New Series 343
THE BEGINNING OF COLLEGE EDUCATION FOR WOMEN AND
OF COEDUCATION ON THE COLLEGE LEVEL
By Robert S. Fletcher and Ernest H. Wilkins
March 20, 1937
The Oberlin Collegiate Institute opened its doors on December 3,
1833. For the remainder of that college year it comprised two departments,
the Academic and the Primary, both below the college level.
The charter of the Institute, granted by the Ohio Legislature
on February 28, 1834, gave to the Trustees of the Institute power
to confer on those whom they may deem worthy, such honors and degrees
as are usually conferred in similar institutions.
The first Circular of the Institute, dated March 8, 1834, contains
the following paragraph:
The grand objects of the Oberlin Institute are, to give the most
useful education at the least expense of health, time, and money;
and to extend the benefits of such education to both sexes; and
all classes of [the] community as far as its means will allow.
Its system embraces thorough instruction in every department from
the Infant School up through a Collegiate and Theological course.
While care will be taken not to lower the standard of intellectual
culture, no pains will be spared to combine with it the best physical
and moral education. Prominent objects of this Seminary are, the
thorough qualification of Christian teachers, both for the pulpit
and for schools; and the elevation of female character, by bringing
within the reach of the misjudged and neglected sex, all the instructive
privileges which hitherto have unreasonably distinguished the
leading sex from theirs.
In October, 1834, two new departments of the Institute were opened:
the Collegiate Department, in which the students were men only,
and the Female Department. As will presently appear, the course
offered by the Collegiate Department was, or very soon became, equivalent
to the course then offered by Yale. The course offered by the Female
Department was not of college grade, but corresponded to the courses
offered by the ladies seminaries of the East.
The First Annual Report of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute,
published in November, 1834, contains the following paragraphs:
SYSTEM OF EDUCATION
This is comprehensive, including physical as well as intellectual
and moral culture, adapted to both sexes, and all ages and attainments
from the common school through a liberal education, inclusive,
ultimately of a theological course. Infant and Primary Schools
will be sustained by the Oberlin Colony in the neighborhood of
the Institute. The several departments of instruction in the Institute
are thus arranged: Preparatory or Academic School; Female Department;
Teachers Seminary; Collegiate Department, and Theological
Department. The Preparatory School is designed, as its name denotes,
to prepare pupils for the higher departments; or for business
which does not require a more extended education.
The Female Department, under the supervision of a lady, will
furnish instruction in the useful branches taught in the best
Female Seminaries; and its higher classes will be permitted to
enjoy the privileges of such professorships in the Teachers,
Collegiate, and Theological Departments as shall best suit their
sex, and prospective employment.
The Collegiate Department will afford as extensive and thorough
a course of instruction as other colleges; varying from some,
by substituting Hebrew and sacred Classics for the most objectionable
The first Catalogue of the Institute, issued in the summer of 1835,
contains the following brief account of the Female Department:
Young ladies of good minds, unblemished morals, and respectable
attainments, are received into this department, and placed under
the superintendence of a judicious lady, whose duty it is to correct
their habits and mould the female character. They board at the
public table, and perform the labor of the Stewards Department,
together with the washing, ironing, and much of the sewing for
the students. They attend recitations with young gentlemen in
all the departments. Their rooms are entirely separate from those
of the other sex, and no calls or visits in their respective apartments
are at all permitted.
The first detailed statement of the content of the course of study
followed in the Female Department appears in the Catalogue of 1838.
This statement is reprinted below as Appendix I.
Despite the fact that the Female Department was not of college
grade, the opening of that department in Oberlin marked an innovation
in the education of women in that this was the first instance in
which a ladies seminary had been established as part of an
institution in which the central department was a regular college.
A second innovation appeared in 1834 or by the following year at
the latest: some of the young women in the Female Department attended
classes in the Collegiate Departmentthe first instance of
the attendance of women in college classes. The fact of this attendance
is indicated by the statement quoted above from the First Annual
Report to the effect that the higher classes of the Female Department
will be permitted to enjoy the privileges of such professorships
in the Teachers, Collegiate, and Theological Departments
as shall best suit their sex, and prospective employment,
and by the statement quoted above from the Catalogue of 1835:
They attend recitations with young gentlemen in all the departments.
