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Women at Northwestern: History of Coeducation at Northwestern

History of Coeducation at Northwestern

Written by Janet Olson

By the mid-1860s, after the Civil War, American women began to seek and gain access to higher education, and in the Midwest, newer schools, especially the public universities that would become the Big 10, and Methodist and other denominational schools, admitted women. Partly, they wanted to train women for teaching, they did not already have the tradition of single-sex schools—high-school level female academies and eventually women’s colleges-- prevalent on the east coast, and they did not want the expense of separate schools.

In Evanston, there had been an institution for women’s education, the North-Western Female College, since 1855—the same year the University opened. But it was a female academy, offering a certificate but not a bachelor’s degree, and was totally unaffiliated with NU, despite the similar name.

By 1869, NU’s newly elected president, some trustees, and a group of Evanston women all supported access to college-level education for women. But initially all were leaning toward a coordinate model, with the establishment of the new Evanston College for Ladies under a separate (all-women) administration, rather than full inclusion in the University. This model would offer women full access to University classes while still providing the separate supervision, under a woman president, that NU faculty and the parents of women students preferred. The new College opened in 1871, but two unforeseen circumstances intervened. First, the Great Fire in Chicago in October, 1871, destroyed the businesses of men who had pledged money to finance the Evanston College for Ladies. Then, the following year, a new President came to Northwestern—a man who strongly advocated women’s education but did not want the separate administrative structure of a coordinate school. In 1873 the Evanston College for Ladies was absorbed into the university and its president became NU’s first Dean of Women.


Sarah Rebecca Roland was the first woman to graduate from Northwestern, in 1874, and was followed by many more women graduates. But the interpretation of coeducation fluctuated, depending on the temper of the times and the views of subsequent presidents, trustees, and alumni groups—as to where women fit in both in terms of academics but most particularly in extra-curricular activities, housing, athletics, etc.

NU’s Deans of Women continued to deal with parental expectations, societal norms, and the sense that women needed to meet higher behavioral standards than men. Women soon showed that they could meet and exceed men’s academic standards. Women themselves enforced their own set of rules, with a Woman’s League and later a Women’s Self-governance Association (similar to other co-ed colleges). At Northwestern, as was the case at every men’s college that decided to admit women, “coeducation” came to mean a campus that included both men and “coeds,” not that women were the equals of men students.

By the mid-1970s things had changed: there was no longer a dean of women, the Women’s Self-Government Association had disbanded, Title IX had opened the door to women’s varsity sports, and women had begun to fill seats in the labs of the Technological Institute. No longer used to differentiate men students from women students in regard to ability or need for protection, the term “coed” could finally resume its original meaning: now terms such as “coed dorms” identify aspects of campus life where men and women mix as equals.

By the mid-1860s, after the Civil War, American women began to seek and gain access to higher education, and in the Midwest, newer schools, especially the public universities that would become the Big 10, and Methodist and other denominational schools, admitted women. Partly, they wanted to train women for teaching, they did not already have the tradition of single-sex schools—high-school level female academies and eventually women’s colleges-- prevalent on the east coast, and they did not want the expense of separate schools.

In Evanston, there had been an institution for women’s education, the North-Western Female College, since 1855—the same year the University opened. But it was a female academy, offering a certificate but not a bachelor’s degree, and was totally unaffiliated with NU, despite the similar name.

Woman's College of Northwestern, former Evanston College for Ladies, circa 1878By 1869, NU’s newly elected president (Erastus Haven), some trustees, and a group of Evanston women all supported access to college-level education for women. But initially all were leaning toward a coordinate model, with the establishment of the new Evanston College for Ladies under a separate (all-women) administration, rather than full inclusion in the University. This model would offer women full access to University classes while still providing the separate supervision, under a woman president, that NU faculty and the parents of women students preferred. The new College opened in 1871, with Frances Willard as President, but two unforeseen circumstances intervened. First, the Great Fire in Chicago in October, 1871, destroyed the businesses of men who had pledged money to finance the Evanston College for Ladies. Then, the following year, a new President came to Northwestern—a man who strongly advocated women’s education but did not want the separate administrative structure of a coordinate school. In 1873 the Evanston College for Ladies was absorbed into the university and Frances Willard became NU’s first Dean of Women.

Sarah Rebecca Roland was the first woman to graduate from Northwestern, in 1874, and was followed by many more women graduates. But the interpretation of coeducation fluctuated, depending on the temper of the times and the views of subsequent presidents, trustees, and alumni groups—as to where women fit in both in terms of academics but most particularly in extra-curricular activities, housing, athletics, etc.

NU’s Deans of Women continued to deal with parental expectations, societal norms, and the sense that women needed to meet higher behavioral standards than men. Women soon showed that they could meet and exceed men’s academic standards. Women themselves enforced their own set of rules, with a Woman’s League and later a Women’s Self-governance Association (similar to other co-ed colleges). At Northwestern, as was the case at every men’s college that decided to admit women, “coeducation” came to mean a campus that included both men and “coeds,” not that women were the equals of men students.

By the mid-1970s things had changed: there was no longer a dean of women, the Women’s Self-Government Association had disbanded, Title IX had opened the door to women’s varsity sports, and women had begun to fill seats in the labs of the Technological Institute. No longer used to differentiate men students from women students in regard to ability or need for protection, the term “coed” could finally resume its original meaning: now terms such as “coed dorms” identify aspects of campus life where men and women mix as equals.

