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'Can she not see and hear, and smell and taste?': Women students at coeducational land -grant universities in the American *West, 1868--1917

Andrea Gayle Radke, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


While much has been written about the history of women's education in America, few studies have examined the experiences of women students at coeducational land-grant universities in the nineteenth century. The Morrill Act of 1862 created public land-grant universities for the education of agricultural and industrial classes. Although the Morrill Act did not require the admission of women, still most states included coeducation as part of their land-grant charters. Mixed-gender education was not completely accepted in the late-nineteenth century, and yet every western land-grant admitted women with little debate or protest, Coeducation at western land-grant universities was an important experiment for women's rights progress. ^ Land-grant education was conducive to coeducation for a few reasons. First, economic necessity required that western institutions educate the sexes together. Second, the education of agricultural classes naturally lent itself to the implementation of domestic science training for farm wives. Third, the western environment allowed for experimenting with new institutions and practices that would not have received such wide acceptance in the conservative East. ^ Once land-grant universities implemented coeducation, women students encountered relatively equal educational opportunities. Women participated in literary societies, debating activities, diverse course work, athletics, military drill, and women's rights activism, Land-grants offered students a progressive environment of inclusive gender-mixing, but students still encountered a culture of gender separation, especially to keep women physically and ideologically apart from men. Through the culture of gender separation, administrators hoped to protect the morality of students, but they also sought to reinforce women's conjugal, maternal and domestic roles. Through forms of physical, social, and ideological separation, women often experienced different standards of gender behavior and expectations, a separate women's course work, and restricted social behaviors. Still, women students began to push the boundaries of feminine intellectual and physical expression. Even in the midst of a culture of separation that reinforced traditional domesticity, female land-grant students found ways to contribute to the changing definition of “New Woman” in America. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Women's Studies|Education, History of

Recommended Citation

Radke, Andrea Gayle, "'Can she not see and hear, and smell and taste?': Women students at coeducational land -grant universities in the American *West, 1868--1917" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3045531.