The first young woman to graduate from the Female Department was
Zeruiah Porter, who finished the course in 1838. She did not receive
a degree, and the work she had completed was not that of a college
course: but she was the first woman to graduate from a course carried
on in a ladies seminary associated with a college; and she
was the first woman to graduate from a course as part of which she
had attended college classes with men.
Meanwhile, a far more significant innovation had taken place.
The Collegiate Department, as has been said, was opened in October,
1834, its students being men only. Statements of the content of
the course of study followed in this department appear in each of
the early catalogues. The first such statement, which appeared in
the Catalogue of 1835, is reprinted below as Appendix II. The corresponding
statements in the next two catalogues are more elaborate. The fourth
catalogue, published in September, 1839, ends with a detailed Comparative
View of the Oberlin and Yale College Courses of Study, which
gives the content of the Oberlin course in great detail, and establishes
its equivalence to the Yale course. This Comparative View
is reprinted in full as Appendix III.
On or immediately after Commencement Day, September 6, 1837, four
young womenMary Hosford, Mary Fletcher Kellogg, Elizabeth
Smith Prall, and Caroline Mary Ruddpresented themselves and
were accepted for entrance into the regular course of the Collegiate
Department. They were the first women to matriculate for a regular
college course. Their matriculation in September, 1837, was the
beginning of actual college education for women; and it was, as
well, the beginning of coeducation on the college level. College
education for women thus began as coeducation.
All of the four pioneers had previously been registered in the
Female Department. The First Annual Report lists Miss Hosford
as registered for the Summer Term of 1834. The Catalogue
of 1835 lists Miss Hosford, Miss Kellogg, and Miss Prall among those
registered in the Female Department for the year 1835-36. The Catalogue
of 1836, which divides the students of the Female Department into
three classes, Senior, Middle, and junior, lists Miss Prall as a
member of the Middle class and Miss Rudd as a member of the junior
class for the year 1836-37. In the next catalogue, published in
June, 18 3 8, and listing students as of the year 1837- 38, the
main list of Young Ladies is followed by a special section headed
College Course, under which are the captions Freshman
Class and Preparatory. The entries under the first
of these two captions are as follows:
MARY HOSFORD, Oberlin,
MARY F. KELLOGG, Jamestown, N. Y.
ELIZABETH S. PRALL, New York City,
CAROLINE M. RUDD, Huntington, Ct.
This is the first list of women enrolled for a college course.
No list of students in the Collegiate Department for the year 1838-39
was published. The next catalogue, published in September, 1839,
and listing collegiate students as of the year 1839-40, lists Miss
Hosford, Miss Prall, and Miss Rudd (but not Miss Kellogg) under
the headings College Course, Junior Class; and they
appear similarly in the following catalogue as the three women members
of the Senior class.
These three young women, Miss Hosford, Miss Prall, and Miss Rudd,
carried the course through to completion, and received on Commencement
Day, August 25, 1841, degrees and diplomas identical with those
given to their male classmates. They were the first women in this
country to receive degrees which were specifically called bachelor's
degrees, and to receive degrees awarded on the completion of a regular
college course,1 and they were, as well,
the first women to graduate from a coeducational college course.
1These qualifying clauses are designed
to give due recognition to the fact that a graduating class of eleven
young women received degrees in 1840 from Georgia Female College
(now Wesleyan College). Georgia Female College received its charter
in 1836, being the first college exclusively for women to be chartered.
It did not open its doors until January 7, 1839. The Testimonials
given a year and a half later do not specify that the degree awarded
is a bachelor's degree: the graduates are said to be deemed
worthy of the First Degree conferred by this Institution.
It may be, however, that the degree was, in the intention of the
officers of the College, a bachelor's degree. The evidence indicates
that the course of study then offered in Georgia Female College
was not comparable to that offered men in colleges of the day. The
Georgia experiment is studied in detail by Thomas Woody in his A
History of Womens Education in the United States (New
York and Lancaster, Science Press, 1929), Vol. 11, pp. 161- 167.