Coeducation at Northwestern Timeline

Year

Mo/Day

Event

1850

May 31

First Board of Trustees (BOT) Meeting 

1851

Jan 28

Northwestern University (NU) chartered by the State of Illinois

1853

Oct 25

Foster Farm (379 acres) purchased as the site for NU

1853

Dec 26

Garrett Biblical Institute founded after the death & bequest of Eliza Garrett

1855

Jan 1

Garrett Biblical Institute opens (4 students, 3 faculty)

1855

Feb 14

NU charters first Amendment, no liquor within 4 miles of campus

1855  

Nov 5

NU opens as a men's college

1855  

Oct

North-Western Female College opens

1868

 

Evanston College for Ladies chartered

1869

June 23

E.O. Haven accepts NU presidency, NU BOT passes a resolution to admit women

1869  

Sept 8

NU President E.O. Haven inauguration 

1869 

Fall

1st woman to enroll, Rebecca Hoag

1869

 

Evanston College for Ladies founded

1870  

Fall

[Sarah] Rebecca Roland matriculates at NU

1870

Jan 11

According to Faculty Minutes, faculty & Haven authorize Miss Yaples to study in the Freshman Class (Scientific Course)

1870

June 21

BOT agree to Evanston College for Ladies (ECL) proposal that ECL be considered a Department of NU once its building is built; NU will also help ECL raise $50,000 for the building and school

1871

Feb or April

Frances Willard elected President of Evanston College for Ladies

1871

 

16th and final commencement, Northwestern Female College –an act of transfer of NWFC to ECL

1871  

July 4

Woman’s 4th of July to raise money for Evanston College for Ladies; cornerstone laid

1871

Oct 9

Chicago Fire

1872

Jan

Women admitted to Adelphic Society (Literary Society)

1872

 

First-term of ECL completed

1872

June 25

First Commencement of ECL 

1872 

Oct

College Cottage established by WEAA, funded by Messrs Huse and Hitt; later funding from Dr. Daniel K. Pearsons (brother of John Alonzo Pearsons). 

1873  

June 24

Evanston College for Ladies becomes Woman’s College of NU (Frances Willard, 1stDean of Women). 

1874  

June

[Sarah] Rebecca Roland  FIRST WOMAN GRADUATE

1874

July & Sept 29

Faculty exclude women from men’s literary societies (in Oct members asked Faculty to reconsider July decision; Faculty said no)

1874

 

Women form Ossoli Literary Society

1890

Jan 1

Students' Christian Association (coed) divides the organization a Y. M. C. A. and a Y. W. C. A.

1891

June

Women admitted to Phi Beta Kappa (est 1890 at NU)

1892

 

A new wing added to Woman’s Hall (60 additional rooms), funded by William Deering

1892

 

NU acquires Women’s Medical College

1896

April 9

The first issue of “Woman’s Edition” published in the Northwestern

1901

 

Chapin Hall built for WEAA by Dr. DK Pearsons 

1901

 

College Cottage renamed Pearsons Hall in honor of Mrs. John Alonzo Pearson

1901

 

Woman’s Hall renamed Willard Hall (women’s dorm)

1902

 

NU President James questions value of coeducation

1902

 

NU drops Women’s Medical College

1906

 

Women’s League formed for self-governance

1913

 

Women’s Athletics Association formed

1916

 

Associate Alumnae (now Alumnae of NU) formed

1920

 

The 19th Amendment is ratified (women have the right to vote)

~1922

 

Women’s Self Government Association–mandatory membership for undergraduate women (Note: National Inter-Collegiate Association of Women Students in Co-Ed Institutions [IAWS] established)

~1926

 

Women admitted to NU Medical School 

1926  

June 12

Groundbreaking for “Women’s Campus” (Quads) (sororities)

1928

 

Hobart and Rogers Houses (open dorms) added to Quads

1929

 

First joint WAA/Men's Union revue

1929

 

Exec Committee of the President reports on the advisability of segregated (male/female) classes

1938

 

Willard Hall, a dormitory for freshman women, opens

1939

 

Read & Be Right first published by AWS

1943

 

NU establishes Home Ec Dept & Major

1950

 

AWS replaces WSGA

1967

Nov

Women vote to dissolve the AWS & self-governance

1969 

 

Eva Jefferson elected 1stwoman president of NU student Government(also 1st African American President)

1969

 

An ad-hoc committee of faculty and graduate women formed to study the status of women at NU 

1969

 

Patsy Thrash (final Dean of Women, since 1960) becomes Associate Dean of Students 

1973

 

Home Ec Department eliminated 

1975

Sept

Title IX woman’s athletics program begins at NU

1976

 

Women’s Studies Res College established in Allison Hall

1980

 

Women’s Studies certificate program is initiated at WCAS

1981

Feb

Organization of Women Faculty (OWF) established by a unanimous vote of more than thirty Northwestern University women faculty. 

1982

 

Women’s Studies Res College moves to Hobart House

1986

 

Women’s Center established

1993

 

Women’s Studies Res College renamed Women’s Res College

~1994

 

Women’s Studies becomes a Major in WCAS

2000

 

Women’s Studies renamed Gender Studies

2012

 

Gender Studies renamed Gender & Sexuality Studies