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Part Five


The First Women Graduates of Beloit College

The class of '98 was the first to graduate women. At present the college boasts of sixty-five alumni. Though the years have been but few they are already scattered over a wide expanse of territory. Some are in the far East, some in the West, while one is in India and another in the Philippine Islands. Many are engaged in making their own homes happy, others have gone on acquiring knowledge, but the greater majority, forty in number, are teaching."
          -The Round Table, March 25, 1904

There is no doubt that the first women students at Beloit College were courageous. But, their "pioneer" status was not confined to the collegiate arena. After graduation these and many other women had to decide what to do with their education. Because during college women were taught to be useful as well as womanly, they faced a dilemma later on. Expected to fulfill their womanly duties of marriage and childbearing, the option to pursue both a career and marriage was not open to them. Options for single women differed from those of married women because a wife was traditionally expected to stay at home, whereas the single woman had the freedom to pursue a career. The ideal of domesticity was the tradition that mandated that a woman's place is in the home, even for an educated woman. This reality tended to affect their choices with regard to marriage. According to Helen Olin's book, The Women of a State University, published in 1909, it appeared "from record that about one-third of all the women graduates who [married made] the acquaintance leading to that result in college."106 In addition, many educated women married later, if they chose to marry at all. "Some single women said that they did not rule out marriage as a deliberate decision, but that it never happened. Others rejected offers of marriage, committing themselves to careers."107

The careers open to women during the Progressive Era had a lot in common. They were mainly nurturing, maternal types of work such as nursing, teaching, library work, or social work. Because of the near monopoly women had on these occupations they became feminized occupations and subsequently became devalued, receiving less pay and less respect than the more prestigious occupations reserved for men.108

Many Beloit female graduates planned to have careers in teaching. According to a report from The Round Table in March of 1904, forty out of sixty-five female alumni were teaching. Miss Laura Dixon, class of 1903, after spending some time doing settlement work, went back into teaching again and took the position of principal of a high school in Minnesota.109 Grace Edwards of the same class became an English teacher; Helen Goodrich,'05, a math teacher; Althea Sprague, '05, a Latin and English teacher, and the list goes on and on. Schoolteaching had little status for women when they entered the profession in the early nineteenth century because it was often the profession of men who had no other alternatives. Very slowly women were accepted in the field and women in the Northeast turned teaching into a women's field. "Only rarely did females receive even half of what their male counterparts earned; usually women's series approximated one-third of men's."110 Even though the wages were low, they made a difference, whether used to help out the family, for personal expenses, or saved for more education.

There were a few female Beloiters who attended graduate schools in those early years. Anna Pratt, class of 1900, attended a graduate program in literature at the University of Chicago. Daisy Buckeridge, class of 1901, studied medicine at Hahnemann College in Chicago. Jessie Short, '00, completed work for a Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of Chicago. And, Margery Wilder, '05, was a graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1914.

Though not as common as teaching, several Beloit women entered the missionary field. Cecelia Johnson, '06, one Beloit missionary, wrote back to the college in 1912 telling of her experiences in Burma, where she taught English, ran a girl's dormitory and a weekly children's meeting. In her letter she mentioned that she and her co-workers were very happy because "sixty of our boys and girls have confessed Christ in baptism."111 Genevieve Davis, the woman who was recorded in the 1895 registry as the first woman to enter Beloit College, also entered the missionary field after graduation. Genevieve Davis only attended Beloit for one year, her junior year; then went back to Oberlin College to graduate in 1897. In that one year at Beloit she managed to meet the man she would later marry. For five years Genevieve taught in an academy in Weiser, Idaho. In 1902 she married Charles B. Olds who had spent the past five years training for missionary work. One year after they married, they received an appointment to do evangelical work in Japan. They spent the next thirty-six years there. Upon her death in 1939 her husband wrote a small book in her remembrance, in which he wrote:

Home to her - Mother Genevieve - was the most precious thing on earth. Everything centered there....And yet her hungry heart was not satisfied in the devotion that she poured out in order to make her own home the best place on earth...112

What Genevieve did to satisfy her "hungry heart" was to become a specialist in the field of sex education, which was a taboo subject in those days. She traveled all over Japan speaking on this subject. In the year 1938 alone, she made over sixty addresses and spoke to over 6,000 people.113 While her husband was busy preaching she created for herself a viable, independent career.

Kathryn Adams, ex-'99, was another alumnae who had an interesting career. She spent four years, 1909-1913, as Dean of Women at Beloit. After a year of traveling she took the position of Dean of Women at Yankton College in Yankton, South Dakota. She then took a position in 1921 at Constantinople Women's College in Constantinople, Turkey, where three years later she was inaugurated as president.

The first marriage of two Beloit graduates was recorded in September, 1899. Charles D. Rosa and Grace Chamberlin, both of the class of 1898, were married on the seventeenth of September, 1899. President Eaton performed the ceremony and "just before the knot was tied President Eaton remarked that he was about to do what neither he nor any other man had ever done before - marry two graduates of Beloit."114

Finally, in June of 1904 The Round Table reported the founding of the Daughters of Beloit. The alumnae of the college founded this organization in order to keep track of the various activities of the women graduates as their numbers increased. The Daughters of Beloit met routinely throughout the years and arranged gatherings for the female alumnae. This group served as a source of support for the women graduates of Beloit College.