Dr. Woody concludes that the extreme youth of the students admitted,
the low admission requirements, the failure to insist upon even
these requirements, the omission of Latin and Greek as required
courses, and the granting of diplomas more like those granted by
contemporary seminaries than those granted by colleges indicate
that the course offered at the time in Georgia Female College was
not equivalent to the usual course in mens colleges of that
The First Detailed Statement of the Content of the
Course of Study followed in the Female Department.2
The following is the course of study for young Ladies.
Reading, Spelling, Writing; Arithmetic, Colburns and Adams;
Geography, Grammar and Composition.
The studies of the regular course are as follow!
English Grammar; including analyzing and the study of Poetry; Ancient
and Modern Geography, on the topic system; Sacred Geography; Histories
of Greece, Rome and England; Websters United States; Nevins
Biblical Antiquities; Emersons Watts on the mind; Greek for
such only as design to take a full course; Linear Drawing.
Universal History; Botany; Algebra; Olmsteds Natural Philosophy,
abridged; Whatelys Logic and Rhetoric; Paleys Evidences;
Cowpers Poems; Towns Analysis; Hopkins Christians
Instructor; Greek of the New Testament for such as take a full course.
Legendres Geometry; Hershels Astronomy; Chemistry;
Miltons Poems; Leslie on Deism; Stewarts Philosophy
of the Mind; Jahns Archeology.
Astronomy completed; Butlers Analogy; Miltons Poems
completed; Lectures on Intellectual Philosophy; Waylands Moral
Science with Lectures; Ecclesiastical History; Principles of Sacred
Interpretation; Lectures on Theology.
Compositions, and Exercises in Reading throughout the course. One
lesson weekly in the English Bible.
Practical Lectures on Physiology interspersed throughout the course.
Whenever the course of study admits of it, the young Ladies attend
the regular recitations of the College Department.
2From the Catalogue of 1838, pp. 29-30.
The First Statement of the Content of the Course of Study Followed
in the Collegiate Department.3
GREEK.Greek Testament; Xenophons Cyropoedia; Memorabilia
LATIN.Cicero de Amicitia; de Senectute; de Oficiis; Buchanans
HEBREW.Spirit of Hebrew Poetry; Gleigs History of the
Bible; Biblical Antiquities; Seixas Hebrew Grammar, and Selections
from the Hebrew Bible.
MATHEMATICS AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY.Algebra; Geometry; Trigonometry;
Olmstead's Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy.
NATURAL SCIENCES.Chemistry; Mineralogy and geology; Botany;
Anatomy, and Physiology; Zoology.
INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL PHILOSOPHY, extensively.
POLITICAL ECONOMY AND LAW, (particularly Laws of the United States.)
EVIDENCES OF RELIGION.Paleys Evidences; Erskine and
Leslie; Keith on the Prophecies; Butlers Analogy.
LOGIC AND RHETORIC.Whately; Campbell; Kames.
MISCELLANEOUS.Robbins Universal History; Poetical works
of Cowper and Milton; Abbotts Corner Stone, etc.
Compositions and exercises in speaking, throughout the whole course.
3From the Catalogue of 1835, pp. 18-19.
Comparative View of the Oberlin and Yale College Courses of Study.4
Persons who have written for the purpose of decrying the Oberlin
Course of Study have compared it with that of Yale College; but
the comparison has been made chiefly with respect to the Oberlin
Latin course. In order that the christian public may be enabled
to judge us fairly, we here present in parallel columns the entire
courses of the two Institutions. Yale is in no danger of being condemned
for want of thoroughness, and we deem it hardly necessary to say
that no unfriendly feeling towards that venerable seat of learning,
has led us to present this comparison.
We begin with the Latin and Greek courses. The pages of each author
are reduced to those of the Tauchnitz edition of Latin and Greek
classics. The estimate may not be exact to a line; but it is sufficiently
so for all the purposes of comparison.
||Plautus and Seneca,
These are the same at both Institutions, except that the few pages
of poetry in the Greek Reader, are not required at Oberlin.
|Acts, Epistles, and Rev.
|One recitation a day through one third of the
junior and the whole of the Senior year. [Our present Seniors
will have done nearly this.]
||One recitation a day through one third of the
junior year. Instead of this the Student may study Platos
Gorgias, French, Spanish, or Fluxions.
