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Going Coed

Women’s Experiences in Formerly Men’s Colleges and Universities, 1950-2000

Edited by Leslie Miller-Bernal and Susan L. Poulson

Publication Year: 2004

More than a quarter-century ago, the last great wave of coeducation in the United States resulted in the admission of women to almost all of the remaining men’s colleges and universities. In thirteen original essays, Going Coed investigates the reasons behind this important phenomenon, describes how institutions have dealt with the changes, and captures the experiences of women who attended these schools. Informed by a wealth of fresh research, the book is rich in both historical and sociological insights. It begins with two overview chapters—one on the general history of American coeducation, the other on the differing approaches of Catholic and historically black colleges to admitting women students—and then offers case studies that consider the ways in which the problems and promise of coeducation have played out in a wide range of institutions. One essay, for example, examines how two bastions of the Ivy League, Yale and Princeton, influenced the paths taken by less prestigious men’s colleges. Among the topics addressed in other chapters are how the presence of women affected schools with strong masculine traditions, such as Virginia and Dartmouth; how prior cooperation with a women’s college eased Hamilton College’s transition to coeducation; and how institutions outside the liberal-arts tradition, from West Point to for-profit vocational schools, have incorporated women students. In exploring specific cases, the essays illuminate such key issues as the impact of the women’s movement and the development of women’s studies as an academic discipline, the pressures exerted on institutions by economic necessities and legal challenges, and the strategies women have utilized in adapting to formerly all-male environments. In their conclusion, the editors synthesize some common trends among the case studies and assess what remains to be done to achieve gender equity in higher education.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

More than a quarter-century ago, the last great wave of coeducation swept through American higher education. Although the numbers of students and institutions involved were comparatively small, the transition redefined educational norms and expanded women’s access to men’s colleges and universities. Since many of the institutions were among the nation’s elite, their adoption...

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Section I: The History of Coeducation

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pp. 1

The two chapters in this introductory section provide a context for the case studies that follow. In Chapter 1, Miller-Bernal traces major developments in higher education for women in the United States from pre–Civil War times until the beginning of the twenty-first century. As this volume focuses on women’s experiences since the mid-twentieth century, however, she devotes...

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1. Introduction Coeducation: An Uneven Progression

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pp. 3-21

Coeducation in the United States today is almost universal. Less than forty years ago, however, some of the most prestigious colleges and universities, including Princeton, Yale, Amherst, and Williams, were for men only. Then, in a rather short period of time, the push of women for access to all colleges, begun in the nineteenth century, succeeded in virtually every instance.1 This...

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2. Two Unique Histories of Coeducation: Catholic and Historically Black Institutions

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pp. 22-51

In the nineteenth century many white Protestant men in the United States pursued higher education as a means of upward mobility. In contrast, black Americans were barred from most colleges; besides, given the devastating impact of slavery, their first concern was primary and secondary education. Catholic enrollment in institutions of higher education was limited...

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Section II: Coeducation before the Late 1960s

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pp. 53

While many former men’s colleges became coeducational between 1968 and 1972, some admitted women in the 1950s. The two institutions discussed in this section, University of Rochester and Lincoln University, are good examples of the transition to coeducation before the twentieth-century women’s movement was influential. When the University of Rochester became...

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3. To Coeducation and Back Again: Gender and Organization at the University of Rochester

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pp. 55-79

The history of women at the University of Rochester is noteworthy for the dramatic changes in the ways women have been incorporated. Women’s rights activists, including the famous Susan B. Anthony, and their wealthy allies successfully pressured the university to admit women in 1900. After only a dozen years, however, the university’s president and board of trustees reversed...

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4. A Historically Black Men’s College Admits Women: The Case of Lincoln University

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pp. 80-107

Most historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) originated as coeducational institutions. The black community’s support of women’s work and education, its lack of endorsement of the concept of “true womanhood,” and its financial constraints made coeducation more appealing than separate colleges. A few black colleges that had been single-sex became coeducational in the 1920s...

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SECTION III: Conversion to Coeducation in the Ivy League

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pp. 109

The academic world has long paid close attention to what the most prestigious institutions do. Thus when Princeton and Yale decided to investigate and then implement coeducation in the late 1960s, many other men’s colleges also began to think about admitting women. In Chapter 5 Synnott explains how Princeton and Yale became coeducational, after they both considered and then rejected the idea of...

