dr. Urban’s courses and public lectures were extremely popular and she was remembered by one of her former students, UC president Henry Winkler, as “beautiful when the excitement of some issue in the historical record shone in her eyes and rang in her voice” and “one of the best undergraduate teachers I have ever encountered.” She dedicated her life to teaching.

Like Miriam, several of her brothers and sisters remained unmarried throughout their lives. These single siblings lived together with their mother in Avondale, residing first at 227, then at 431 Forest Avenue (now demolished). They moved to a spacious Colonial Revival home at 1005 Burton Avenue after their mother’s death in 1925.

Though Urban chose a career over marriage, she lived surrounded by her many siblings and the support of Avondale’s vibrant Jewish community. Her brothers Benjamin and Saul worked together managing a shoe factory while sister Bertha taught at nearby Avondale School. When her brother Benjamin died, the family sold the house on Burton in 1940, Miriam moved into the Clermont Flats at 1404 East McMillan in East Walnut Hills.

In November of 1950, Jewish historian, Jacob Raider Marcus, wrote a recommendation letter to the Fullbright selection committee describing Dr. Miriam Urban as, “probably the best historian in the Cincinnati community,” “widely sought after as a speaker,” and “widely conceded to be the most popular lecturer in the social sciences on the university campus.” He wrote that Urban had “a wide and intimate knowledge of current affairs and [was] well versed on almost all questions dealing with foreign policy… a vibrant, dynamic personality and…a great deal of charm.” She got that Fulbright, spent a year in Europe and returned to retire from UC in 1954 when she moved to California with several of her siblings and lived another twenty-three years. When She died in 1977, Miriam Urban left more than $100,000 to the University of Cincinnati’s library to purchase books on the history of Europe. She is buried with her family in the Walnut Hills Jewish Cemetery.

Documents

NameInfoActions
Image of Miriam in the UC Emeritaepdf / 2.48 MBDownload
Image or Miriam from 1943pdf / 852.51 kBDownload

Location

1005 Burton Avenue

Metadata

Anne Delano Steinert, “Dr. Miriam Urban Taught European History to Generations,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed June 15, 2024, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/216.