Banner Image

INTRODUCTION

Beloit College was founded in 1846 with the mission to provide a solid education for young men. In 1895 the administration extended this opportunity to young women as well. By the time Beloit College opened its doors to women several colleges and universities had already become coeducational. Beloit was in the rear of the coeducational movement which spread across the country between the 1850s and 1890s. In analyzing the coming of coeducation to Beloit College and the first decade after, I deliberately portray a picture of Beloit within the larger context of the coeducational movement.

The years 1895 to 1905 also fell during the Progressive era, a time of much social reform, which lasted from the 1890s to the 1920s. Though characterized in many ways, historian Lynn Gordon sums up the Progressive era as a time in which optimism and energy pervaded middle-class America. One must also be aware of the dominant ideology of "separate spheres" for men and women at the end of the nineteenth century. Stressing the belief that domesticity and the home were for women while business and public life were for men, this ideology not only hindered women's ability to enter colleges for men but also determined what activities and behaviors they participated in once they were admitted.

My study will examine the political and social aspects of the first decade of coeducation at Beloit College. Part One provides a brief historical sketch of women's education in America. Part Two explains the process by which Beloit College became coeducational. Part Three discusses the academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and social life of women during their first year at Beloit. Part Four analyzes the impact of coeducation from 1896-1905. The presence of women as students necessitated the hiring of female faculty and the creation of appropriate housing. Coeducation also had an impact on college sports, literary societies, and music. Finally, Part Five assesses life after Beloit for the first women graduates.

I first became involved in the coeducation project last summer when Kari Siegel happened to mention that Fred Burwell, the Archivist, wanted someone to research the entrance of women into Beloit College. The topic interested me and when I talked to Fred Burwell I became more and more excited. I had no idea how time-consuming this would be. In the Fall of 1991, I was enrolled in Professor Anita Andrew's "Social History of American Women" class. The class helped collect large portions of the information for the project and this saved me many months of digging through the Archives on my own. What proved most difficult for me was that I sincerely wanted to write about the first women to attend Beloit College from their own point of view, using their own words. Unfortunately, very little in the way of direct statements by the women exists in the Archives. So, I was resigned to reading about much of what happened to the women as told by the male students in The Round Table (campus newspaper) or The Codex (campus yearbook). I also searched through letters of Presidents Chapin and Eaton, Faculty and Trustees, Trustee and Faculty Minutes, and numerous other archival sources such as old catalogues and The Beloit Alumnus. I also sent out letters to relatives of the first women graduates and I received responses from Mrs. John Wycoff, Mrs. Eleanor LaVoo, Mr. John N. Hughes, and Mr. H. Dudley Porter which helped greatly. I tried to imagine what the women may have thought or felt or said by applying what I knew about women's status and roles at the turn of the century. Secondary sources such as Barbara Miller Solomon's, In the Company of Educated Women and Lynn Gordon's, Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era on women's education and status in the nineteenth century helped in that respect. Unfortunately, dreams of finding a batch of letters from one of the first women graduates never came true. Maybe after this booklet is published, some relative of one of these women will remember an old dusty box with some letters once thought useless. Their search may bring to light a letter addressed to mother and father describing the horrors or delights of that first year of coeducation at Beloit College in 1895.

Finally, I would like to thank those who were vital to the success of this booklet. First, thanks to Fred Burwell for giving me the opportunity to write and research this subject. His time-consuming editing and searching for information helped more than I can say. Second, I would like to thank Professor Anita Andrew for her critical, insightful and very helpful comments. Her guidance led me from student to historian. Next, thanks to everyone in the Women's History class (Fall '91) for all their research. To Karen Neuendorf for her oversight of the production and design of this publication. Also thanks to Tom Truesdell for lending me several books that were essential for preparing this booklet. Finally, I want to thank Kari Siegel, who was working on another booklet at the same time. I don't know where I'd be without her inspirational pep talks.