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5. A Friendly Rivalry: Yale and Princeton Pursue Parallel Paths to Coeducation

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pp. 111-150

By the 1960s, among the eight Ivy League colleges only Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale were still male-only, and they felt increasing pressure to include the education of undergraduate women in their institutional missions. The other five Ivy League colleges educated women, mostly through some type of coordinate relationship with a woman’s college. Their gender ratios preserved male...

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Section IV: Masculine Cultures and Traditions

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pp. 151-152

The chapters in this section discuss the difficulties of introducing coeducation at institutions that have had a strong masculine tradition. While it might seem that all former men’s colleges have had such traditions, other factors beside an all-male student body can make the culture more or less strongly...

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6: “Men of Dartmouth” and “The Lady Engineers”: Coeducation at Dartmouth College and Lehigh University

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pp. 153-180

To gain a fuller understanding of the coeducation movement at formerly all-male colleges and universities in the 1960s and early 1970s, it is essential to investigate the developments taking place at men’s colleges and universities from the end of World War II. These developments include concerns about faculty recruitment and retention, about the healthy psychological development...

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7. Women’s Admission to the University of Virginia: Tradition Transformed

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pp. 181-197

Virginia cherishes its heritage as a preserver of tradition. It is the site of the first permanent English colony in North America, the home to eight U.S. presidents, and the location of both the second oldest college in the country (William and Mary, founded in 1693) and the most traditional of state universities. The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville...

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8. Coeducation but Not Equal Opportunity: Women Enter Boston College

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pp. 198-218

As a single-sex institution, Boston College was no different from the majority of Catholic schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Coeducation was not only frowned on, it was considered dangerous, as Pope Pius XI stated in his encyclical, “Christian Education of Youth,” published in 1929. The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church precluded individual...

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Section V: Structural Issues

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pp. 219

Although coeducation seemed to be “in the air” by the late 1960s, some men’s colleges found it easier than others did to make the decision to admit women. In Chapter 9, Poulson compares two institutions that differed in this regard: the public university, Rutgers, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the Catholic university, Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. Poulson shows how the need at Rutgers...

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9. A Religious and a Public University: The Transitions to Coeducation at Georgetown and Rutgers

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pp. 221-244

Like many other colleges and universities in the country, Georgetown and Rutgers Universities admitted women to their Colleges of Arts and Sciences for the first time in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet the reasons they adopted coeducation differed because of their public and private status and their internal constituencies. Their preparation for coeducation, however, was largely similar in that both had...

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10. Coeducation after a Decade of Coordination: The Case of Hamilton College

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pp. 245-259

Coordination between a men’s and a women’s college has existed in the United States since 1879 when the “Annex,” later called Radcliffe, enabled some women to receive instruction from Harvard professors. While only a few institutions of higher education have ever had a coordinate structure, in the mid-1960s there were still some well-known coordinate colleges, including Pembroke and...

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Section VI: Coeducation beyond Liberal Arts

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pp. 261

The chapters in this section describe educational institutions that are often overlooked in discussions of higher education: military academies and for-profit technical colleges. Both chapters focus on women’s experiences at these schools and use interviews with students—women, and in some cases men—as a primary source of...

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11. “Toxic Virus” or Lady Virtue: Gender Integration and Assimilation at West Point and VMI

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pp. 263-286

The first women who trained in such traditionally masculine fields as law, medicine, and the military had to prove that they could succeed in a male environment in the face of strong opposition to their presence. This chapter examines the experiences of women at the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Virginia Military Institute, two formerly all-male institutions...

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12. Women’s Movement into Technical Fields: A Comparison of Technical and Community Colleges

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pp. 287-307

Most historically male colleges and universities had charters that forbade the admission of women. In other institutions of higher education, however, the absence of women has been assumed rather than enforced. The two for-profit technical colleges considered in this chapter fall into this category. The programs they offer, such as electronics, engineering, information technology,...

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13. Conclusion: Coeducation and Gender Equal Education

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pp. 309-316

By the mid-twentieth century most American colleges and universities had long been coeducational. There were exceptions, however. Some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, located primarily along the eastern seaboard, were still single-sex. Colleges and universities such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, Williams, and Amherst continued to associate their high status with being all male. Catholic...


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pp. 317-319


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pp. 321-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514486
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514480

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Coeducation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women college students -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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