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

Langill, Ellen D.
Chapter 2: Women at Wisconsin: 1909-1939,   pp. 11-30

Page 11

2. Women at Wisconsin: 1909-1939
by Ellen D. Langill
Although coeducation was fifty years old at the University of Wisconsin
after the first decade of the twentieth century, women students on the campus
had not yet achieved complete acceptance. In 1908, the debate over the
structure of coeducation was a matter of great controversy and the argument
for segregated classes still enlisted strong support from many administrators
and male students. President Van Hise had established a campus committee
to study the question of segregating university classes by sex in 1908. The
proposal stirred up the embers of an issue that should have died in the nine-
teenth century. But editorials in the Daily Cardinal during the 1908 school
year kept the topic burning across the campus. One alumnus of the class of
1875 opposed separation of the sexes in the classroom, arguing that "true
education" meant side by side participation in the learning experience,
he noted, "conduces the highest conduct ... and teaches natural re-
Van Hise, however, had argued that, "some courses.. particularly at-
tractive to women, such as literature, were frequented by them and ap-
parently for that reason avoided by the men, while such courses as political
economy, chosen largely by men, were avoided by the women."2 The issue
was finally dropped when outraged parents and alumni, even more vociferous
than the students, argued that segregation would be a step backwards for
Wisconsin's "progressive university." A follow-up study of the
crisis, made by
Harper's Weekly, concluded that coeducation would prevail in midwestern
universities where men and women students, educated together since kinder-
garten, "take their continued association in study as a mere matter
course." However, in the years after 1909, Madison was to be one of
the na-
tional testing grounds of coeducation as many educators waited to see
"whether it is the best way, or even a good way, to bring out the finest
qualities and powers of a woman's soul."3
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the status of women on the UW cam-
pus improved over the first four decades of the twentieth century; they were
no longer the narrowly defined appendages of the university, as the mildly
jorative term "coed" had once implied. By 1939 women enjoyed full
equal participation in many, though not all, areas of academic and social
at the university and the issue of segregation died accordingly.
A major step toward the acceptance of women students came during
these "progressive years" in 1909 with the dedication of Lathrop
Hall for
women - a meaningful financial investment in coeducation. Prior to 1909,
women students enjoyed very restricted facilities with little opportunity
physical training or private social and club facilities. Located near the
top of
Bascom Hill, the new hall, named after John Lathrop - the university's first
president, provided a springboard for many of the advances by campus
women during the twentieth century. Before Lathrop, the women students
had only old Chadbourne Hall to call their own. Chadbourne, which served
mostly for rooming and boarding space, with limited athletic facilities,
built in 1901 and named, ironically, for former President Chadbourne, who

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