The First Coed Colleges in the U.S.: Background information when reading Yale Needs Women

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Yale Needs Women

How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant

by Anne Gardiner Perkins

Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins X
Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 400 pages

    Jul 2021, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

The First Coed Colleges in the U.S.

This article relates to Yale Needs Women

Print Review

Black and white photo of women at Oberlin College in the 1850sIn Yale Needs Women, author Anne Gardiner Perkins explores the circumstances surrounding Yale University's decision to go coed in 1969, and the experiences of its first female students. Yale's change in policy was hardly revolutionary, as some colleges and universities in the U.S. had been coed since the 19th century.

Oberlin College in Ohio was the first higher learning institution to admit women in the United States. The college opened in 1833, permitted Blacks to apply in 1835, and became coed in 1837 with the admission of four female students. Three of the four graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1841. The fourth, Mary Kellogg, had to drop out because she could no longer afford the tuition, but later returned to finish after she was married (to future Oberlin College president James Harris Fairchild). In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson graduated from Oberlin, becoming the first Black woman in the United States to earn a Bachelor's degree. In 1860, James Harris Fairchild gave a speech called "Joint Education of the Sexes" in which he declared with regard to men and women, "neither can be elevated without the other...their responsibilities in the work of life, though different, are equal." He went on to note that in this particular year there were approximately 500 women at Oberlin, making up about 40% of the student body. Famed feminist and abolitionist Lucy Stone graduated from Oberlin in 1847, and was employed by the American Anti-Slavery Society just a year later.

Franklin College in Indiana began admitting women in 1842, followed by Michigan's Hillsdale College in 1844. Like Oberlin, Hillsdale accepted Black students as well. The school's first female graduate was Elizabeth Camp, who earned a Bachelor's of Science in 1851. Hillsdale notes in its official history, however, that college clubs and societies were not coed, and that socializing between the sexes was strictly monitored: "If a couple so much as wanted to take a walk together, special permission was required from the college president or dean of women."

Baylor University in Texas was open to admitting female students from its founding in 1845, though this policy fluctuated over the years. The school awarded its first "Maid of Arts" to a woman, Mary Gentry Kavanaugh, in 1855. Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio was founded in 1847 by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ with an open-door policy for women (and people of color), who were permitted to take the same courses as male students. Otterbein's first graduating class included two female students.

Cornell University was the only ivy league school to admit women from its founding (in 1865), and the others did not go coed until the 1960s-1980s. Columbia University was the last holdout, finally opening its doors to women in 1983.

by Lisa Butts

Women of Oberlin College, 1850s, courtesy of Oberlin College Archives

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This "beyond the book article" relates to Yale Needs Women. It originally ran in September 2019 and has been updated for the July 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...
  • Book Jacket: River of the Gods
    River of the Gods
    by Candice Millard
    The Nile River has provided vital resources for millennia, serving as a source of water, food and ...
  • Book Jacket: Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, ...
  • Book Jacket: Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    by Alison Espach
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance will make you ache for a loss you didn't experience as you relate...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Carolina Moonset
by Matt Goldman
An engrossing novel about family, memories and secrets too dangerous to stay hidden.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard

    Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

  • Book Jacket

    Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden
    by Zhuqing Li

    A beautifully woven family memoir that coalesces into a vivid history of two very different Chinas.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.



Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.