BELOIT COLLEGE BECOMES COEDUCATIONAL
"...The culture of true manhood is best carried on in an atmosphere essentially masculine, as that of true womanhood is in an atmosphere essentially feminine."
-Aaron Lucius Chapin
(President of Beloit College 1849-1886), April 1872
"The sexes are born, live and should be educated together...Coeducation is founded in the structure, function and destiny of our being and no fiction or false sentimentalism can change the immutable logic of nature..."
-Student Opinion Round Table
October 27, 1875
Coeducation at Beloit was discussed on and off from the 1870s until 1895 but it did not receive serious consideration until about 1893. Because they were so late in the trend to become coeducational, Beloit College faculty and administration received pressure, in the form of criticism, from nearby coeducational institutions and others. Finally, after many heated debates and discussions, Beloit College opened its doors to women in the Fall of 1895. Everyone, from the Trustees to the students, had a strong opinion about which direction the college should go.
Dating back to the 1850s, the faculty had various opinions on the subject of coeducation. In 1856 they "[v]oted that the young ladies of the [Rockford Female] Seminary be allowed to attend the lectures on Chemistry...on the payment of one dollar each towards the expense of the course."26 Although the faculty allowed the young women to attend this course, it did not imply that they favored coeducation for Beloit College. President A.L. Chapin's remark in an address in 1872 about the proper "atmospheres" for men and women's education seemed congruent with the general consensus about women's education in the late nineteenth century. When Professor Joseph Emerson addressed the Rockford Female Seminary in June of 1876, he followed closely Chapin's earlier statement. Emerson referred to the future progress of the human race and women's role in the "higher, more gentle, more spiritual culture" of Americans. He explained his view on education for women:
The university for that culture is to be in the homes of America... Woman is the center of the home, and what shall be the education of the woman who is to preside in the homes that are to be? She need not be able to ... plead a case at law, like the man who flees from such things to his home...If in order that women may do their part in such education of adult as well as of child life, it is needful that liberal female education be more advanced in some directions than of men... Let neither be the limit of the other, but let each prepare each for the work of each.27
Professor Emerson's views made sense at the time, considering the very strong ties Beloit had with the Rockford Female Seminary run by Miss Anna Sill. She did not want coeducation at Beloit for several reasons mentioned in a letter to Professor Emerson from July of 1879:
I would advocate the measure [coeducation] if I did not see the evils that would be likely to come from it among which are an ambition for public life, like their classmates, and physical deterioration from overtaxed energies, etc...I believe in colleges for women... Women need the best kind of mental discipline, good physical strength and true heart culture, for home and social duties and benevolent work in this progressive age.28
Although she doesn't mention it in this letter, another concern Miss Sill may have had was the fear of competition. If Beloit became coeducational they would compete with Rockford Female Seminary for women in the surrounding areas of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Perhaps that competition would then force the seminary to open its doors to men to survive financially.
As time progressed the possibility of coeducation became harder and harder for the faculty and administration to ignore. In June of 1893 the Faculty decided that an Art Department was needed because it "[would] surely...afford the College an opportunity to extend its educational advantage to women which is nothing more than just since the College is so largely indebted to women for its buildings and endowments..." Later that year the Faculty decided "in regard to the admission of young women to the privileges of undergraduate instruction in Beloit college" that they could make no definite decision and so they left the matter entirely up to the Board of Trustees. By the Fall of 1893 coeducation was brought up continually in the Faculty Minutes and Reports of the Faculty to the Trustees.
In June of 1894 the Faculty reported to the Trustees their position on coeducation at Beloit:
...the institution would be stimulated and its membership largely increased, if next September women should be admitted quietly and without ado. The whole trend of education, especially in the West, is toward coeducation, in this region we are looked upon as educational outlaws, while we maintain our present attitude toward this question.
The Faculty admitted that the Beloit tradition of a "virile" education for men would be hard to change but "if there [were] women who [were] willing to work for this kind of education, who [would] prize it sufficiently to do a man's work to gain it, why not give them the chance?"29 And so the Faculty recommended the opening of the college to women.
