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
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 co- education" meant side by side participation in the learning experience, which he noted, "conduces the highest conduct ... and teaches natural re- lationships."1 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 of 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 pe- jorative term "coed" had once implied. By 1939 women enjoyed full and equal participation in many, though not all, areas of academic and social life 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 for 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, was built in 1901 and named, ironically, for former President Chadbourne, who 11
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