“First experiment in coeducation”

With continuing interest in the “first experiment in coeducation” at Wesleyan, it seems timely to point out some of the resources available.  Wait, didn’t you know Wesleyan was coed for forty years between 1872 and 1912? You may want to look into this yourself.

Special Collections & Archives, and Olin Library at large, have some of the best resources to answer questions about the reasons coeducation was undertaken at the all-male school and reasons it was not continued—and what the experience was.

Where to start? You may want to get an overview of the topic by looking at Louise W. Knight’s 1972 Honors Thesis: The “Quails”: The History of Wesleyan University’s First Period of Coeducation, 1872-1912. The thesis is available in SC&A and via WesScholar http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/ − type “Knight Quails” in the search box and you’re good to go.

George Steele Class of 1850 resolution for the trustees

Coeducation at Wesleyan Collection, 1867-1910 (collection no. 1000-88) is a small and intriguing collection. There are particular items of interest such as alumnus George Steele’s hand written resolution (1871): “there is nothing in the Charter or By-Laws which preclude the admission of ladies from the privilege of the Wesleyan University.” Tracing the arch of the story, the 1899 report of the Wesleyan Young Alumni Association of New York seeks an ending to coeducation pointing out that it’s not just them, the older alumni, too, “…have no prejudice against co-education in principle … but not at Wesleyan.”  The collection includes photographs, newspaper clippings, reports, resolutions, printed petitions, and other documents.

The administrative portion of the story is found in the Board of Trustee minutes, Faculty minutes, President’s annual reports, and the Wesleyan Bulletin, all available in SC&A.  Some of these are conveniently copied into the already mentioned Coeducation at Wesleyan Collection.

The student side of the story may be found in the Olla Podrida and Argus—at least the side of those students writing for these publications!  While the Olla Pod is not online, some of the Argus is and is located at: https://news.arcasearch.com/usctwsl/ or found through the online catalog: http://www.wesleyan.edu/libr/ (search with the title “Wesleyan Argus”).  Of course, physical copies of both titles, and the Bulletin, are available in SC&A as well as in Olin’s stacks.

Coeducation and the disagreements about the role for women at Wesleyan

National press, December 13, 1907

caught press attention locally and nationally.  The Penny Press and Middletown Tribune as well as The Sun, New York Press, The Republican, and other papers carried articles.  Some of these titles are available online (use the library’s “Journal Locator” search box), others via microfilm; many articles are clipped and found also in the Coeducation collection noted above.

In addition to the official and published sources, anyone wanting to understand the first period of coeducation will also want to read what participating individuals had to say.  SC&A has the William North Rice Papers (collection no. 1000-28) which include his letters and diaries. Rice was a Wesleyan alumnus and long-time faculty member at Wesleyan. The subject of many of the diary entries and letters is Wesleyan University, including information about campus groups, coeducation, trustee matters, and campus politics.

Lucy Knight gives the alumnae and alumni who had been present for Wesleyan’s coeducation “experiment” voice to their remembrances of their own experiences in her 1972 thesis (above).  There’s also the Alumni Council Recollections Collection(1000-84) which contains anecdotes written by Wesleyan alumni from the classes of 1859 to 1936 and include an alum’s observations of the arrival of women on campus in 1872.


What was the result of the “first experiment in co-education” at Wesleyan?  Come in and come to your own conclusions –

SC&A is open Monday through Friday, 1:00-5:00.


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