This booklet outlines only one portion of the history of women at Beloit College. The first years of coeducation at Beloit coincided with the spirit of reform sweeping across many parts of the United States during the Progressive Era. This time period, 1895-1905, was one of the most important decades in Beloit College history. Coeducation became part of the college's identity and mission. The advances the women made in that first decade of coeducation were the foundation for all of the future work of women at Beloit. The clubs the first women organized, the relationships they formed, and the academic accomplishments they achieved would set a standard by which later generations of Beloit women could measure their own successes.
Within the first year of coeducation, the women proved themselves intellectually equal to the men at the college. The fears that opponents to coeducation at Beloit had about women supposedly lowering the academic standards were dispelled soon after the women arrived on campus. Grace Chamberlain Rosa's recollection of President Eaton's request that the women not study so hard summarizes their discipline and dedication to academic excellence.
The intellectual and organizational skills of the first women at Beloit College are evident in their wide-ranging extracurricular activities including the Young Women's Christian Association, the Shakespeare Society, and the Aristonian Society. They proved over and over again that they were serious students in and out of the classroom. Their desire to learn was not limited to the readings and examinations of their college courses. The women also hoped to apply their knowledge to a variety of settings during their student years. The Y.W.C.A. enabled them to further their understanding of shared religious beliefs and also provided an opportunity for these young women to learn about the less fortunate in the world and how they could make a difference. The Shakespeare Society became an outlet for the women to read and discuss Shakespeare's works. They also performed portions of his plays for others in the college community. This was an entertaining and creative use of their education.
Beloit College was transformed in many areas by the coming of coeducation. Some of the most obvious changes came in the social environment. The campus seemed to become a more "social" place due to the influence of the female students. The Round Table reported more parties, expeditions and other social gatherings after 1895. Most importantly, students seemed to look at their collegiate situation in a new light.
Yet the women faced many obstacles during the first decade. Traditions and rules often made it difficult for the women to enter into all the areas of extracurricular life that interested them. When they felt their needs weren't being met, they created outlets of their own to meet these needs. An example of this was their attempt to start their own newspaper, The Aristonian. The newspaper's existence was short-lived but it represented a step toward independence and self-sufficiency for these women at Beloit. They also created Theta Pi Gamma sorority, a sisterhood that may have been a strong source of emotional support for the women who were immersed in a traditionally male atmosphere.
Everything the first female students at Beloit did was a "first." These women were pioneers. Their accomplishments and even their mistakes were important because everything they attempted to do was a risk. The chances they took during this crucial decade enabled Beloit's female students of the future to have greater opportunities to display their own talents as scholars, athletes, and student leaders.