April 24, 2008

April 24, 1918 - Last Student Editorial Against Co-education

While the Strode Bill had been passed a month earlier, some students at the College were not willing to let women in. On April 24, 1918, an opinion piece ran on the front page of the Flat Hat entitled "Sine Qua Non," by "A Student." In it, "A Student" explained what a tragedy it was that the College was going to lose its "traditions." At the end of the article, the author suggested to his fellow students to stop co-education by dissuading the young, college aged women in their lives from attending William and Mary in the fall.

As history tells us, this young man's plot failed to keep co-education from the College, and in September, twenty women did enter as part of the class of 1922. Interestingly, this is the last of the Flat Hat articles decrying co-education. This illustrates that compared to other institutions that went co-ed in the first half of the twentieth century, William and Mary students and faculty were rather accepting of the idea of co-education. For example, a college about the size of William and Mary, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, went co-ed in the fall of 1942. The students at Drew were outraged, as their student newspaper, The Acorn, indicates in April, 1942. The entire front page of that April issue was consumed by the headline "Drew Goes Co-Ed," followed by an article, which attempted to placate an assumed outraged student body by stating that the "girls" who will only be at the college during World War II, will not be allowed to live in the dormitories on campus and will be kicked out once the men come back from the war. This type of strong reaction against co-education is actually quite normal for most colleges in the twentieth century. Reaction against co-education prevented universities and colleges, such as Harvard and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine; from going co-ed until the 1970s.

So, while some at William and Mary may have had adverse reactions to the idea of women enrolling in the college and meddling with "tradition," these sentiments were rather tame and in the minority compared to other colleges and universities across the country as they thought about and became co-educational.

Additional information about the history of Drew University is available from the Drew University Archives.

For additional information about the first women students at the College of William and Mary see: When Mary Entered with her Brother William: Women at the College of William and Mary, 1918-1945 by Laura F. Parrish; "The Petticoat Invasion": Women at the College of William and Mary, 1918-1945; The Martha Barksdale Papers; and the Women at the College of William and Mary page on the Special Collections Research Center Wiki.

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