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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Which Colleges Awarded Advanced Degrees to Women before 1900?

by Shelby L. Eaton

Few established coeducational colleges admitted women before 1900. "Since most American graduate schools were patterned after the German universities, which had introduced the Doctor of Philosophy degree in the eighteenth century and had never admitted women, American deans also rejected coeducation at the graduate level for several decades. Many schools began reluctantly to admit women, but not include them in their college catalogs until later. Women were often admitted only in "special circumstances" or with "special permission," and were treated as if they were not attending the college. One notable exception is the University of Chicago, which, from its founding in 1892, admitted women on an equal status with men.

Although grudgingly allowed to attend as special students, the few co-educational colleges and universities did not often award degrees to women until the early 1900s.

"Gaining access to graduate education, was relatively easy ... permission could be granted by almost any friendly professor. ... being awarded a degree was ... a formal, almost legal proceeding [involving] ... the professors and the department ... [and the] president and board of trustees, many of whom long refused to award higher degrees to women or even acknowledge their presence on campus."

In the early 1890s, six well-known graduate schools in the United States (Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Brown University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago, suddenly decided to admit women as students, equal to their male students, and also to begin to award Ph.D. degrees when appropriate. Yale and Pennsylvania allowed women into graduate school, but would not admit them as undergraduates and Columbia and Brown admitted women as graduate students, but allowed them as undergraduates only at a "coordinate college for women undergraduates." Stanford and Chicago, however, allowed women full access to all aspects of higher education. "Over one-half of the doctorates awarded to women from 1877 to 1900 were given by just four universities: Yale (36), [University of] Chicago (29), Cornell (28), and New York University (20)."

Excerpted from an article by Shelby L. Eaton, Copyright ©1997 (originally online, but no longer available)

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