The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


Although the Organic Act of 1837 provided for the education of girls in connection with the branches of the University, the question of admitting women to the University itself does not seem to have risen at that time. Only Oberlin College then admitted women. About the middle of the nineteenth century and thereafter, however, the schools being founded in the Midwest and West offered equal educational opportunities to men and women.

Requests for admission had been made to the faculty as early as 1850, but the admission of women first came before the Regents, apparently, in 1858. Several requests were received at that time by the Regents from women asking permission to enter the University. The Regents referred the subject to a committee of three of its members. This committee found that opinions were very sharply divided on the subject, the proponents stressing right and justice and the opponents picturing destruction of the character of the University and ruin to the women who might come to the University.

Distinguished educators and public men were called upon to express their opinions. President Hopkins of Williams College was favorable to the idea, Chancellor Frelinghuysen of New Jersey feared its effects on the reputation of the University would be bad. President Walker of Harvard thought the decision must turn on the question whether females were to be educated for public or private life, and President Woolsey of Yale said he could not see what use degrees would be to girls unless they were to "addict" themselves to professional life. Even President Finney of Oberlin hedged, and Horace Mann dwelt on the dangers of the "terrible" experiment. President Tappan was interested in the education of young women, but thought there was an incompatibility between the two sexes and that college life was inconsistent with the nature of women.

Page  1784The committee after prolonged review of the subject came to the conclusion that matters should be allowed to stand as they were. In accepting the report the Regents resolved that in respect to the interests of the institution and of the young ladies the applications for admission should not be granted.

In 1867, however, the legislature adopted a resolution expressing the opinion that the high objects of the University would never be obtained until women were admitted to all its rights and privileges. This action of the legislature caused the Regents to consider the subject again. President Haven expressed the opinion that coeducation would introduce untold problems, and he proposed that the state provide a separate college for "females." (Apparently Professor James R. Boise informally admitted his own daughters to his classes in Greek in 1867.)

He changed his mind during the following year, however, and announced that he favored the admission of women to the University. In his opinion the honor of the University would thereby be increased rather than diminished. The University at that time was engaged in a controversy over the "homeopathic question," and it seems probable that Haven did not wish to increase differences with the legislature. He resigned in June, 1869, no action on the matter having been taken by the Regents, although Regent Willard had introduced a resolution stating that "in the opinion of the Board no rule exists in any of the University Statutes which excludes women from admission to the University."

The legislature at its next session passed a resolution requesting the Regents to act favorably on the admission of women, in accordance with President Haven's recommendation. And in January, 1870, the Regents adopted a resolution, offered by Regent Willard: "That the Board of Regents recognize the right of every resident of Michigan to the enjoyment of the privileges afforded by the University, and that no rule exists in any of the University statutes for the exclusion of any person from the University, who possesses the requisite literary and moral qualifications."

Almost immediately Madelon L. Stock-well of Kalamazoo presented herself for admission and was accepted as a member of the sophomore class. She graduated in 1872. One of the residence halls for women has been named in her honor. In 1870 thirty-four other women entered the University: fourteen in the Literary College, two in the Law School, and eighteen in the Medical School. Four women graduated in 1871. The first woman graduate of the University was Amanda Sanford of Auburn, New York, who received her degree in medicine. Sarah Killgore of Crawfordsville, Indiana, graduated in law the same day. The other two, Amelia and Mary Upjohn, graduated three months later in pharmaceutical chemistry.

In his report for 1869-70 Acting President Frieze stated that the faculty already saw that its fears concerning the admission of women were groundless and that they now faced the problem of obtaining facilities for the increasing number of students.

The faculty of the Medical School, however, early in 1870 presented a memorial to the Regents stating that "medical co-education of the sexes is at best an experiment of doubtful utility, and one not calculated to increase the dignity of man, nor the modesty of women." They were willing, however, to provide medical instruction to the women separately. As a result two separate courses of instruction were given by the faculty, and in 1871-72 thirty-five women were enrolled in medicine. Within a year this system began to break down — first in the course of Dr. Douglass — and came more or less to an end in 1881, Page  1785when the medical faculty was given discretion in the matter. Segregation of the classes continued in practical anatomy for some years, and at lectures the women sat at one side of the room until the erection of the West Medical Building, when they were allowed to choose their seats.

The majority of the faculty and of the students were opposed to admission of women, and there was even a stronger feeling against them on the part of the townspeople. There was some fear that the University would become less attractive to students and that business would suffer.

In his inaugural address on Commencement Day, 1871, President Angell took up the subject and said that if no undesirable results followed he foresaw that the eastern colleges would open their doors to women and that the effects of the system would be felt in Europe. It is interesting to note that while the eastern men's colleges are relatively unchanged in this respect, European universities are now generally open to both men and women.

The following year Dr. Angell noted that hardly one of the many anticipated embarrassments of coeducation had arisen. The coeds showed themselves capable of meeting the demands of their studies, and their health had not suffered thereby. A few years later he stated proudly that six women on the faculty of Wellesley College, including the president, were graduates of the University. And women graduates in medicine were already engaged in foreign lands as medical missionaries. (It may be noted that a growing stream of foreign students began to come to the University from the lands to which the medical missionaries went.)

President Angell reported in 1893 that women constituted 37 per cent of the students in the Literary College. He noted that too many boys left school to become wage earners before they were far in high school and that in many Michigan high schools the classes were made up almost entirely of girls. If this were to continue, he said, it would not be long before there would be as many college-trained women as men in the country. In 1899 he noted that 53 per cent of the graduates of that year with a bachelor of arts degree were women and that six of the twenty-one master's degrees were given to women.

The following figures show something of the comparative enrollment of men and women in the University in approximately the first half century after the introduction of coeducation:

College of LSA Medical School
Women Men Women Men
1874-75 62 346 47 323
1879-80 81 367 43 307
1884-85 119 405 56 278
1894-95 494 1,024 72 307
1904-5 646 765 30 310
All Undergrad. Totals
1924-25 1,754 3,396 30 506
(There were few women in the other professional schools — 3 in Law, for example, in 1904-5.)

In 1954-55 undergraduates were divided as follows: 4,566 women and 6,850 men; 38 women and 722 men were in the regular medical curriculum. From the first the average work of women has been of higher quality than that of the men.

The effect of coeducation on manners and morals was the subject of much debate. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was the opinion of the faculty that manners had been considerably improved, that there had been a "singular absence of improprieties of conduct," and that the scandals forecast had failed to appear.