The students of Beloit College had as many diverse opinions regarding coeducation as the Faculty and Administration. From the 1870s to the 1890s the students voiced their opinions in public debates and speeches as well as in campus publications, such as the school newspaper, The Round Table. One early reference to the subject of coeducation is from November 1873, in The Beloit College Monthly, which preceded The Round Table. The writer mentioned with pride that Beloit and Racine were the only two colleges in the West that had not admitted women. Then, in October 1875, a student professed that coeducation is 'natural'. By 1877 there was a substantial debate among the students regarding coeducation. The Round Table published an ongoing debate between two young men who signed their editorials as "A.B.C." and "X.Y.Z." This debate lasted from February until May of 1877. The student opposed to coeducation argued that coeducation at that time was no more than an experiment and that women's colleges provided an excellent opportunity for women's higher education. The student for coeducation refuted with arguments based on the issue of equal rights for equal education for men and women and reasoned that Beloit would prosper with a larger student body. Another student argued many of the same ideas in an editorial for the April 24, 1885 issue of The Round Table:
There is...an education in the meeting of the sexes which cannot be obtained from books or lectures, and that is social education....coeducation would benefit Beloit in another way...If we threw open our doors to both sexes...there would pour into our halls hundreds of young ladies who have long been desiring a thorough education and with them would come many young men who now, with their sisters, attend other institutions.
However, in the May 8,1885 issue of The Round Table a student opposed to coeducation wrote that a "...demand exist[ed] for schools like Beloit College and Rockford Seminary..." and if Beloit were to become coeducational, Rockford Seminary would also and the competition would be too great for either school to exist.
Beloit College alumni had mixed feelings toward the subject of coeducation. A poll taken by The Round Table staff published in June of 1883 shows a few of their varied opinions. Stanley E. Lathrop, from the class of 1867, wrote that he was "unanimously in favor of coeducation...It presents facts rather than imaginations." On the opposite side, A.C. Wright, from 1880, stated that although he thought highly of coeducation he did not see the need to "...do away with all our Beloits and Rockfords..." And of course there were those who adamantly opposed the breaking of Beloit's "manly" tradition, such as Ezra Valentine, '69, who flatly stated, "I do not favor coeducation."
Although student opinion at Beloit College was quite mixed with regard to coeducation, the one thing they all held in common seemed to be the belief that coeducation was only a topic for debate and not an actual possibility. In The Round Table from April 1892, a student reported that coeducation "is almost never mentioned by the students, except in jest, and, if it is ever seriously considered by the officers of the college, we never hear anything of it from them." He proceeded to mention that ridicule kept anyone who favored coeducation from speaking freely. So it appears the "popular" attitude was against coeducation.
Despite all that, coeducation came to Beloit. In 1894 The Round Table staff reported that they had heard from sources outside the college community that Beloit was considering admitting women in the fall of 1895. The editors were upset that the Trustees had not yet informed the students. President Edward Dwight Eaton, who served Beloit from 1886 to 1917, stated in June of 1894 that if it were up to him, he would "never, never, never let women come in" but he was willing if the Trustees wanted it. Six months later, in January 1895, he officially announced that Beloit College had decided to admit women the following fall. President Eaton was quoted in the Beloit Weekly Free Press as saying, "[t]his action was not taken because Beloit needed the young ladies, but because the Trustees realized that the young ladies...need just such an education as Beloit is furnishing'"30 However, this was only partially true. The actual reasoning behind the decision to admit women was based largely on financial reasons among others.
The Faculty Minutes of January 1894 record that the Trustees were considering coeducation as a remedy to the college's financial difficulty. Another factor pressing the Trustees in the direction of coeducation was the criticism the college received from other coeducational institutions regarding Beloit's stance on the subject. Beloit was in no way a leader in coeducation movement. In fact, their embarrassment for being so far behind the times seems to have been one reason for the Trustees ultimate decision. So, coeducation came to Beloit College. The Faculty had given their full support for coeducation in June of 1894. The students were mixed in their opinions but there seemed to be a general feeling of resignation once the final decision was made. In January of 1895 a student wrote in The Round Table:
It has come. Beloit College will be coeducational...That threatening cloud which has been hanging over the College for the last four years with anguishing uncertainty has at last broken with full force, and to nearly every one of the college students has brought not only distrust and disgust also discouragement. The old college which most of the students have learned to love...has sold its birth-right and given up its precious tradition and character for a mere mess of pottage - a few more students and a little more money.
It was this environment that the first women students at Beloit walked into in the Fall of 1895.