From the above, it appears that the Oberlin preparatory Latin is
17½ pages less than one, half of what is required at
Yale;that the Oberlin college Latin is 179½ pages more
than one half of the Yale;and that the whole of the Oberlin
course is 162 pages more than one half of what is required
for admission and what is studied at Yale together. But, on the
other hand, it appears that while very nearly the same amount of
Greek is required for admission to college at both Institutions,
the Oberlin Greek course in college, exceeds the whole Yale
Greek course, by 27 pages more than one third of that course.
The following calculation will show whether the greater quantity
of Hebrew and Greek at Oberlin is equivalent to the deficiency in
Latin. One recitation a day during the last four terms of a college
course, would carry the student over at least 1040 pages of the
Tauchnitz Latin Classics. This, added to the excess of Greek in
favor of Oberlin, makes our College course in languages greater
than that of Yale by 846 pages, and our whole course greater than
what Yale requires for admission and what it studies together, by
366 pages. Or, supposing the Yale student to choose to study Greek
or Hebrew instead of the other things during the term in which he
has his option, the whole course at Oberlin in languages would still
remain greater than that of Yale by 106 pages. In this calculation
the daily recitation is supposed to be equivalent to four pages.
Our juniors are now reciting five pages of Demosthenes at a recitation.
We have not put to the account of Yale College, Latin and
Greek mentioned in the list of studies for Senior year. The
Greek, we are informed, consists of an excellent course of Lectures
on Demosthenes on the Crown, delivered to only a part
of the class; and the Latin means Lectures on Virgil
or some other familiar author to the other part of the class. Should
allowance be made for Demosthenes, the Yale Greek course must be
increased by 108 pages. The Oberlin course would still remain the
greater in the number of pages, unless the Yale student studies
Hebrew or Greek during the third term of his junior year, in which
case the Oberlin course would be two pages less than the
Yale, or, allowing f or the poetry in the Greek Reader, about 20
pages less. It is now submitted whether our course in languages
is not as well adapted as that of Yale to students who are preparing
for the ministrywhose office it will be to expound the Greek
and Hebrew Scriptures.
MATHEMATICS, NATURAL SCIENCE, &c.
|Colburns First Lessons.
|Goldsmiths Histories of
Greece, Rome and England.
|Websters United States.
|Nevins Biblical Antiquities.
|Hopkins Christians Instructor.
|Porters Rhetorical Reader.
|Davies Legendre, including
||Day's Mathematics, including, besides the subjects
comprehended in the Oberlin course, Mensuration, Navigation,
|Bridges Conic Sections.
||Bridges Conic Sections.
|Olmsteds Natural Philosophy.
||Olmsteds Natural Philosophy.
||Adams Roman Antiquities.
|Tytlers Universal History.
|Kames Elements of Criticism.
|Lowth on Hebrew Poetry.
|Stewarts Mental Philosophy,
|Stewarts Mental Philosophy.
|Lectures on Mental Philosophy.
|Lectures on Moral Philosophy.
||Paleys Moral Philosophy.
|Lectures on Law.
|Paley and Butler on the Evidences
||Evidences of Christianity.
|Paleys Natural Theology.
|Lectures on Anat. and Physiology.
|Lectures on Chemistry.
||Lectures on Chemistry.
||Lectures on Mineralogy & Geology.
|Botany with Lectures.
|Lectures on Natural Philosophy (not yet for want
||Lectures on Natural Philosophy.
|Science & Art of Sacred vocal Music.
|Lesson in Eng. Bible once a week.
4From the Catalogue of 1839, pp. 22-24.
The above is bona fide our course, and we have done
our utmost to carry our classes through it and make them thoroughly
understand it; and the result is, that few important studies
have been omitted. It is true that our performance has not been
equal in all respects to our wishes or our plans; but this has been
in a great measure owing to the difficulties universally experienced
in organizing and perfecting a new institution. Our present juniors
have read nearly the whole course in languages including the Greek
Testament, and have actually read more Greek than the whole Yale
course contains: the time for their study of Hebrew has not yet
come. We hope to be able ere long to carry our students through
the whole, not only in languages, but in other studies. If on sufficient
trial, we find this impossible, our annual catalogue will show what
The Bulletin of Oberlin College is published every six weeks
by the Secretary of the College, Administration Building. Entered
September 5, 1903, at the Post Office at Oberlin, Ohio, as second-class
mail matter, under Act of July 16, 1894.