The 1990s mark two important milestones in the history of Beloit College. A great deal of publicity is currently being generated about the approaching celebration in 1996-1997 of the sesquicentennial anniversary of Beloit College's founding. Perhaps it is less well known that 1995 will commemorate the centennial anniversary of another important event in Beloit's long history.
In 1895, Beloit College began to admit women as degree candidates after forty-eight years of operation in southern Wisconsin. The trend toward coeducation had been underway since the 1830s and 1840s with a number of universities and colleges in the Midwest. Nevertheless, the decision to accept coeducation at Beloit still divided the administration, faculty, and students at the end of the nineteenth century. The women who were students at Beloit during the first decade of coeducation, however, silenced many a critic by their achievements. They left a legacy of academic excellence and leadership which continues to affect women and men at Beloit in the 1990s.
Liz Renner's "Hail to the Conquering Coed" begins with the debate at Beloit College about coeducation and the final decision to admit women. The study also examines the academic challenges and successes of the women who were enrolled as students during this first decade, as well as their extracurricular activities and social environment. The publication of this study is a timely addition to the Beloit College Archives series on college history edited by Fred Burwell. The coeducation project began in 1991 as a cooperative effort between the History department and the Archives. Mr. Burwell, the college Archivist, was anxious to have students and faculty make use of the materials housed in the Archives, while it was my hope that students would develop a greater interest in women's history at Beloit. Together we envisioned two stages to this project.
The first stage involved a broad sweep of research to be carried out in my class, "Social History of American Women" during the Fall semester of 1991. Divided into five groups, students examined background materials on the nineteenth century coeducation movement in the United States, Beloit and Rockford female seminaries, the debate over coeducation at Beloit and its resolution, the first class of women at Beloit, and an over-all assessment of the first decade of coeducation. Students combed through files and college publications found in the Archives, as well as modern critical sources on women's history, coeducation, and societal values of late 19th and early 20th century America. They braved many obstacles and inconveniences that semester including the noise and dust of library renovations and even the movement of archival materials from one building to another. Their results were most impressive. The efforts of Jacqueline Dioguardi, Terina Hill, Sumi Kamada, Monika Langner, Vanessa MacCallum, Hiroko Maekawa, Paul Mateja, Betsy Phinney, Liz Renner, Erin Shepherd, Yulia Shilkina, Hiromi Tokui, Holly Vaughan Williams, Henry Zacchini, and Kate Ziegelmaier deserve special thanks for giving this project such a strong foundation.
The second stage involved analysis of the raw data, additional research on selected categories, and the compilation of a booklet by a student covering the first decade of coeducation at Beloit. This stage of the project required the analytical and writing skills of an advanced student. Liz Renner, a History major from the Class of 1992, was the perfect choice. She is the co-recipient of the 1992 Sereno Taylor Merrill prize for excellence in History. Ms. Renner clearly had the talent and the commitment to make this project a success. Not only did Liz enroll in the Fall 1991 women's history class so that she would have sufficient background for the project but she also took on a rigorous year-long "special project" course with me in order to expand the raw data and organize the booklet. "Hail to the Conquering Coed" is an outstanding example of student research. Liz Renner's study of the first women at Beloit College presents an important look at many aspects of their campus life between 1895 and 1905. In this decade of anniversaries recognizing both the centennial of coeducation and the sesquicentennial of the college's founding, "Hail to the Conquering Coed" is a fitting tribute not only to the efforts of Beloit's first women but also to the enduring tradition of scholarly achievement which has motivated generations of Beloit College students.
Anita M. Andrew
Visiting Assistant Professor of History