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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
(1980)

Droste, Jean
Chapter 1: Co-education 1849-1909: they came to stay,   pp. 1-9 ff.


Page 1


1. Coeducation 1849-1909:
They Came to Stay
by Jean Droste
In some respects the struggle for undergraduate coeducation at the
University of Wisconsin took on the aspects of a melodrama with university
President Paul Chadbourne as the villain and President John Bascom as the
hero. Yet the real catalyst for the acceptance of coeducation at the university
was the effect of the Civil War on student enrollment. Because the war
drained the small university of students, the Regents realized that they
had to
discover some method of bolstering the steadily decreasing matriculation.
By
admitting women into the university the Regents were able to increase the
number of students very quickly. Thus it was chiefly a practical need rather
than theoretical considerations about women's education that gave Wisconsin
women their first opportunity to enter the university. The war, coupled with
the desire on the part of Wisconsinites to educate their teachers, eventually
led to full acceptance of women at the university.
Fortunately, the characteristics of state universities were especially adap-
table to coeducation. The spirit for social leveling prevailing in the nineteenth
century extended to the university and the belief was strongly held that
everyone should have a right to gain a college education regardless of back-
ground. Such a policy tended to enhance women's chances for education at
the universities. In addition, some people felt that the presence of righteous,
God-fearing women would diminish the non-religious tone of the "Godless
university." Another reason for the more ready acceptance of women at
Wisconsin and other state-supported institutions was that these were young
schools that needed students. Besides, western state universities did not
have
the large and conservative alumni bodies that retarded the establishment
of
coeducation in the East.
The entrance of women into the University of Wisconsin followed a pat-
tern familiar to many midwestern and western univerisites. Men and women
first attended preparatory or normal departments which often held their
classes in college buildings. The women were not formally enrolled in college
but they were allowed to sit in on some of the classes. After the women had
had a taste of college education, sometimes they made a formal application
in
order to be admitted to the regular college classes. If they were accepted,
coeducation had begun. With a few exceptions the University of Wisconsin
did not veer sharply from the standard pattern.
Though the first attempts to establish the University of Wisconsin began
in 1836 it was not until 26 July 1848, after Wisconsin became a state, that
the first state legislature passed an act incorporating the university and
ap-
pointing a Board of Regents.1 On 5 February 1849, in a room temporarily
provided for by citizens of Madison, the university had its meager beginning
when Professor Sterling instructed a preparatory class of seventeen men.2
John Lathrop, the former president of the University of Missouri, was in-
augurated in January 1850, and the first university class formed on 4 August
1850.3
1


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